The hiring of experts in personal injury and wrongful death cases to negotiate liens is also on the agenda
A 2013-14 budget for The Florida Bar, which does not increase annual membership fees, and revisits the issue of hiring experts in personal injury and wrongful death cases to negotiate liens will be on the Board of Governors’ agenda for its April 19 meeting.
The board will approve the proposed budget at its April meeting and an official notice with the proposed budget details will be published in the April 30 News. The board will consider written member objections at its May meeting in Sarasota.
The proposed budget projects total revenues before investment income of nearly $37.9 million. The largest part of that comes from annual membership fees at almost $24.9 million. That compares with a budget of $37.3 million in revenues before investment income for the 2012-13 fiscal year with membership fees of $24.3 million.
Projected revenues from various member services, including CLE programs, is projected at nearly $5.2 million, compared to $5.1 million budgeted for the current year. Another $1.5 million will come from advertising revenues from the Bar Journal and News, which is slightly under the current fiscal year budget.
Expenses are expected to run just over $40 million for next year, up from $39.1 million budgeted for this year. The investment income is budgeted at $1.6 million for FY 2014 versus $1.4 budgeted for FY 2013.
The largest expenditure for the Bar remains its regulation of the practice of law activities, which are budgeted at $17.9 million for next year, compared to $17.6 million this year. Those activities include lawyer regulation (the Bar’s largest program), the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program, ethics (including the Ethics Hotline), legal advertising, and membership records.
The Bar expects to spend $1.8 million on unlicensed practice of law operations, up slightly from this year, and $4.2 million on communications with the public and Bar members, down from $4.5 million budgeted this year. The communications programs include the Bar’s Public Information and Bar Services Department as well as the Journal and News. Also in the budget is $214,000 for the new Leadership Academy program.
The lien issue comes after the Supreme Court last year rejected a proposed Bar rule addressing cases in which attorneys wanted to hire special counsel to negotiate medical liens and subrogation claims at the conclusion of a personal injury or wrongful death case. The special counsel would be paid a percentage of the amount they saved, even if that payment left the client paying both the original attorney and special counsel an amount above that allowed in Bar contingency fee rules.
The Bar’s proposed rule said such an arrangement would be allowed with the client’s informed consent. However, the court rejected that rule and said it was the original attorney’s duty, when accepting the contingency contract, to also negotiate over those liens at the conclusion of the case.
Information provided to the board noted that some liens, like those involving ERISA and Medicare, have become so complex that they have evolved into a separate specialty and may require separate litigation.
The proposed amendment to Rule 4-1.5 requires the original, contingency fee lawyer to handle routine lien negations. But, the board has been told, “the amendments allow the lawyer in the personal injury matter to either refer the extraordinary lien resolution services to another lawyer or to hire another lawyer to handle the extraordinary lien resolution services on behalf of the client only when the referral/hiring is in the client’s best interests and with the client’s informed consent. The amendments require that any separate agreement to handle extraordinary lien resolutions separately comply with all ethical requirements of the fee rule.”
That ethical requirement stipulates the lien resolution that an attorney may not share fees with the referring attorney.
The amendments will be presented to the board for first reading in April and the board may vote on the changes at its May 31 meeting.
On other matters, the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics will report on its ongoing review of recommendations from the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services. The Legislation Committee will report on ongoing activities related to the Legislature’s Regular Session.
Additionally, the board will select one lawyer for a two-year term on the Supreme Court’s Bar Admissions Committee, and two lawyers for four-year terms on the Statewide Nominating Commission for Judges of Compensation Claims.