Florida Legal Malpractice Law Blog

Defining an attorney’s duties when managing assets

There may be times when, in the course of working with an attorney in Florida, that you be required to entrust said attorney with assets and property related to your representation. You likely maintain a high level of trust with your attorney (as have many of the clients that we here at St. Denis & Davey have worked in the past). Yet as is the case in any type of financial transaction, there are certain standards that must be adhered to when asking an attorney to manage your money (as poor management on their part could potentially prejudice your position in your case). 

Per the American Bar Association‘s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, any property that you entrust to any attorney must be held separately from the attorney’s own (as to avoid the potential of intermingling assets). Typically, an attorney will be required to place any such property in a trust account that has been set up on your behalf. If you have paid them any fees or costs in advance, the attorney must put those funds in said account, and can only then claim them for themselves once the actual expenses have been incurred. Your attorney is limited to putting their own funds in such an account when bank surcharges or fees must be paid in order to keep the account open. 

What are some signs of a bad attorney?

When you need legal assistance, you want to rest assured that your attorney is skilled at practicing law. While most attorneys go above and beyond for their clients, the fact remains that some lawyers offer subpar assistance, which can lead to negative outcomes for their cases. If you're currently searching for an attorney, USA Today recommends looking for the following red flags. 

All attorneys are beholden to a code of ethics. When this code is ignored, there can be very serious consequences for both the attorney and the client. For instance, lying on the stand can easily lead to a charge of perjury, which may carry a jail sentence. A lawyer that encourages a client to lie is displaying a serious lapse when it comes to ethics. In fact, most attorneys who offer such advice end up being disbarred and unable to practice law. 

How should attorneys conduct themselves during trials?

When people speak of courtroom etiquette, they're often referring to the behavior of plaintiffs and defendants. However, attorneys must also adhere to a strict code of conduct, no matter how high tensions rise during a trial. South Source offers the following tips on how attorneys can make a good impression in court, on their clients, the judge, and even the jurors. 

While courtrooms often have a specific set of rules attendees must adhere to, there are a number of general rules all attorneys should be aware of. Respect for the judge is of the utmost importance. It's polite to stand when the judge, as well as the jury, enters the courtroom. The same can be said when an attorney is addressing the judge during the trial. Additionally, the judge should always be referred to as "your honor". In a sense, the judge is the personification of the law in court, and attorneys must show respect for the law in all its forms. 

Law firm accused of failing to meet timely filing deadlines

Lawsuits against lawyers and legal firms may seem to many in Florida to be a bit of an oddity given that most might assume such professionals to have such a strong understanding of the laws governing their respective fields that they would always operate inside of them. Yet such lawsuits are often not regarding a question of law, but rather that of the professional and ethical duty owed to clients. Often its small failures in meeting that duty that lead to complaints, as those failures (while seemingly insignificant to some) can have actually have a dramatic impact on one’s case. 

It is the alleged failure of a legal firm to submit documentation and complete required actions on time that has led to a lawsuit against a legal firm filed by the ownership of a New York restaurant. The restaurant’s owners say in their claim that the law firm representing them in a bankruptcy case at the time did not complete discovery and file expert reports within the required timely filing period in their bankruptcy case, which resulted in important evidence being excluded. The bankruptcy filing was meant to keep the landlord of the location in which the restaurant had wanted to operate from evicting them, and the firm claims that it had arranged an agreement with them landlord that the restaurant’s owner ended up backing out of. 

What are statutes of limitations?

Timeliness is a must when it comes to lawsuits. If you don't take swift action, your suit may not fall within the statute of limitation for a particular issue. Investopedia explains the statute of limitations and why it's so important that both you and your legal team react quickly when legal problems arise. 

Civil matters, which includes personal injury claims, almost always have statutes of limitations associated with them. Personal injuries are one example of lawsuits that have time limits attached. While the timeframe can vary from state to state, most personal injury cases expire after two years. Once this timeline has expired, you're no longer able to file a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations can also be applied to criminal cases, although not all crimes have time limits associated. 

How do attorneys slip up when sending emails?

Finding competent legal assistance is a must when you're faced with a pressing issue. Along with knowledge of the law, attorneys should also have a good grasp of electronic communication, including email, when conversing with clients. Unfortunately, some attorneys make a range of mistakes when using email, and some of these mistakes can jeopardize their clients' success when it comes to litigation. The Balance explains some of the more common email mistakes lawyers make and how they can be avoided, which benefits all involved parties. 

Taking too long to respond

Knowing when a continuance is warranted

The common school of thought amongst many in Florida is that working with an attorney on any legal matter is going to cost you a lot of money. Yet the cost of legal assistance is typically more dependent on the time it takes to resolve your case rather than the fees your attorney charges. People often come to us here at St. Denis & Davey PA wondering why their cases are languishing (and if such delays are normal). If you are involved in a lengthy legal matter, it may be easy to assume that your attorney is simply trying to drag the process out to collect more money. 

It goes without saying that such a practice is unethical and against legal standards. Indeed, according to Rule 3.2 of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, your attorney is charged with doing everything possible to expedite your legal proceedings (with your best interests in mind). Yet while they cannot intentionally delay your case, they are also charged with providing you with the best representation possible. Hurrying through your case may not allow for that. 

Lawsuit claims law firm missed statute of limitations

Understanding the complex details associated with litigation requires familiarity with policies and procedures that most people in Florida simply do not have. Thus, they turn to attorneys for assistance in handling their legal matters, assuming that the attorney's industry will compensate for their lack of understanding. While each case may have its own unique complexities that require attorneys to expand their knowledge, it is assumed that they know basic things such as timely filing limits and case deadlines. This is why, when such small details are overlooked, people may be quick to accuse attorneys of negligence. 

That is exactly that accusations that is being made against a Texas law firm by women in California, Georgia and Indiana. They were each involved in lawsuits stemming from injuries caused by transvaginal mesh devices. Their most recent action against the firm claims that its attorneys failed to submit their claims prior to the statute of limitations expiring on their cases. They claim they were never told of this oversight. Instead, the law firm (which was handling thousands of similar claims against four different device manufacturers) simply lumped these claims into the settlements that received from others. Ultimately, the women received compensation ranging from $11,000 to $69,000. They state in their lawsuit, however, that had their claims been filed within the statute of limitations, they could have been entitled to millions of dollars. 

What if a client is of diminished capacity?

Seeing a loved one work their way through any legal issue in Florida can be nerve-wracking. Your stress is sure to be compounded if that family member or friend suffers from a diminished capacity. The attorney-client relationship is already complex enough without having to deal with the concern that your loved one (either through trauma, inexperience or mental impairments) is unable to make sound decisions on their own. Their attorney must then maintain their obligations to them while ensuring that their best interests are understood and represented. 

Rule 1.14(b) of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct state that if an attorney believes that a client's diminished capacity makes them unable to act in their own interests, they may consult with any other parties that are in a position to make those interests known. That may include you, other family members, your loved one's caregiver, or their primary care provider. The attorney may also push to have a conservator, guardian or guardian ad litem appointed if they believe it to be necessary. 

How is attorney competence defined?

There are many people that may pride themselves on handling issues on their own as opposed to hiring others to do things for them. There are indeed certain benefits to following the DIY way of thinking: you can yourself money and gain helpful knowledge. Yet there are also special circumstances where you are likely better served by turning to a professional for help. 

One of these is in dealing with legal action. While you may know a lot about the situation you are in, you are likely unfamiliar with the laws governing it. A competent attorney should bring that knowledge (and more) to a case. The question then becomes what does it take to be a competent attorney? 

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