Representation of Florida Lawyers
The Florida Bar (TFB) – Lawyer Disciplinary Defense, Lawyer Regulation, and Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL)
- Responding to initial inquiries/complaints/grievances
- Representation before grievance committees, including evidentiary hearings
- Proceedings before a Referee, including final hearings
- Sanctions hearings
- Appeals to Designated Reviewers and the Disciplinary Review Committee
- Proceedings before the Standing Committee on Advertising
- Proceedings before the Florida Bar Board of Governors
- Petitions for Review before the Florida Supreme Court
- Appellate proceedings and oral argument before the Florida Supreme Court
- Reinstatement proceedings following suspensions and placements on inactive status
- Contempt proceedings
- Board of Legal Specialization and Education (BLSE) proceedings
- Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL) investigations and proceedings
- Expert testimony regarding legal ethics and legal fees
- Ethics opinions, including trust account compliance reviews
- Representation in Bar fee arbitration proceedings and mediations
- Diversions to Practice and Professionalism Enhancement Programs, including: advertising workshops, trust account workshop, professionalism workshop, Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., anger management, and Law Office Management Assistance Service (LOMAS)
Working to Avoid Ethical Problems
Our representation often begins before The Florida Bar ever receives an inquiry/complaint against a lawyer. We assist lawyers in attempting to resolve potential problems with clients, opposing counsel, judges, third parties and even partners or employees, with the goal of avoiding a Florida Bar investigation.
In addition, we have provided Florida ethics opinions on a variety of subjects, including conflicts of interest, advertising matters and law firm creation, organization and dissolution. In newly formed and established firms, we work proactively to assist our clients in implementing office management and trust accounting practices that conform to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, most often with the guidance of our firm's former Bar auditor.
Defending Bar Complaints and Grievances
Our firm has represented over 800 lawyers in responding to initial inquiries, grievances and complaints filed with or by The Florida Bar. We understand that a Bar complaint or grievance can deeply impact both an attorney’s livelihood and reputation. Not only is defending a Bar complaint a distraction from the representation of clients and law practice management, it can be frustrating and difficult in many other respects. We have found that different lawyers prefer varying degrees of participation in Bar defense matters. We strive to accommodate the individual client’s preferences as much as possible to promote a greater level of comfort and confidence while fully addressing these important issues.
When a lawyer receives an inquiry/complaint letter from The Florida Bar, the attorney must file a response within fifteen days. The Florida Bar’s Tallahassee-based Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (“A.C.A.P.”) office screens the initial complaint and response from the attorney and determines whether to refer the matter to the branch disciplinary counsel for further investigation. We endeavor to comprehensively and objectively review the complaint and all of the attorney’s materials to identify and respond to relevant issues. Our objective is to persuade A.C.A.P. counsel to summarily dismiss the inquiry/complaint without further proceedings. We also work proactively to immediately mitigate potential problems.
If the A.C.A.P. office refers the inquiry/complaint to disciplinary counsel, the matter may be referred to a local grievance committee. At this point, our firm communicates with disciplinary counsel, as well as the investigating member of the grievance committee to address their concerns and to provide the attorney’s perspective and explanation. The firm represents our attorney clients at any grievance committee evidentiary hearing or prepares a summary argument on the attorney’s behalf depending on a number of factors. Grievance committee proceedings are critical because they determine whether there is probable cause supporting a violation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. A probable cause finding will generally result in the filing of a formal complaint with the Florida Supreme Court.
If a Complaint is filed with the Florida Supreme Court, the attorney has twenty (20) days to file an Answer. The Florida Supreme Court will refer the matter to the chief judge of a judicial circuit contiguous to the attorney’s home circuit and the chief judge will then assign the case to a county or circuit court judge to preside as the “Referee.” Depending on the circumstances of each case and our attorney client’s objectives, we can negotiate with The Florida Bar in an attempt to resolve the disciplinary proceedings through a consent judgment, rather than litigation.
Formal disciplinary proceedings are most akin to civil litigation. While the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure apply in most respects, including the opportunity for discovery, the Rules of Evidence do not strictly apply to the disciplinary hearing. The Referee will conduct an evidentiary hearing and sometimes a separate sanctions hearing. The Referee will make findings of fact and enter recommendations as to rule violations and discipline. The Referee’s recommendations are then submitted in a “Report of Referee” to The Florida Supreme Court for consideration and the ultimate disposition.
The Florida Bar or the Respondent attorney may file a Petition to Review the Referee’s report. If either party petitions for review, the matter is briefed as permitted by the Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Florida Supreme Court has exclusive authority to discipline attorneys, however, and may accept or reject the Referee's recommended findings or sanctions, even when neither party petitions or even when the parties reach a negotiated resolution.
It has been our privilege to represent lawyers at all levels of the disciplinary process. Although representation at the initial stages may help avoid or mitigate further disciplinary proceedings, we are pleased to begin assistance at any stage, including pursuing a petition to review the Referee’s recommendation.
Reinstatement and Readmission Procedures
Attorneys suspended from practicing law for more than ninety (90) days, and those designated inactive for incapacity not related to misconduct under Rule 3-7.13, may apply for reinstatement to The Florida Bar pursuant to Rule 3-7.10, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Rule 3-7.10 also sets forth criterion for disbarred or resigned attorneys seeking readmission to The Florida Bar through the Florida Board of Bar Examiners’ full admission process, which requires a complete background investigation, character and fitness clearance and passage of the Bar Examination.
A Petition for Reinstatement filed with the Supreme Court of Florida in accordance with Rule 3-7.10(l), together with all required enclosures, including evidence of a cost deposit paid to The Florida Bar, will initiate a reinstatement proceeding. Before preparing and filing a Petition for Reinstatement, an attorney should carefully review the content requirements of Rule 3-7.10(l)(3)(A) – (O). Inaccurate or incomplete information may delay or cause denial of the petition.
Upon receipt of evidence showing full payment of costs and restitution, the Chief Justice will refer the petition for reinstatement to a Referee to conduct a hearing and determine the petitioner’s fitness to resume practicing law. Frequently, the Referee appointed in the reinstatement proceeding will be the same Referee who presided in the underlying disciplinary case. Bar counsel is also assigned and generally works with a Bar investigator and Bar auditor to investigate the petition, interview the Petitioner and other witnesses, investigate the Petitioner’s activities since suspension, and to prepare letters to local newspapers, The Florida Bar News, Designated Reviewers and local bar association presidents publicizing and seeking comments regarding the petition for reinstatement. In the course of its investigation, the Bar will request information from various sources, such as the Petitioner’s employers and the Internal Revenue Service. Upon completing its investigation, the Bar may decide to oppose reinstatement, or to stipulate pursuant to summary procedures provided in Rule 3-7.10(g)(4).
At trial, the Referee will consider evidence of any disqualifying conduct, the Petitioner’s character and fitness, and the establishment of any rehabilitation. The Petitioner has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that he or she is fit to resume the practice of law. The Referee will issue a report to the Supreme Court of Florida recommending that it grant or deny the petition for reinstatement. Review of referee reports may be sought in accordance with Rule 3-7.7. Following a final adverse judgment, however, no successive petition for reinstatement may be filed until one (1) year thereafter.