Florida Legal Malpractice Law Blog

Court upholds plaintiff's right to sue divorce attorney

An attorney hired to represent someone in Florida owes fiduciary duties to the client. According to Chron, one of these duties is confidentiality. In other words, an attorney generally cannot share information about a client except in two specific circumstances: If the breach is in the client's interest, or if the client gives permission. Sharing confidential information about a client when neither of these conditions is present usually represents a breach of the attorney's fiduciary duty to the client. 

Bloomberg Law recently reported on the case of a divorce attorney representing a woman who lives in Idaho. The attorney allegedly showed the client's then-husband an email that she had written to the attorney. When she found out about it, the woman sued the attorney for breach of fiduciary duty. In the email, the woman reportedly claimed that, at a recent divorce mediation conference, the attorney had not represented her adequately. 

What are an attorney's fiduciary duties?

When you hire an attorney in Florida, you are placing him or her in a position of trust. You count on your attorney to represent your interests in court in a way that you are not able to do. This makes your attorney a fiduciary, i.e., someone with the authority to act in someone else's interest. 

As a fiduciary, your attorney owes you a duty to act in a certain way. When your attorney fails in this regard, it is not only a betrayal of your trust, it is also a breach of fiduciary duty, which may be actionable under the law. Chron explains your attorney's fiduciary duties in more detail.

Attorney sued by man's children

People who live in Florida often are in need of the services of an attorney. The need for legal counsel can range from business affairs to more personal matters like an adoption, a divorce, an estate plan or something else. Regardless of the type of law an attorney practices, the professional is bound by the obligation to act in the best interest of the client at all times. If this does not happen, the client may have the need and the right to pursue action against the attorney.

According to a story that was published by The Palm Beach Post, three adult children have initiated legal action against an attorney that they allege did not act in the best interest of the client but rather in her own best interest. The case dates back several years potentially but the most immediate precipitating events began in 2016. It was then that a man who was almost 90 years old let his wife know that he loved their female attorney who was at least 25 years his junior.

Is it legal malpractice?

If you have ever had the need to seek the advice and services of an attorney in Florida, you may have wondered how to effectively select a lawyer. One of the concerns people sometimes have when they need to hire a lawyer is how they can find a professional that will properly represent them and who will not end up causing them more harm than good by making negligent mistakes. However, it is important to understand that not every error that an attorney makes may necessarily be considered legal malpractice.

As explained by the American Bar Association, if a person suspects, believes or even knows for a fact that an attorney has made a mistake, the client should evaluate a few different factors before they decide the mistake falls into the category of malpractice. One of the factors that a person should assess is what type of harm did they experience due to the mistake, if any harm at all. The damage should ideally be financial and able to be calculated and supported by the facts of the case.

Handelsman children sue father’s mistress for legal malpractice

The drama over a multi-million-dollar Palm Beach real estate company continues after the owner’s children sued the lawyer, who their mother said destroyed her and her husband’s 70-year marriage.

The children claim Jane Rankin, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale took advantage of her role as the family’s trusted legal adviser to become intimately involved with their 91-year-old father, Burt Handelsman while positioning herself to take control of his multi-million-dollar estate when he dies.

How is legal diligence defined?

As has been detailed on this blog in the past, advertising is often a requirement that accompanies the practice of law. Attorneys need to secure new clients, and thus having a strong, solid reputation is important for any hoping to develop a strong following in Florida. Because of this need, you might assume that ensuring that a lawyer does their due diligence in representing you would not be an issue. Yet complaints leveled against attorneys regarding this very topic are common. The difficulty in supporting them, however, is that diligence may seem to be such a subjective term. 

Indeed, per the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, "diligence" is simply defined as an attorney acting in "reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client." Again, this definition may seem to leave much room for interpretation, yet there are indeed two standards established in its words: diligence and promptness. 

Dealing with legal publicity

No matter your stance on a legal matter in Florida, you likely would prefer that the general public not be privy to the details of your case. Such information might offer unwanted insights into your personal life. Yet there may be times when despite your best efforts at discretion, the nature of your case will not allow it to remain out of the public spotlight. In such situations, many come to us here at St. Denis & Davey PA wondering what information their attorneys are allowed to disclose.

Your attorney is meant to be your advocate. Oftentimes, that obligation extends to dealing with the public and its view of your case. It goes without saying that in such a situation, your lawyer should not say anything that might prejudice your representation. They should, on the other hand, support your claim to the public. Per the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, your attorney is allowed to state the following when doing just that:

  • Your claim, along with your identity and (when the law permits it) the identities of others involved in your case
  • Any information that is already public record
  • General information regarding any ongoing investigations
  • Details regarding upcoming litigation
  • Requests for assistance in obtaining evidence to support your claim
  • Warnings of potential danger facing you or others involved in your case

When can an attorney refuse an appointment?

The need for attorneys in Florida to solicit their services to you and other prospective clients has been detailed on this blog in the past. Yet lawyers do not always have to chase down their own clients; there may be cases where the court appoints an attorney or law firm to provide you with representation. This is common in criminal cases, where each jurisdiction has a public defenders office that employs attorneys specifically for the purpose of representing you if you cannot secure your own attorney. There may also be instances outside of criminal complaints where the court has an established relationship with a local attorney and relies on said attorney to provide representation when it is needed. 

This lead to the inevitable question of whether or not an attorney is obligated to accept an appointment. Lawyers (like any working professional) should have the right to control the work that they choose to do; at the same time, it is recognized that they offer a unique service that few others are capable of providing (at least adequately), and therefore there are indeed rules regulating their acceptance of appointments. 

Ethically declining to provide representation

You likely see advertisements both in the media and the public square soliciting the services of local attorneys. As has been mentioned on this blog in the past, attorneys are akin to small business owners in that a significant part of their jobs is securing new clients. This is why many of those who come to see us here at St. Denis & Davey P.A. are surprised when attorneys decline to represent them (or terminate their services while cases are still ongoing). If the same thing has happened to you, you might rightly question whether such an action is ethical.

While attorneys are not legally obligated to take on cases, the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct encourages them to accept work within their respective specialties unless providing you with representation will violate another of the rules of professional conduct or an attorney’s current physical or mental condition inhibits them from representing you to the best of their abilities.

When can you sue your lawyer for legal malpractice?

Thinking they could do less work or pull a fast one, your lawyer may have intentionally taken advantage of you and your case. Your lawyer could also just have an unfortunate lack of knowledge and procedure. Either way, you and your case have suffered as a result.

How do you know if you’ve been the victim of legal malpractice? How do you know if you can sue?

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