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Ethics Articles

Following are ethics-related articles from The Florida Bar News and The Florida Bar Journal.

Ethics articles from the Florida Bar News

Free vexatious litigation webinar set for December 1

Attorneys are invited to attend a webinar on vexatious litigation on Friday, December 1, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. The webinar – Florida’s Playbook on Vexatious Litigation: We’re Not Gonna Take It – offered by the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism and The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism, will provide attorneys with essential…

Proposed Advisory Opinion 24-1 Regarding Lawyers’ use of Generative Artificial Intelligence – Official Notice

The Florida Bar Board of Governors’ Review Committee on Professional Ethics has issued Proposed Advisory Opinion 24-1, reprinted below. Pursuant to Rule 6(d) and (e) of The Florida Bar Procedures for Ruling on Questions of Ethics, comments from Florida Bar members are solicited on the proposed opinion. The board will consider any comments received at…

How should you respond to a dishonest client who writes a scathing Yelp review? Find out at Decorum.Law

Tom Scarritt, a board-certified civil trial attorney from Tampa, appears in an ethics video demonstrating “How to respond ethically to a dishonest client who writes a scathing Yelp review.” Scarritt joined area lawyers in presenting responses ranging from very inappropriate to appropriate, according to the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct. The video was produced as…

May a Florida judge sit on the board of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women?

A judge may serve as an unpaid member of the board of directors of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. Acting August 24 in Opinion Number: 2023-07, the advisory panel was responding to an inquiry asking if a judge may serve as an unpaid member of the…

May a judge address a group consisting solely of prosecutors?

A judge may speak to an association of state prosecutors regarding how to address issues that arise when dealing with a specific type of litigant, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. Opinion number 2023-06 stems from an inquiry made by a judge whose been invited to speak to an out-of-jurisdiction association of state prosecutors…

Effort to eliminate ‘Z’ words from Bar rules takes another step

An effort to scrub so-called “Z” words – “zeal,” “zealous,” and “zealously,” – from the Bar rule book has cleared another hurdle. At a July 27 meeting in Sarasota, the Rules Committee voted unanimously to approve a Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section proposal to amend Chapter 4 Rules of Professional Conduct. The Board…

Ethics opinion to allow Florida lawyers to passively invest in out-of-state firms that include nonlawyer owners to be published for comment

The Board of Governors has approved publishing proposed Advisory Opinion 23-1, which would allow a Florida lawyer to be a passive investor in an alternative business structure (ABS) in another state that allows non-lawyer ownership of law firms. At a July 28 meeting in Sarasota, the board voted without objection to allow the proposed opinion…

Ethics opinions provide guidance for unaffiliated lawyers sharing offices and resources

The ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion July 12 that provides guidance on how attorneys can share offices and staff resources with an unaffiliated attorney. In Formal Opinion 507, the ABA opined that office sharing is permissible under the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct so long as attorneys…

Court acts to enhance the content, education, and enforcement of professionalism standards

The Supreme Court has agreed to adopt most of the recommendations of a Florida Bar special professionalism committee, but with some modifications. “The Court is grateful for the Special Committee’s hard work and its thorough and thoughtful report and recommendations,” the justices wrote. Rather than grant the special committee’s request to slightly increase the number…

PEC supports opinion that would allow Florida lawyers to passively invest in out-of-state firms that include nonlawyers

The Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee voted unanimously to support Proposed Advisory Opinion 23-1 allowing a Florida attorney to be a passive investor in an alternative business structure (ABS) in another state that allows non-lawyer ownership of law firms during its meeting at the Bar’s Annual Convention on June 23. The opinion, now in its final…

The Attorney-client Privilege v. The Confidentiality Rule: A Lawyer’s Conundrum in the Use and Application of the Evidence Code v. The Rules of Professional Conduct  

From newly admitted members of The Florida Bar to those ready for retirement after countless years of dedication to the legal profession, many lawyers have committed the faux crime of using “privileged” and “confidential” interchangeably when justifying why they cannot disclose certain information relating to a client’s representation. Why is this? Perhaps the simplest answer…

Proposed ethics rule would bar lawyers from threatening licensed professionals

The opposing counsel didn’t give Tallahassee attorney Edwin Bayó’s client, a veterinarian, much of a choice. Accept their terms regarding a civil matter or face negative online reviews and a Board of Veterinary Medicine complaint. To Bayo, it had the whiff of extortion. “It really left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said. A…

Ally or enemy? When it comes to the legal profession, GPT-4 may be a little of both  

When GPT-4 – the latest version of OpenAI’s language model systems – was released in mid-March, several aspiring lawyers and law professors used it to take the bar exam. The Large Language Model chatbot passed every subject and performed better than 90% of human test takers.   This news was a bit shocking, undoubtedly, and raised numerous questions. Preparing for the bar exam, for most unassisted…

May program examines ‘Harnessing the Power of Stress; Developing Grit, and a Growth Mindset’

Florida Bar members can learn about the “ethical ramifications of working with clients while under acute or chronic stress,” earn free CLE, and help the Standing Committee on Mental Health & Wellness of Florida Lawyers mark “Well-Being Week in Law,” May 1-5. On May 18, from noon to 1 p.m., the standing committee and its…

Can you ‘Reply All’ when opposing counsel includes their client in an email?

Rule 4-4.2, Rules of Professional Conduct, provides that, in representing a client, a lawyer cannot communicate with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter unless the other lawyer gives consent. On the Ethics Hotline, we get questions from lawyers asking if they can “reply all” when opposing counsel…

What lawyers need to know about bank failures and trust accounts

(Editor’s Note: Due to the recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, the Bar’s Ethics Hotline has been fielding questions from attorneys regarding bank failures and trust accounts. To provide some guidance, we are republishing this 2008 column written by former Bar’s Ethics Counsel Ruth Smith.) Recent bank failures are causing lawyers to…

Lawyers and AI: How Lawyers’ Use of Artificial Intelligence Could Implicate the Rules of Professional Conduct

From chatbots to image generators, news outlets have been inundated with stories discussing the implications of artificial intelligence or “AI” programs. Though the results appear mixed, ChatGPT, a free AI chatbot, has already managed to pass law school exams[1] while Midjourney, an AI image generator, won first prize in the Colorado State Fair’s digital art…

Ethics panel tables question on whether Florida lawyers may passively invest in out-of-state firms that include nonlawyer owners

Citing a request from the representing attorney, the Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee postponed consideration of the proposed advisory opinion regarding an ethics inquiry during the Bar’s Winter Meeting on January 20 in Orlando. The question at issue is whether it’s permissible for a Florida lawyer to be a passive investor in an alternative business structure…

Florida lawyer catches email scammer attempting to retain legal services

The holiday season is a festive time filled with gatherings, gifting, and decorating with family and friends. As the calendar turns to December, the last thing people are thinking about is internet spammers and scammers who can prey on their email and bank accounts. According to statistics from Google, the holidays are the exact time…

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opinions have a new home

The Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee launched its new website October 31 that will host the committee’s advisory opinions moving forward. Previously, committee opinions were hosted by the Sixth Judicial Circuit. The new site is now cloud-hosted under the www.flcourts.gov umbrella, joining a suite of websites and webpages dedicated to providing accessible, timely,…

May Florida lawyers passively invest in out-of-state firms that include nonlawyer owners?

The Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee is considering if it is permissible for a Florida lawyer to be a passive investor in an alternative business structure (ABS) in another state that allows nonlawyer ownership of law firms. After spirited debate during the Fall Meeting, the committee voted 26-9 in favor of having staff draft an opinion…

Judges may not hire family members, but may speak at firm-sponsored seminars aimed at law students

Like many businesses, Florida’s courts are caught in the national labor crunch. While a creative, out-of-the-box approach is needed to fulfill staffing shortages, judges are still prohibited from hiring family members, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. The Supreme Court committee issued Opinion 2022-12 October 3, which responded to a judge on whether the…

If it doesn’t deal with the law, judges are precluded from serving on executive and legislative branch committees

Judges may not serve on or consult with executive or legislative branch policymaking committees or commissions unless they focus on the law, legal system, administration of justice, or independence of judiciary, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. The Supreme Court’s ethics committee issued Opinion 2022-10 August 30 responding to a judge who has been…

‘To me, the first rule of competency is [to] know what you don’t know’

First District Court of Appeal Judge Stephanie Williams Ray offers a brief, from a 2006 appeal, as a textbook example of how a lawyer should not behave. Without a factual basis, the attorney accused opposing counsel of fabricating evidence, called a trial court’s findings “baloney,” and sprinkled in references to “judicial murder,” “Twilight Zone doctors,”…

Cybersecurity: Lawyers need a back up plan for their backup plan

A May 2021 ransomware attack that temporarily shut down the Colonial Pipeline — and ignited a gas panic on the East Coast — was a wakeup call for then Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Donald A. Myers, Jr. Concerned, Myers worked with the court clerk to conduct a cybersecurity review. “We began to learn about many…

Ethics seminar examines ‘Bar Grievances and You: How to Avoid Them and What to Do if You Get One’

The latest statistics suggest that most Florida lawyers are unfamiliar with the grievance process. And that’s a good thing, says Florida Bar Staff Counsel Patricia Ann Toro Savitz. She notes that there are 113,000 Bar members, and the Supreme Court in 2021 took some 350 public disciplinary actions. “That is a very, very, very small…

Scott Westheimer is ready to lead

Newly sworn President-elect Scott Westheimer is a devoted father, loyal friend, and committed professional with a heart for service, said longtime friend and fellow Sarasota lawyer E. “Keith” DuBose. The Eastmoore Crauwels & DuBose partner – known as “Uncle Keith” to Westheimer’s two young children, Ayla and Arie – delivered a heartwarming tribute to his…

Gary Lesser sworn in as president of The Florida Bar

Building the best mentorship program in the country, expanding access to justice, and working to ensure an independent court system and vibrant legal profession are the goals of newly sworn President Gary Lesser. Addressing the Annual Convention in Orlando, Lesser, the 74th president of The Florida Bar, said another priority will be a public education…

Professionalism – you know it when you see it

Professionalism, like beauty and truth, is easier to recognize than it is to define. Florida lawyers will have a rare opportunity to explore the meaning of professionalism, and how it interacts with the Rules of Professional Conduct, at the 2022 Masters Seminar on Ethics. (Course No. 5698 is authorized for 4.0 hours of General CLE;…

Do ‘Z’ words belong in Bar rules?

A Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section committee is considering a proposal to scrub so-called “Z” words — “zeal,” “zealous,” and “zealously,” — from the Bar rule book. “It’s not just the legal profession, people in general relate someone who is ‘zealous’ to someone who is a zealot,” said RPPTL Professionalism and Ethics Committee…

Making a professionalism panel referral doesn’t trigger automatic recusal

The mere fact that a judge refers a lawyer to a local professionalism panel doesn’t automatically disqualify the trial court judge from presiding over the case in question, according to the Second District Court of Appeal. The three-judge panel acted May 27 in Case No. 2D21-3577. In short, a litigant asserted that he would not…

Questions about digital advertising?

Question: What are the advertising rules? Answer: Subchapter 4-7 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar (“Information About Legal Services”) is commonly referred to as the “advertising rules.” These rules apply to lawyer advertisements in “all forms of communication in any print or electronic forum.” Rule 4-7.11(a). Pursuant to Rule 4-7.19, the Ethics and Advertising…

Where is the line between ‘celebrities’ and ‘clients’ when it comes to lawyer advertising?

If the name “Chandler Parsons” doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. The Standing Committee on Advertising (SCA) determined last month that the former NBA player could offer a testimonial for personal injury firm Morgan & Morgan in TV ads, despite Bar Rule 4-7.15(c), which prohibits “celebrity voices and images.” The Board Review Committee (BRC) on…

New video series examines the judge’s role in addressing unprofessionalism

“If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” retired First Circuit Judge Ross Goodman said when asked if judges have a responsibility to confront unprofessional and uncivil behavior in their courtrooms. The answer came as part of a new free and on-demand video CLE series produced by The Florida…

Scam Wars — Attack of the Cloned Checks

Check cloning is the latest scam targeting Florida lawyers. Shanell Schuyler, director of ACAP/Intake, said The Florida Bar has recently been made aware of about 20 instances of cloned or counterfeited trust account checks. Sophisticated, organized fraudsters have obtained the trust account banking information of Florida lawyers and have reproduced trust account checks that are…

Judicial Campaign Conduct Forums scheduled May 5 and 6

All candidates seeking election as judges or standing for merit retention in 2022 will soon be able to participate in judicial campaign conduct forums offering training in the rules governing election to judicial office. Sponsored by the Supreme Court of Florida and The Florida Bar Board of Governors, the forums are held every election year…

Ethics opinion addresses responding to online criticism from nonclients

Florida lawyers now have guidance on how to respond to negative online reviews posted by those who are not current or former clients — keep it brief, factual, and don’t reveal information concerning a client’s representation without the client’s informed consent. That’s the advice from recently approved Ethics Opinion 21-1 that was adopted by the…

The evolution of discipline cases and the court’s treatment of professionalism

Most Florida Bar members uphold the high ethical standards the profession demands. But for the small fraction who risk discipline through unprofessional conduct, “The First Amendment is a poor defense.” So warns Tampa attorney Scott Tozian, a former prosecutor and former Florida Bar staff counsel who primarily defends lawyers in grievance cases. The Supreme Court…

Court says repeated conduct merits more severe discipline

That a lawyer has been disciplined for similar conduct in another grievance case does not justify lessening the sanctions in a second case that occurred around the same time, according to the Supreme Court. Instead, the court said in a December 9 opinion, such a pattern of misconduct justifies a more severe punishment in the…

Lawyers and gifts: ‘The ethical implications are not always so clear’

While both lawyers and clients frequently offer gifts with the best of intentions, the ethical implications are not always so clear. To help, here are some common scenarios involving gifts and what to watch for in Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Scenario #1: A prospective client comes to you for a family law matter. You…

Internet scammers apply for COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan in lawyer’s name

A Tampa attorney and recent identity theft victim has some friendly advice to fellow Bar members — take cybersecurity seriously. Internet scammers recently used the attorney’s name, address, and other personal identifying information, including business Tax ID Number, to apply for a hefty U.S. Small Business Administration loan. “I was looking at my credit report,…

Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics to review ads

The chair of the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics wants the panel to review a law firm’s humorous TV ads, including one that depicts a certain Founding Father bragging about his settlement “Benjamins.” The Standing Committee on Advertising voted 6-2 in August to reverse a staff determination that the ads, which include an actor…

Insurance auditing fees can be improper fee splitting

If a client requires a law firm to use a third-party auditing company to review the legal fee with the firm paying the auditor a percentage of the fee, is that impermissible fee splitting under Bar rules? A Bar ethics staff opinion found it was and on October 15 the Professional Ethics Committee declined a…

Beware of referral services not registered with the Bar

Recent complaints about unregistered lawyer referral services have Florida Bar investigators concerned that attorneys are unfamiliar with the Bar’s “qualifying provider” rule. Under Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22, attorneys who fail to confirm a qualifying provider’s status with the Bar, or perform other due diligence, could be held responsible for its false or misleading claims, warns…

Special committee reviewing professionalism eyes uniform standards for local professionalism panels

Should Florida lawyers face more rigorous professionalism CLE requirements, and local professionalism panels, bolstered by more uniform standards, be more active statewide? Those are just some of the recommendations discussed by the Special Committee for the Review of Professionalism in Florida, at a September 20 meeting. President-elect Gary Lesser, the committee’s co-chair, said the panel…

Court permits electronic filing of lawyer ads

Bar members soon will be able to submit their ads for required Bar review via the internet instead of mailing them to the Bar’s Tallahassee headquarters. The Supreme Court on September 9 approved a Bar-recommended change to Bar Rule 4-7.19. The change removes the requirement that lawyer ads requiring Bar review must be sent to…

Need information about lawyer advertising regulations? There’s a webpage for that

The latest information for complying with lawyer advertising regulations is a mere mouse click away. To reach The Florida Bar’s “Advertising and Regulation Information” webpage, simply point the cursor here: www.floridabar.org/advertising. The page is compiled under the supervision of Bar Ethics Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert and is packed with valuable resources. For starters, the page includes…

How many email addresses do you need to get e-service? Ask the ‘unicorn’

There is a “unicorn,” and it is in Volusia County. In this case, unicorn is defined by members of the Florida Courts Technology Commission’s Portal Subcommittee as an attorney who has set up a huge number of email addresses to accept e-service in various cases the attorney is involved with. And they hope that instance…

Getting off the e-service list from old cases can be trying

Lawyers, judges, and other parties who find themselves receiving and, in some cases, inundated with e-service documents from active cases they are no longer involved with may soon find it easier to get off the automatic electronic service lists for those cases. The Florida Courts Technology Commission and its Portal Subcommittee discussed the issue at…

Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee opines on problem-solving court gifts

A court administrator can accept an unsolicited donation from a local bar association to use as incentive gifts in the local problem-solving courts, according to the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee. The committee, in a recent opinion, answered an inquiry from a judge who had been approached about the donation by a local bar. The association…

What is a judge to do if a judicial organization they belong to takes a political stand?

A judge who is also a member of the National Association of Women Judges can participate in a debate on a resolution for the organization to boycott having meetings in states that have ended discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity but could have problems continuing as a member depending on the language…

Proposal would provide guidance for responding to negative online reviews alleging criminal conduct

The Board of Governors is considering a Professional Ethics Committee proposed rule amendment that would give lawyers a narrow opportunity to respond to negative online reviews. The proposed amendment to Rule 4-1.6 (Confidentiality of Information) appeared on first reading on the board’s July 23 agenda. Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics Chair Wayne Smith urged…

How to deal with third-party lienholders in property damage cases

With hurricane season upon us again, many lawyers may soon find themselves representing homeowners in property damage claims against insurance companies. If the property is subject to a mortgage, often the mortgage will contain covenants purporting to create claims against the casualty insurance proceeds, and these lawyers will find themselves dealing with a third-party lienholder…

Ethics opinion addresses responding to negative online reviews posted by those who are not clients or former clients

The Professional Ethics Committee has issued Proposed Advisory Opinion 21-1. Pursuant to Rule 4(c) and (d) of The Florida Bar Procedures for Ruling on Questions of Ethics, comments from Florida Bar members are solicited on the proposed opinions. The committee will consider any comments received at a meeting to be held at 9:30 a.m. on…

Ethics panel addresses replying to online criticisms from non-clients

Lawyers may respond to online criticism from people who are not and have not been clients but in doing so they must take care not to reveal protected information about current or former clients. The Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee is giving that advice in Proposed Advisory Opinion 21-1, which is being published for Bar member…

Lawyers have an ethical duty to master video technology

Courts are returning to normal operation as the COVID-19 pandemic abates, but videoconference proceedings are here to stay, and lawyers have an ethical responsibility to master the technology. That’s one message a panel of state and federal judges delivered at a June 10 “2021 Masters Seminar on Ethics” sponsored by the Committee on Professional Ethics…

‘The court’s scrutiny of unprofessional conduct gets greater and greater every year’

The Florida Bar receives about 8,500 complaints against lawyers every year, with some 350 of those leading to some form of disciplinary action. The good news is that the figures confirm that most lawyers uphold the high standards the profession demands, says Patricia Ann Toro Savitz, staff counsel to The Florida Bar’s Division of Lawyer…

Masters Seminar on Ethics to explore the ‘New Ethic of Truth Decay’

Lawyers have an ethical responsibility to combat a “post-truth” environment that if left unchallenged, threatens the rule of law, warns veteran FIU law school professor and trial attorney Scott Fingerhut. “Lies are nothing new, but they are being presented to America in a new way that many people seemingly are on board with,” Fingerhut says….

Court cautions judicial candidates they face ‘severe sanction’ for violating campaign canons

Lawyers who violate judicial canons while campaigning for a judgeship can expect in the future to be suspended from the Bar, the Florida Supreme Court has warned. The court, in a divided May 26 opinion, imposed a public reprimand for numerous violations of Bar rules and judicial canons committed by an unsuccessful candidate who ran…

Board acts on advertising review

The Board of Governors has concluded that most “Better off with Boohoff” television advertisements that a Tampa law firm submitted for review are permissible under Bar rules. At a May 21 “hybrid” meeting that was live streamed from Duck Key, the board voted unanimously to approve a Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics recommendation regarding…

Lawyers are tempting targets for cyber criminals

The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack may have sparked gas shortages throughout the Southeast, but it could have a silver lining. It should remind Florida lawyers that their data is a tempting target. “Lawyers are low-hanging fruit,” says Jacksonville attorney Steven W. Teppler, chair of Mandelbaum Barrett’s cybersecurity practice group. “It’s really tough to get people…

Ethics seminar looks at alternative facts, Bar grievances, and judicial advice

How does a lawyer convince a jury to reach a decision and render a verdict in the age of “alternative facts?” The annual Masters Seminar on Ethics, sponsored by the Professional Ethics Committee at the Bar’s Annual Convention, will examine that question among other topics. The online CLE is set for 8 a.m. to noon…

Answers to commonly asked questions regarding firm names

The Florida Bar Ethics Department receives numerous inquiries regarding the propriety of law firm names. These inquiries are made through requests for written opinions, Ethics Hotline calls, and advertising filings. This article attempts to highlight some commonly asked questions regarding firm names. Rule 4-7.21, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, is the ethics rule regarding firm…

Ethics opinion addresses charging former clients for copies of files

A former client calls your office and requests copies of his or her old files, which may be years old and perhaps in storage at another location. Or suppose it’s a current client for whom you have, at your cost, conducted discovery in a medical malpractice case and now the client wants to take that…

Opinion says lawyers can use online payment apps to receive funds

Lawyers can accept fees and payments into trust accounts via online payments apps like PayPal, Venmo, ApplePay, LawPay, and LexCharge but must ensure that app privacy settings are set to protect client confidentiality and take reasonable steps to guarantee the transaction is secure. The Professional Ethics Committee on March 23 approved Proposed Advisory Opinion 21-2…

Opinion addresses attorney obligations when clients can’t be reached before emergency hearings

Attorneys appointed to represent allegedly incapacitated persons in emergency guardianship hearings and can’t reach their clients before the hearing are still required to zealously protect their interests and ensure their procedural rights, according to a new ethics opinion being published by the Professional Ethics Committee. The committee on March 23 approved Proposed Advisory Opinion 21-3,…

PEC tackles knotty issues of responding to online criticism

Following up on the earlier adoption of an ethics opinion on responding to clients’ online criticisms, the Professional Ethics Committee is now addressing a Bar rule change on responding to former client online comments and another proposed advisory opinion on comments from third parties who are not clients or former clients. At its March 23…

Medical providers and disputed settlement funds

Rule 5-1.1(f) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar requires lawyers to maintain funds in trust if there is a dispute over the funds between clients and third parties with valid legal claims to the funds and the lawyer owes a legal duty to the third parties. If third parties do not have valid legal…

How do you represent a client you can’t contact?

With input from the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law and Elder Law sections, the Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee is moving toward issuing an advisory opinion for lawyers who are appointed to represent subjects of emergency temporary guardianship hearings but don’t have a chance to meet with the client before the hearing. The committee voted…

Committee debates how lawyers can respond to getting slammed online

How lawyers can respond to online criticisms — both from clients and third parties — is being examined by the Professional Ethics Committee. The committee, at its January 14 meeting as part of the Bar’s Winter Meeting, heard a report from a subcommittee looking at amendments to Bar Rule 4-1.6 on whether rule changes are…

Lawyers accepting funds via payment apps considered by ethics panel

Lawyers should be able to use a variety of online payment apps, such as Venmo and PayPal, to accept payments, including trust funds, according to a proposed ethics advisory opinion being prepared for the Professional Ethics Committee. Committee member Skip Smith, who chairs a subcommittee looking at payment apps, said the subcommittee hopes to have…

Can I use the document my client gave me?

Your client brings you a document and tells you they found it, read it, and it contains information about their pending matter. Can you use this document or the information the client learned from it? First, you should determine how the client obtained the document at issue. If the document was obtained properly, you may…

Now is a great time to designate your inventory attorney

Have you designated an inventory attorney, yet? If not, it is time to do so. To protect clients of an attorney who unexpectedly dies or otherwise becomes unable to practice, the Florida Supreme Court requires members who practice in-state to designate an inventory attorney. Here are three reasons to review your inventory attorney designation today….

What are a lawyer’s obligations to a suicidal client?

If a client discloses an intent to commit suicide, a lawyer’s first obligations should be the same as any sensitive and understanding individual. “The client’s disclosure may be a cry for attention or help, and the lawyer should make a special effort to give the client sympathetic counseling.” New York Ethics Opinion 486. The lawyer…

Advisory Ethics Opinions to be modified or withdrawn by Professional Ethics Committee

The Professional Ethics Committee will consider withdrawing or modifying Florida Ethics Opinions 66-5, 66-13, 77-23, and 88-11 (Reconsideration) at its meeting on Thursday, January 14, 2021. Summaries of these opinions appear below. Pursuant to Rule 4(c) and (d) of The Florida Bar Procedures for Ruling on Questions of Ethics, comments from Florida Bar members are…

Should you copy your client on emails to opposing counsel?

You are sending an email about a case to opposing counsel and want to provide a copy to your client. Should you just “cc” or “bcc” your client on the email or would it be better to separately forward a copy of the email to your client? Or you receive an email from an opposing…

Advisory opinion addresses how best to respond to online criticism

After approving a revised proposed advisory opinion about responding to negative online reviews by current or former clients, the Professional Ethics Committee is asking the Board of Governors to instruct it to take a broader look at online criticisms. Several committee members said they’re concerned about whether there’s clear direction on how lawyers can respond…

Ethics panel looks at implications of lawyers using online payment apps

The ethical ramifications of using online payment services such as PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay, some of which can delay payments of funds into IOTA trust accounts, potentially mix trust and non-trust account funds, and reveal client information, is being studied by the Professional Ethics Committee. The full committee has created a subcommittee to make…

Should you allow others to e-file in your absence?

You are about to take leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or you are out sick for an extended period of time from the office. Perhaps you have expressed concern about your active files to your supervisor and your supervisor has responded that paralegals and legal assistants will file any necessary documents…

Elaborate backstory puts a new twist on an old scam

There’s nothing about Pensacola lawyer David Luther Woodward that suggests an easy mark. A 40-year veteran with a degree from the London School of Economics, Woodward’s “legal master’s degree informs his approach to domestic and international business issues,” according to his webpage. So why would a scam artist target him — unsuccessfully — for a…

Are your client communications secure?

Lawyers may not realize that many of the programs they use on a daily basis involve cloud computing. For example: email, videoconferencing, file sharing, and digital assistants. Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 12-3 addresses cloud computing and states: Lawyers may use cloud computing if they take reasonable precautions to ensure that confidentiality of client information is…

Scam Alert: Fake emails purport to be from the Bar’s Lawyer Regulation staff

Beware, another email scam is making the rounds. This time it’s fraudulent emails from spoofed email accounts designed to look like they are from Ruth Rivera of The Florida Bar’s Tampa Office. The subject line says, “Be Advised” and the content of the email has a link that reads “Notice of complaint” and another that…

‘On the Docket with Dori’ discusses the frequently asked ethics questions the Bar has received during the pandemic

Florida Bar members can get the latest news from President Dori Foster-Morales in a new video series — “On the Docket with Dori.” Foster-Morales is hosting a series of conversations about current events with judges, Bar and community leaders, health experts, and other leading members of the Florida legal community. “Since the pandemic has led…

Flim flam artists still look to sting Florida lawyers

Like many of his colleagues, Lakeland attorney Daniel Medina has grown comfortable communicating with clients via remote technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, Medina, who is board certified in wills, trusts, and estates, didn’t think twice when a prospective “client” emailed on June 7 to ask for his help drafting a purchase agreement. “It was…

Judicial Roundtable explores the ethical challenges of remote technology

For the most part, Central Florida lawyers are responding professionally to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the courts, according to a panel of Ninth Judicial Circuit judges. Led by Chief Judge Donald A. Myers, Jr., the panel participated in a “Judicial Roundtable: Litigation Ethics — Candor, Competency, and Fairness,” as part of the…

It’s time to file financial disclosure forms

It’s financial disclosure season. Each year, many state and local public officers and employees receive automatic fines because they file their annual financial disclosure forms late or not at all. Annual financial disclosures must be filed or postmarked no later than September 1 to avoid automatic fines of $25 per day, said C. Christopher Anderson…

Lawyers are a target-rich environment for cyber criminals

Beware of “Deep Fake” videos, buy plenty of cyber insurance, and never forget that protecting client data is an ethical responsibility. Those are just a few warnings issued by leading cybersecurity experts during the 2020 Masters Ethics Seminar sponsored by the Professional Ethics Committee at the Bar’s Virtual Annual Convention. Florida lawyers have adjusted to…

Ethics during COVID-19

On April 1, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis issued the statewide Safer at Home Executive Order 20-91. The order directs all persons in Florida to limit movements and personal interactions outside their homes to only those required to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities. However, the order does not specifically address the provision…

Working from home? Practice good digital hygiene

Attorneys working from home to avoid spreading or catching COVID-19 can avoid computer viruses, too, with good digital hygiene and a little common sense, according to a South Florida lawyer and leading cyber security expert. Alfred Saikali, who chairs the Privacy and Data Security Practice for Shook, Hardy and Bacon, says working from home during…

Court filings down; clerks and judges coping with COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 and resulting local and statewide court administrative orders limiting in-person court proceedings have affected broader court activities. As clerks and judges limit public contact and send staff to work at home — and law firms adopt similar strategies — figures for the court system’s statewide electronic filing portal show a significant…

FLMIC offers COVID-19 ethics checklist for Florida lawyers

Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (FLMIC) has created a COVID-19 ethics checklist for Florida lawyers for thinking through the challenge of client representation during a public health crisis. “As schools close, major corporations send their workforces home, and local governments contemplate curfews and lockdowns, the novel coronavirus is impacting nearly every corner of community in America — including…

Ethical concerns regarding COVID-19

Florida lawyers, like everyone else, are concerned about COVID-19 and the impact the current situation has on themselves, their families, and their communities. Lawyers have the additional concern about fulfilling their ethical responsibilities to their clients. The following provides general guidance on ethics concerns. Lawyers with emergency questions about their own future conduct may email…

Former client rips you online? Respond with caution

A former client has taken to social media or some other online venue and posted a scathing critique of your services, including claims or information you know is unfair and perhaps even false. How may you respond online? Carefully, according to the Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee. The panel is seeking Bar members’ comments on adopting…

Rule comment proposed on lawyer networking opportunities

Lawyers should be able to exchange business cards or other contact information with potential clients at business-related events or on social media platforms, both of which are typically intended at least partially as networking opportunities. With that in mind, the Board of Governors unanimously approved amending the comment to Bar Rule 4-7.18, which governs direct…

Direct solicitation rules apply to targeted social media ads

Lawyers who deliver targeted ads through social media must comply with the Bar’s more restrictive direct solicitation rules rather than its general advertising rules, according to the Board of Governors. The board, at its January meeting, overturned an 8-3 decision by the Standing Committee on Advertising regarding a lawyer who wanted to use information prospective…

Practice Tips: Florida’s financial assistance rule explained

Many lawyers have called the Bar’s ethics hotline to ask whether the rules permit them to use their own money to either advance or pay outright a litigation client’s living expenses such as a rent or mortgage payment, food, medical expenses, or settlement proceeds that have either not yet been paid by a defendant or…

Practice Tips: Referral fee basics

Do I have to worry about the referral fee rules if I’m only getting the standard 25% referral fee? Can I get a referral fee in a family law case? What about a criminal case? Do I have to work on the case to get a referral fee? Does my name have to be on…

Ethical issues involved in leaving law firms

The days when the average employee would get a retirement party and a gold watch after working at the same company for 40 years are gone. Most people don’t stay in the same job their entire careers any more. At some point, most lawyers will find themselves looking for another job, and many may be…

Lawyers must designate an inventory attorney

Here are three reasons to review your inventory attorney designation today. 1. You are required to designate an inventory attorney by Rule 1-3.8(e). The only exceptions are for members not practicing in Florida and for any portion of the member’s practice as an employee of a governmental entity. 2. Your clients need to be protected…

Who has the right to funds held in trust?

The Florida Bar Ethics Hotline frequently receives inquiries regarding a lawyer’s ethical obligation when holding funds or property in trust that third parties claim an interest in. A related dilemma occurs when both the client and the lawyer claim a right to certain funds in the lawyer’s trust account. The lawyer’s ethical obligation in these…

Who do I talk to when my opposing counsel is ineligible to practice?

Whether it is due to a lawyer’s suspension, disbarment, or simply the nonpayment of fees, you may occasionally find that your opposing counsel is now ineligible to practice. This raises the question: who do I talk to? Rule 4-4.2(a) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar prohibits a lawyer from communicating about the subject matter…

Authority removes nonlawyer office manager e-filing accounts

All lawyer filings will now have to be done through an account created by a Florida Bar member Nonlawyer law firm administrators will no longer be able to have electronic filing accounts through the Florida court system’s statewide portal, and lawyers who register for more than one account will get some extra scrutiny. The Florida…

Lawyer disbarred for hiring an embezzler who, in turn, embezzled from the firm

In a case which the Supreme Court said “gives new meaning to the phrase ‘turning a blind eye,’” a Florida lawyer has been disbarred after he hired a convicted embezzler, fired him for trying to steal around $21,000, then rehired the man and failed to adequately supervise him as he stole more than $4.7 million…

New twist on an old scam

Fraudsters make first contact through Avvo before trying to perpetuate the old cashier’s check scam A slight new twist on an old scam aimed at lawyers has been brought to the attention of the Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. In these cases, instead of directly contacting lawyers, the scammers are using the Avvo lawyer rating service…

The tale of two Ackermans

Scammers still impersonating Florida lawyers Palm Beach County attorney George Ackerman’s trip to the Twilight Zone began when he was directed to the website of an unfamiliar firm with an all-too familiar name. The page features a sun-dappled office dominated by a sprawling conference table with geometric chrome and glass inlay. Above the photo, a…

Scam artist creates fake e-filing account in real lawyer’s name

  Identity thieves targeted at least one unsuspecting Florida lawyer with a brazen new scam and walked away with over $130,000. Shanell Schuyler, director of ACAP/Intake at The Florida Bar, said the Bar recently received a complaint against an attorney when surplus money from a foreclosure action didn’t make its way to the rightful owner….

Email hack scam alert!

  An alert manager at a local bank is the only thing that prevented hackers from stealing more than $120,000 from a small, father-and-son law firm in St. Lucie County. “It was almost a disaster,” said Roger Messer of Messer & Messer in Port St. Lucie. “All I can advise is, know your banker.” The…

Trust accounting – basic records and procedures

Chapter 5 of The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar requires attorneys using trust accounts to maintain specific records and perform monthly procedures. Many attorneys are unaware of these requirements. Others believe they do not have enough time or resources to devote to the trust account. Some claim they are not good with numbers and devise…

Bar rule changes ease pro bono participation

Lawyers who volunteer or work for programs that provide short-term limited representation services, such as legal hotlines, advice-only clinics, or pro se counseling programs, can now breathe a little easier thanks to the Florida Supreme Court’s October 19 order adopting new Rule 4-6.6 and corresponding amendments to Rule 4-1.2 of the Rules Regulating The Florida…

Bar wants to protect Florida lawyers and the public from identity theft

Earlier this month, Anthony Christopher Robinson got a call from an elderly woman convinced he was in cahoots with a phony sweepstakes scam that had tried to dupe her. She had his full name and Florida Bar number, as well as his law firm cell phone number. Robinson persuaded her that he was not the…

Hackers are increasingly targeting lawyers’ computers

Law firms of all sizes are magnets for computer hackers simply because of the nature of what lawyers do. “Law firms are attractive because they have personal and sensitive and valuable information from personal and corporate clients,” said Adriana Linares, the Bar’s technology consultant. “The best thing you can do to prevent spyware and hackers…

Sophisticated scam targets lawyers and wire transfers

Never trust a last-minute email that changes the original wiring instructions for transferring client funds. Instead, pick up the phone and call the contact person who provided the original instructions to personally verify the routing and account numbers to be used. That’s the advice from John Fisher, CEO of First American Bank in Naples, who…

‘Fake’ lawyers arrested

The Attorney General’s Office filed an action in August to stop a group of South Florida nonlawyers who allegedly ran illegitimate foreclosure defense and loan modification law firms that also recruited unsuspecting young lawyers through Craigslist ads to front their operations. Adam Todd Forman, Joseph Anton Hilton — aka Joseph Starr — Victor Spagnuolo, and…

Website tracks scams aimed at attorneys

By now, most lawyers know the email solicitation from the Korean women asking your help collecting funds from a divorce settlement is a scam. As is the email from the Belgian company asking for your help in facilitating the sale of the floating dredger, and the Chinese firm needing your services to collect an unpaid…

Got questions about advertising?

The Bar’s Ethics and Advertising Department regularly receives calls from lawyers who want to advertise but are at a loss regarding how to comply with the Bar’s advertising rules. Here are a few frequently asked questions: Question: What must the advertisement contain? Answer: There are only two things that every advertisement must contain: the name…

Lawyers are responsible for stripping metadata from all e-filed documents

You’re representing a client in a divorce. As part of the routine process, the client emails you a required financial disclosure. It has bank account numbers, credit card numbers, the client’s Social Security number, and other sensitive financial information. You take the electronic document and in accordance with R. Jud. Admin. 2.420 and 2.425 you…

Amendment clarifies the duties associated with leaving a firm

The Board of Governors has given final approval to a proposed rule amendment clarifying the duties of lawyers and law firms when a lawyer leaves the firm or the firm breaks up. The board approved the amendment to the comment to Rule 4-5.8 at its December meeting. It now goes to the Supreme Court for…

Rules now require written trust account plans

By Kathy J. Bible Bar Counsel Bar rules now require all lawyers with more than one attorney in the firm to have a written trust account plan in place for each of the firm’s trust accounts. The amendment to Rule 5-1.2(c), regarding required trust account records for law firms, was part of a package of…

Attorneys should verify IOTA titling

The Florida Bar Foundation has learned that bank errors in processing account opening forms resulted in a number of IOTA accounts not being titled as required under Bar Rule 5-1.1(a)(1). The banks substituted The Florida Bar Foundation’s name on the affected IOTA accounts for the name of the attorney or law firm provided to the…

Con men pretend to be Florida attorneys

Mike Mackenzie, a board certified real estate lawyer in Dunedin, doesn’t mess with timeshares, so he was naturally concerned when his office started receiving inquiries about the status of the sale of a number of Orlando units. Turns out con men are pretending to be Mackenzie in order to bilk unsuspecting timeshare owners. “At least…

ID theft is the latest threat to attorneys

A Florida lawyer living in Colorado has had her personal information compromised, potentially setting her up for identity theft or impersonation. Laurie Morris unwittingly provided the miscreants her sensitive information when she submitted paperwork for a background check to what she thought was a California law firm. It wasn’t. Now she is worried about what…

How to handle lawyer-client fee disputes

The Florida Bar Ethics Hotline frequently receives inquiries regarding a lawyer’s ethical obligation when the client disputes the lawyer’s right to fees. The lawyer’s ethical obligations in such situations are addressed in various provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct and opinions of the Professional Ethics Committee. When a lawyer and client have become involved…

Lawyer bilked out of $80K

Many Florida lawyers undoubtedly roll their eyes when they see yet another cashier’s check fraud story in the News, thinking, “Does anyone really fall for these scams?” Well, yes, they do, and it has happened again. The latest victim of this con recently contacted The Florida Bar’s Ft. Lauderdale branch office to report $80,000 was…

Attorney suspended for involvement with nonlawyers in loan modification business

The Florida Supreme Court granted an emergency suspension of a South Florida lawyer who participated with nonlawyers in a loan modification business, so the nonlawyers could receive upfront fees from clients they would be prohibited from receiving themselves. The lawyer told Bar investigators that he has between 2,500 and 3,000 clients from that illegal arrangement,…

Beware of contracting with nonlawyers on foreclosure-related rescue services

The Florida Bar’s Ethics Hotline has received many calls from lawyers who have been contacted by nonlawyers wanting to set up arrangements involving loan modifications, short sales, and other foreclosure-related rescue services on behalf of distressed homeowners. The Bar has updated its ethics alert about providing legal services to distressed homeowners, after a Federal Trade…

A new twist on the old cashier’s check scam

Some of those looking to separate lawyers from their money through cashier’s check scams are rockin’ it old school. Instead of mass e-mail phishing expeditions seeking lawyers to perform collections work, some scammers are now picking up the phone and cold calling their potential marks. Cliff Shepard recently received such a call. A man using…

Sophisticated scams abound

By Mark D. Killian, Managing Editor, and Gary Blankenship, Senior Editor The e-mails are signed “Peggy Higashi.” But perhaps the more accurate signature would be “Peggy I-Gotcha.” In September alone, “Higashi” — or more likely someone using the name “Peggy Higashi” — bilked Florida lawyers out of more than half a million dollars. As reported in the…

Commonly Asked Questions About Trust Accounts

Q. I have recently opened an IOTA trust account and have been informed by the bank that there will be fees for checks and other fees associated with maintaining the account. The bank has declined to provide these services for free and has asked for a transfer from my operating account to cover these expenses….

Hackers loot lawyer’s trust account

It was a typical Monday at the office for Kimberly Graus, until she made a chilling discovery. Someone hacked her computer, gained control of her passwords, and emptied $35,000 out of her trust account. “It is horrible,” said Graus, a sole practitioner in Bradenton who has been working feverishly since the May 10 heist to…

What do you do with misdirected documents?

Ethical issues commonly arise regarding the receipt of documents related to representation. Two issues seemingly prevail: First, there is the receipt of documents that were inadvertently disclosed by the opposing party, typically during discovery; and second, there are documents that were improperly obtained, typically by the client of the receiving lawyer. The ethical duties and…

Understanding amendments to the trust accounting rules

For many lawyers, navigating the trust accounting rules can be daunting. Many in the profession are just not “numbers people,” and others, rightly so, are intimidated by the gravity of the task of safekeeping others’ money. On February 1, a few amendments to the trust accounting rules, which seek to clarify and simplify the requirements,…

Hotline provides a peek at lawyers during hard times (Bankruptcy)

There are few better ways to gauge what ethical issues are on the minds of Florida lawyers than to look at the calls made to the Bar’s Ethics Hotline. In these hard economic times, there have certainly been some recognizable trends. Struggling to make ends meet, lawyers are searching for ways to cope. Many lawyers…

Con men just keep getting more brazen

Florida lawyers continue to be targeted by Internet e-mail scammers who are trying to lure attorneys with the offer of good fees for what on the surface appears to be easy work collecting corporate debts or divorce settlements. Lili Quintiliani, an assistant ethics counsel, said the Bar’s Ethics Hotline continues to get several calls from…

Swindlers hit lawyers with sophisticated schemes

The bad guys are getting better. Con artists trying to rip off lawyers are turning to new schemes and using more sophisticated deceptions — including ways to make it more difficult to discover in time that a check sent to a lawyer is bogus. Scammers are also shifting from a business-debt collection scenario to divorce…

There is a new wrinkle on an old scam targeting lawyers

Pompano Beach attorney Geil Bilu opened a UPS package at his law office last month and out popped a cashier’s check for $890,000. It was accompanied by a letter from a company in Ontario, Canada, asking him to handle making installment payments on a $3.7 million debt to a Chinese company. The letter included this…

E-scam targets attorneys doing collections work

E -scam targets attorneys doing collections work A new scam targeting Florida lawyers is showing up in e-mail inboxes — purportedly from China this time. At least two lawyers have contacted the Bar about the fraud. Here is how it works. The lawyer receives e-mails from a company in China saying it wants help collecting…

Swindlers pretending to be lawyers are back

It’s a new name, but the same old scam. Con artists have apparently revived a defunct Web site under a new identity for their old game of impersonating Florida attorneys to con fees, handling costs, insurance payments, and similar charges from Florida residents by convincing them they have won a — usually foreign — sweepstakes…

Con men steal identities, pirate attorney Web sites

The Web site advertises it as “A Different Kind of Law Firm.” Is it ever. A few months ago, the entity using the Web address of www.gandsattorneys.com called itself the Gendreau and Seachrist law firm. Next it went by the name of Goodman and Schooper. The physical address for Gendreau and Seachrist was a hospital,…

Lawyers’ names are being used to perpetuate scams

Typically, it involves a new Bar member who hasn’t listed a phone number or e-mail address with the Bar. But sometimes it is a more brazen scheme that involves a veteran or even high-profile Florida lawyer — even Attorney General Bill McCollum. The problem is scam artists pretending to be lawyers to boost credibility with…

Con artists are still ‘assuming’ the identity of Florida lawyers

Florida lawyers are still having their identities “assumed” by scam artists seeking to trade on the trust of lawyers in schemes to rip off consumers. The latest twist, according to Bar Unlicensed Practice of Law Counsel Lori Holcomb, is that con artists have posed as real lawyers who have not given their phone number to…

Criminals are out there pretending to be lawyers

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Stephen Cook got a call from an inactive Florida Bar member (who still practices in Georgia) about an Ohio couple seeking an update on the prospective sale of their time-share unit. There were several problems. The couple was under the impression the Georgia lawyer represented a potential buyer and worked for…

Even lawyers can be scammed

Lawyers know they have a duty to keep their clients’ information private, but in today’s high-tech world, pitfalls lurk like bogeymen behind bushes. J.R. Phelps, director of The Florida Bar’s Law Office Management Assistance Service, shares three horror stories: client files accessed by a stranger with a laptop and wireless card, theft by a phony…

Rule notifying clients when lawyers leave firms goes into effect today

The Ethics Hotline receives numerous inquiries regarding the proper procedures for notifying clients when firms dissolve and/or attorneys leave firms. There has not been a specific Rule of Professional Conduct addressing these issues. Rather, the Professional Ethics Committee has issued ethics opinions to provide guidance to Bar members. This changes as of January 1, 2006,…

Should your firm be accepting credit cards?

LOMAS Advisor If you’ve ever looked at your accounts receivable with despair, or wondered when your “slow pay” clients are going to react to your gentle reminders about overdue invoices, then you are a candidate to introduce payment by credit cards into your practice. Diner’s Club and American Express issued the first charge cards in…

Lawyer warns of scam artist who targets attorneys

If someone calls and claims to be from The Florida Bar and asks for your credit card number to pay Bar membership fees, be careful the Bar doesn’t yet accept credit cards for annual fee payments and doesn’t collect fees via the phone. Ray Rayder, a Sixth Judicial Circuit staff attorney, wants Bar members to…

Ethics articles from the Florida Bar Journal

Face-Off on Facebook: Judges and Lawyers as Social Media “Friends” in a Post-Herssein World

Should a judge be disqualified from a case based solely on a Facebook friendship with one of the attorneys? The Florida Supreme Court recently answered the question in the negative in Law Offices of Herssein & Herssein, P.A. v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n, Case No. SC17-1848, 2018 Fla. LEXIS 2209 (Fla. Nov. 15, 2018), when…

Leaving Law Firms with Client Fees: Florida’s Path

When a lawyer leaves a firm with a client in tow, who has a right to the fees ultimately paid? The question is the most heated, and generally the most consequential, when a contingent fee is involved, although it also arises in the case of an hourly-fee matter. At a minimum, the firm of origin…

Up in Smoke or Down in Flames? A Florida Lawyer’s Legal and Ethical Risks in Advising a Marijuana Industry Client

With the passage in Florida and other states of laws permitting medical and recreational use of marijuana, lawyers are being asked to provide legal advice and legal services to the so-called “legal marijuana” industry. These lawyers should think carefully before dispensing advice. Despite what the states and advocates may say, legal marijuana does not exist….

When Charitable Gift Agreements Go Bad: Why a Morals Clause Should be Contained in Every Charitable Gift Agreement

Tyco International was a small New Hampshire conglomerate in 1991. In 1992, Tyco appointed Dennis Kozlowski as CEO. He led the company for 10 years, during which Tyco became a global giant doing business in over 100 countries and having an annual revenue over $40 billion.1 Kozlowski was living the high life in a $31…

When Can a Lawyer Communicate With Your Client?

On December 10, 2010, The Florida Bar Board of Bar Governors unanimously approved Ethics Opinion 09-1. The opinion concludes that a lawyer may not communicate with government officers, directors, or employees who are directly involved or whose acts can be imputed to the government entity in a represented matter about the subject matter of the…

Inadvertent Document Productions and the Threat of Attorney Disqualification

Before you embark on the journey of revenge, dig two graves. –Proverb Imagine a scenario in which a particularly obnoxious opposing counsel dumps 10,000 pages of documents on your doorstep three weeks late and the day before a hearing on a motion to compel. Seven hours later, frustrated and bleary-eyed from mind-numbing review, you stumble…

Metadata: The Ghosts Haunting e-Documents

Metadata is “data about data.”2 A lthough it sounds quite modern, one form of metadata is no doubt familiar to every lawyer: The “fax band” on a document received by facsimile that shows the time and date the fax was received, the number from which it came, and the number of pages sent. A fax…

Views from a Former Member of a Grievance Committee: Hot Buttons for the Estate Planning, Probate, and Trust Attorney

I have had the great opportunity to serve on three grievance committees for a total of nine years. I would like to say my participation on the committee has been purely altruistic, but experience has taught me I am not often “purely altruistic.” When I opened my own practice in 1990, I realized that I…