Florida Legal Malpractice Law Blog

Tips on finding an attorney when you need one

People in Florida who find themselves in need of legal advise or expertise may not always know where to start. An online search for a lawyer often returns a myriad of results and it can be difficult to know which person or firm may be the best choice for a particular situation. Just as with selecting a physician, it is important to find a lawyer who is trustworthy and who will act in the best interest of the client at all times.

Money Crashes indicates that it can be helpful to talk to more than one lawyer before making a choice. In the initial discussions, a person can evaluate any personal connection and determine if they believe the attorney is someone they can work with. Sometimes personality differences may influence these choices.

When can an attorney claim to be a professional specialist?

A great deal of respect and authority is automatically assigned to one identified as a lawyer. You likely assume that such an individual has a vast knowledge of all legal matters pertaining to the particular branch of law that they claim to specialize in. Yet there are legal aspects of certain fields that even a lawyer working in that field may not be familiar with. These may be accepted industry standards or regulatory compliance issues that only one practicing in such field would know. For this reason, you often see attorneys who also hold additional professional licenses. For example, a lawyer practicing real estate law may also obtain a realtor's license, while an attorney specializing in tax law may also become a certified public accountant. 

You may think that you have hit the veritable jackpot if you are able to find such an attorney to represent you. Yet just as you would want to research an attorney's legal background before seeking their services, so too should you check into their professional licensure. As has been detailed in this blog in the past, attorneys are somewhat limited in the ways they can solicit their services. Thus, advertising a dual specialist would certainly help them in securing new clients. 

Understanding the obligation to be truthful

When Florida residents work with attorneys, the expectation is that any communication that occurs between the two sides is protected by attorney-client privilege. Most assume that attorney-client privilege means that an attorney is barred from saying anything that a client tells them. That, however, is not the case. There are indeed exceptions to this rule, as attorneys as tasked with maintaining their professional integrity at all times. 

Indeed, they are even mandated to do so. Rule 4.1 of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that attorneys are not to make a false statement of either material fact or law to a third party, nor are they to fail to disclose any information to a third party that would assist in the commission of a crime by their clients. This obligation is essentially a continuation of the crime-fraud exception of attorney-client privilege, which obliges an attorney to share information offered up by a client with authorities related to a crime that the client was in the process of committing or intended to commit. Furthermore, the crime-fraud exception also requires attorneys to disclose information given to them by a client in the attempt to perpetuate criminal activity or cover it up. 

Client seeks damages after unprofessional conduct

People in Florida may not always understand what types of situations may contribute to or be considered potential acts of malpractice on the part of an attorney. Some examples might be relatively clear such as if a lawyer failed to file documents per a court-order deadline or if an attorney agreed to represent two clients on opposing sides of the same case. There may, however, be other situations that are less obvious.

An example of an alleged act of legal malpractice can be see in a case playing out currently in New York State. The situation involves a lawyer and a company, one of his former clients. The company is in the music industry and they had hired the man to represent them in a lawsuit against another music company. According to Insider, approximately four months after he began working with the music company, the attorney was filmed making what many believe to be derogatory and racist remarks.

What to do before accusing your lawyer of legal malpractice

If you have your suspicions that your lawyer may not be handling your case professionally, trust this feeling. Allowing a lawyer or law firm to take advantage of you could cost you the best outcome to your case and wastes your valuable funds.

But, before barging into your lawyer’s office and making the accusation, follow these steps.

Defining unethical solicitation of services

You and very other potential consumer in Florida likely knows what it is like to be inundated with contact from professional providers attempting to sell their services to you. In fact, such communication may be so frequent that you view it as completely normal. Yet clients have often come to us here at St. Denis & Davey with complaints regarding contact from a unique type of solicitor: attorneys. This may strike you as odd due to the fact that you often see billboards or television commercials advertising the services of local attorneys. Such professionals, however, have a stricter code of conduct when it comes to securing new business. 

Rule 7.3 of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that attorneys cannot solicit their services via person-to-person contact when the sole purpose of the solicitation is their own pecuniary gain. For the purposes of this rule, "solicit" is defined as communication made by or on behalf of an attorney to you soliciting their services when they know (or should reasonably know) that you are in need of such services. An example of this may be a scenario where you were injured in an incident that stirred up local notoriety. If in the immediate aftermath of such an event an attorney contacted you soliciting their services, such contact would be considered unethical. 

Understanding fiduciary duty

A person in Florida who hires an attorney should be able to trust that their legal counsel will live up to their professional expectations. These expectations include what is commonly called a fiduciary duty. As explained by FindLaw, fiduciary duty is essentially the responsibility for a lawyer to act or make decisions in the best interest of their client.

The Houston Chronicle outlines that there are multiple components that go into a lawyer's responsibility to a client. One of these is the duty to maintain confidentiality unless provided consent by the client to disclose select information. An attorney is also required to allow their client to make decisions about how to proceed with a situation or a case. This means that the lawyer must ensure that the client has sufficient knowledge and understanding with which to do so. Therefore, communication and even some education come into play when discussing fiduciary duty.

Understanding statutes of limitation

When a person or a business in Florida feels they have been wronged in some fashion and they determine that legal action is necessary in order to receive proper compensation and justice, there are many things to be aware of. One of these things is what is known in legal terms as the statute of limitations.

As explained by FindLaw, a statute of limitations is essentially a time limit on or deadline by which any such legal action may be initiated. The specific deadline or statute of limitations for a single case may vary based on a few factors. One of these is the type of case or the nature of the dispute. Another factor playing into the exact amount of time a person has to commence legal action is the date from which the statute of limitations begins on.

Why is your case taking so long?

One element common to many legal matters in Florida is time. Civil and criminal cases (along with other situations regarding legal representation) can often seem like they are dragging on forever. The longer your case goes without a resolution, the greater your concern may be about the cost of your representation. This may ultimately lead you to question whether the attorneys involved in your case (including those representing you) might be purposely delaying litigation. Is there any regulation preventing them from doing this, or any form of recourse available to you if you suspect that is indeed happening? 

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct maintained by the American Bar Association specifically state that attorneys have an obligation to make all reasonable efforts necessary to expedite litigation (provided such efforts are in the best interests of their clients). Yet you are not a legal expert; how are you to know if any delays sought by your attorney are unwarranted. A comment to this particular guideline gives specific examples of when a delay in your case may not be appropriate when it says "delay should not be indulged merely for the convenience of the advocates, or for the purpose of frustrating an opposing party’s attempt to obtain rightful redress or repose."

Calling an attorney as a witness

Witnesses are often a vital element of legal proceedings in Florida. Given the impact of their testimony, it is understandable why you would want to call as many as possible in order to support your claim. Court officials will often allow you to call as many witnesses as you believe are necessary (within reason) to effectively support your case. Nearly anyone can be called to be a witness (including attorneys). Many that come seeking our assistance here at St. Denis & Davey, PA are often surprised to learn, however, that there are limitations imposed on attorneys regarding their rights to serve as witnesses at trial. 

Having an attorney testify as a witness on your behalf may seem to offer added weight to your claim (given the assumption of their knowledge of the law). According to the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, however, an attorney that is likely to be called as a witness in your case cannot also serve as your legal representative in that same matter. The only exceptions to this rule would be the following situations: 

  • Where the attorney's testimony relates to an uncontested issue
  • Where the attorney's testimony relates to the nature of the legal services being rendered
  • If the disqualification of the attorney (due to the necessity of them being called as a witness) would place an undue hardship on you
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