Florida Legal Malpractice Law Blog

Understanding attorney-client privilege

Most people in Florida believe that anything they say to their attorney is privileged; that is, that the attorney cannot reveal it to anyone else. While this holds true in general, it represents a somewhat oversimplification of attorney-client privilege.

Per Chapter 90 of the 2018 Florida Statutes, a communication between a Florida attorney and his or her client is confidential only when the client intends that the attorney not divulge it to anyone other than those to whom (s)he must reasonably divulge it for transmission purposes and/or those to whom (s)she needs to divulge it to further his or her rendition of legal services to the client.

Can a lawyer be held responsible for a nonlawyer's conduct?

When you retain an attorney to assist you with a legal matter in Florida, your expectation likely is that you will work with them and only them. Yet for all of their knowledge of the fields in which they practice, attorneys may lack an understanding of certain specialties that may be needed in order to adequately represent you. Thus, your attorney may find it necessary to bring in others who are not lawyers to participate in preparing your case. Even though these professionals may not be attorneys, their actions can impact the outcome of your case. You should know, then, what responsibilities your attorney assumes when involving nonlawyers in your representation. 

While technically the term "nonlawyer" refers to anyone who is not a lawyer, the word (used in this context) typically refers to professionals such as: 

  • Insurance claim adjusters
  • Social workers
  • Accountants
  • Representatives of government agencies or financial institutions

Reviewing pro bono "requirements"

A common perception that many in Florida may have about attorneys is that all are incredibly rich due to the high fees that they charge for their services. If you are of limited means, this may deter you from seeking their services (even when you might desperately be in need of them). Yet you have probably heard of cases where attorneys agree to represent clients for free or at a drastically reduced cost (this is commonly referred to as "pro bono" work). Many often come to us here at St. Denis & Davey asking if this is a requirement associated with the legal profession. 

There may be instances where you are provided free legal services. These most often occurs in a criminal case where you are assigned a public defender. These are attorneys who are paid by local governments, yet their job is to represent you. This differs from pro bono work in that there is no expectation that you pay a public defender. 

Communication gaps between lawyers and clients

Every relationship requires the involved parties to communicate. This is true regardless of the nature of the relationship. Married couples in Florida must communicate, doctors and patients must be able to communicate and so too must attorneys and their clients. Communication gaps or breakdowns may actually contribute to the failure of a person to get the legal representation they deserve from their counsel.

As explained by L Squared, an insurance agency that provides professional malpractice coverage to attorneys, poor communication is at the heart of many legal malpractice claims. Inappropriate, inaccurate or nonexistent communication may result from a variety of factors but all can be the start of a downward spiral. Attorneys are people and some may simply be less inclined to communicate than others. This, however, does not absolve them of their responsibility to keep you, the client, informed.

How do you know your lawyer is guilty of legal malpractice?

When you invest in an attorney in Florida, you expect him or her to do everything in his or her power to ensure the best possible outcome for your case or claim. Moreover, you expect him or her to act only in your best interests and to refrain from activity that could hurt your case, finances or reputation. Unfortunately, what you expect is not always what you get. Some attorneys act in ways that suggest a conflict of interest, negligence or flat-out intentional wrongdoing. If your attorney acts in any such way, he or she may be guilty of legal malpractice. FindLaw details signs this is the case.

One sign of legal malpractice is lack of communication. In today's modern world in which cell phones, computers and laptops are almost always readily available, there is no reason for why you should not be able to get ahold of your attorney when necessary. If your lawyer repeatedly ignores or fails to return your phone calls, emails or text messages, he or she may be in violation of his or her ethical responsibility of communication.

How much do I owe my lawyer?

In some cases, it can be difficult to approximate exactly how much a lawyer will cost hire. Since varying factors can affect the amount of time a lawyer must dedicate to your case, you end up surprised at the bill you receive when it’s all over.

To keep from over-paying your attorney, it's important to keep these in mind.

What is professional liability insurance?

If you are like a lot of people who live in Florida, you might have heard reference to specific types of insurance coverages that are meant for businesses or people in specific professions. Lawyers are in a group of professionals who should carry a certain type of insurance. According to The Hartford, this type of insurance can be known by many names but is perhaps most commonly referred to as legal malpractice insurance

Legal malpractice insurance is also sometimes called professional liability insurance as it is meant to cover a professional for any liability in some situations. It is also sometimes called errors and omissions insurance. This is because it is meant to cover cases in which a lawyer has made a mistake or failed to provide the service they should have or taken actions they were supposed to take.

Options for legal conflicts of interest

If you have ever needed to hire an attorney in Florida, you should know that you have rights as a client. One of these rights is that your attorney should provide you with independent judgment and be loyal to you and your needs according to the American Bar Association. There are a few things that may interfere with these rights and one is a conflict of interest.

An example of a situation in which a conflict of interest exists would be an attorney representing both parties in a legal dispute. This by nature would eliminate the lawyer's ability to be loyal to one client in a given matter. There are other situations that may represent conflicts of interests and they could involve other current clients and even former clients. The personal interests of a lawyer may also provide a conflict and prevent a lawyer from being independent in their judgment of a client.

Who should you report attorney misconduct to?

Dealing with legal issues in Florida can be a daunting task due to your relative unfamiliarity with the law and legal proceedings. Working with an attorney can be equally as intimidating given such a professional's knowledge of complex legal subjects and experience in dealing with law enforcement and/or courtroom officials. It is understandable, then, that you might be extremely nervous about reporting the misconduct of an attorney or judge. Yet failing to do so can cause significant damage to your own case and undermine your credibility if it is believed you know about their incorrect actions and did nothing. 

Oddly enough, the best resource through which you can ensure that an attorney's misconduct is appropriately dealt with is another attorney. You might think that another lawyer would want to stand up for a fellow colleague, yet such a professional likely does not want to be associated with any affair that could damage the reputation of their profession. Even if an attorney is not overly concerned with public perception, however, they have a legal duty to report the inappropriate actions of other lawyers. 

Why it’s important for a lawyer to have all the facts

While your lawyer may not be a detective for the police department, much of their job is actually pretty similar. When an attorney takes on a service for you — whether it be a divorce trial, personal injury claim or business deal — they give you their word to investigate the facts of your case properly.

A lawyer who doesn’t do this or does it poorly could cost you your case — along with a lot of time and money.

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