As we've established on our blog, the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct set forth the ethical standards with which all licensed attorneys must comply, and the principle that those found to violate these ethical standards -- or rules -- will face discipline.
Indeed, those attorneys who stand accused of engaging in some manner of ethical misconduct will likely find themselves brought before the Florida Supreme Court or another disciplinary agency. If the alleged misconduct can be proved by clear and convincing evidence by the Department of Lawyer Regulation, the court or disciplinary agency may then impose sanctions.
When imposing sanctions following a finding of attorney misconduct, the court or disciplinary agency will look to Florida's Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions.
It's important to understand that these standards are only guidelines, not rules, meaning they serve as a sort of model for the court and referees to follow when considering what disciplinary measures are appropriate.
In fact, the standards establish that the court or referees should consider the following factors before imposing sanctions:
- The duties/rules violated by the attorney
- The attorney's mental state
- The actual or potential injury resulting from the attorney's misconduct
- The existence of mitigating or aggravating circumstances
As to the reasons for imposing sanctions for attorney misconduct, the standards make clear that they are not purely punitive. Indeed, courts have established that the justifications for attorney sanctions are as follows:
- Protecting the public
- Protecting the integrity of the legal system
- Ensuring the administration of justice
- Deterring further unethical behavior by the offending attorney
- Rehabilitating the offending attorney
- Educating the legal community as to what is and is not acceptable conduct
We'll continue this discussion in the next post, examining some of the sanctions that can be imposed against attorneys.
In the meantime, if you believe that you've been victimized by some manner of legal malpractice, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.