Category Archives: Legal Malpractice

Surprising Facts about Legal Malpractice

Most providers of services are covered by some type of malpractice or liability insurance, giving their clients some measure of comfort that there is a means for recovery in the event of a mistake. Unfortunately, one cannot make this assumption about attorneys.  In Florida, as in almost every other state, attorneys are not required to carry legal malpractice insurance. Furthermore, attorneys in Florida, as in many other states, are not even required to inform clients that they do not carry such insurance. The only way to know if your Florida attorney is insured against legal malpractice claims is, quite simply, to ask.

But My Attorney Carries Malpractice Insurance…Won’t My Claim be Covered?

The purpose of professional liability insurance, another term for malpractice insurance, is to protect providers of professional services from having to face the full cost of defending against claims of negligence from clients and from bearing the full cost of damages that may be awarded in a malpractice lawsuit.

Legal Malpractice Attorney Florida

Do not assume that an insured attorney means that your particular claim will be covered, however. Listed below are a few of the reasons why your attorney’s malpractice insurance policy, assuming he even has one, may not be very helpful at all to you. (Note: The list is not exhaustive.)

  • You filed a claim when the policy was not in effect – Unlike other insurance coverage types, where claims are covered based on when an incident occurs, malpractice insurance only covers claims that are made during the term of the insurance policy. This means that even if the attorney had a policy in effect at the time he or she performed the negligent act, your malpractice claim will not be covered if the policy is no longer in effect at the time the claim is actually made.
  • The policy does not cover the type of legal work performed by your attorney – Some policies will not cover every area of law in which an attorney practices. Practically every legal malpractice insurance policy, for example, excludes coverage for claims involving alleged securities violations. The exclusions for coverage will be specific to each policy.
  • Your attorney committed a criminal act – Malpractice insurance was designed to cover an attorney’s mistakes…not his blatantly illegal acts. When your attorney fails to file a lawsuit on your behalf within the statute of limitations or fails to discover necessary information for use at a trial, a malpractice insurance policy may cover such mistakes. When, however, your attorney steals money from clients’ accounts, the policy will not cover such criminal acts.

The bottom line – your claim may not be covered by your attorney’s malpractice insurance, meaning that  any damages that you may be entitled to would have to be recovered from the attorney himself. In other words, even if you have suffered damages at the hands of your attorney and even with a verdict in yourfavor, you may never actually be able to recover your damages.  Without an insurance policy to make a payout or with an insurance policy that does not cover that particular claim, the attorney will be responsible for the judgment. While you may be able to reach some of the attorney’s assets and recoup a portion of your damages, it is unlikely that you would recover the entire amount of your damages. Furthermore, if the attorney’s assets are not in his name (for example, the attorney may have put assets in a spouse’s name) you would not be able to reach those assets.

Let Our Attorneys Examine Your Options

Legal malpractice cases can be very costly to prosecute. The availability of means of recovery should be considered as early as possible if you believe you have a potential claim for malpractice. It is important to contact an attorney who will openly and honestly discuss the merits of your claim. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Craig R. Zobel have worked diligently to protect the rights of their clients for almost three decades. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience in representing clients in legal malpractice cases. Call us today at (561) 277-1819 to get started with a free consultation.

When Should You Hire a Florida Legal Malpractice Attorney?

When Should You Hire a Florida Legal Malpractice Attorney?
When a litigant believes or knows that he or she has sustained significant financial harm as a result of a lawyer not performing the job he or she was hired to perform.
Who Should You Hire to Evaluate a Potential Florida Legal Malpractice Claim?

A Lawyer experienced in the trial and appeal of legal malpractice matters is the best choice.

Ethical Obligations

All attorneys are governed specifically by the Florida Legal Ethics Rules, which state in part that attorneys must swear a duty to engage in professional, ethical and “competent representation to their clients.” (Florida Ethics Rule 4-1.1). Such competence is measured by legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation. (Rule 4-1.1). However, many attorneys, for a variety of reasons, may not meet the standard of care expected in representation. Florida precedent specifically outlines that a legal malpractice claim may exist where the lawyer was employed, the lawyer neglected a reasonable duty, and the lawyer’s actions or failure to act resulted in harm or loss to the client. See, e.g., Lenahan v. Russell L. Forkey, P.A., 702 So.2d 610, 611 (Fla 4th DCA 1997).

Types of Malpractice that Frequently Occur

Some common situations where legal malpractice occur include:

(1) If an attorney has failed to meet a certain deadline, such as filing a motion or conveying evidence to the other side in accordance with procedural requirements of open and honest discovery, then a legal malpractice lawsuit may be appropriate.

(2) Malpractice may arise in circumstances where an attorney fails to file a pleading or make an appearance.

(3) An Attorneys may also be guilty of legal malpractice where he or she has inadequately prepared a client’s case.

(4) Malpractice may occur when an attorney fails to expend the necessary time, effort, and money to develop expert testimony that is necessary to the case.

(5) Malpractice may arise in circumstances where an attorney fails to prepare or adequately research issues in the case.

(6) Lawyers may also subject to malpractice claims for not divulging conflicts of interest or acting contrary to their client’s best interest.

Get Another Perspective

The situations listed above are not the only scenarios wherein legal malpractice may occur. If you have a serious financial injury that you believe may be the result of an attorney not fulfilling their ethical or contractual duties to you it is vital that you act promptly as Florida has a two year statute of limitations that applies to legal malpractice cases. The determination of when that two year limitation bars your lawsuit is often a complex undertaking. If you believe that you have been significantly injured or financially harmed by an attorney, consult an experienced legal malpractice attorney, one who has successfully tried legal malpractice cases, promptly so that you do not forfeit your rights.

Questions about Legal Malpractice in Florida

If you have questions about legal malpractice or need to hire a Florida legal malpractice lawyer please call the Law Offices of Craig R. Zobel today at 561-277-1819.

Being Disbarred in the State of Florida

The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation oversees disciplinary action to enforce the rules of professional conduct for the state of Florida’s 96,000+ bar-admitted lawyers. In Florida, the Department of Lawyer Regulation resides in The Florida Bar, which was created by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Attorney Discipline and Disbarment in Florida
The disbarment process is not undertaken lightly. Because of the potential permanent damage to an attorney’s reputation and livelihood, formal complaints against attorney members of the bar will not be filed in disciplinary proceedings unless The Florida Bar determines probable cause exists to believe the attorney is guilty of misconduct.[i] If a grievance committee finds probable cause exists and the attorney in question rejects that committee’s recommendation for admonishment, then the case will go to trial before a judge.[ii] The judge will make a determination as to the facts, advise whether the attorney should be found guilty of misconduct, and make a disciplinary recommendation. It will then go to the Supreme Court of Florida, where a final order will be issued and any appeals will be handled.

Other outcomes aside from disbarment may include public reprimand, admonishment, suspension, and probation.[iii] In some cases, the grievance committee may recommend options such as ethics school, trust accounting workshop, professionalism workshop, stress management workshop, or additional continuing legal education (CLE) credits for the offending attorneys.[iv]

In 2013, out of 96,559 lawyers licensed to practice law as members of The Florida Bar:

  • 58 attorneys were disbarred
  • 106 were suspended
  • 18 were felony cases
  • 28 were publicly reprimanded
  • 20 were admonished
  • 30 were put on probation

Combined, the total number of discipline cases for 2013 is less than 4% of the total attorneys admitted to practice in the state of Florida. Typically, the number of initial complaints is much greater; between seven and nine thousand each year.[v] That’s still only a small slice of the total number of practicing Florida attorneys.

Disbarred lawyers are able to reapply for admission to the bar after their period of disbarment (typically five years, but ranging from days to permanence). In practice, though, few do so. According to The Ledger.com, fewer than 5% of disbarred Florida lawyer seek readmission after the five year period. National trends tracked in a recent American Bar Association study Survey on Lawyer Disciplinary Systems found that of 674 petitions for reinstatement or readmission to the bar in 2011, only 67 were successful. This may be due to the tough requirements of the readmission process, which include re-taking the bar exam and undergoing a rigorous background check which many are apparently unable to pass.

What Do Lawyers Do After Disbarment?

Interestingly, some continue to practice law. That’s what these Florida attorneys recently did and it promptly resulted in their permanent disbarment. Others turn to business, education, or other professions.

If you want to greatly lessen your chance of future injury through legal malpractice, before you engage a lawyer, try these resources:

You can look up disciplinary actions by The Florida Bar since August, 2007 here.

The American Bar Association maintains a National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank, which is the only source of such information with a national scope. However, it is not comprehensive because state participation is voluntary and only disciplined attorneys are included; not all of those who’ve been sanctioned.

If you believe a Florida attorney has mishandled your case and failed to uphold their duty as your lawyer, you may be interested in the following resources:

The Florida Bar offers an Attorney Consumer Assistance Program to help resolve issues before a complaint is filed. This service claims to resolve about one third of its over 24,000 annual requests for assistance. Their frequently asked questions page is also helpful.

Review The Florida Bar’s Inquiry Concerning a Florida Lawyer Pamphlet which overviews the Florida lawyer discipline system.

If you have sustained losses as a result of attorney misconduct, it is unlikely you will find relief through The Florida Bar’s debarment process. Though you may want to pursue that separately, in order to recover any losses, you will need to pursue an action in civil court.

 


[i] Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, available at http://www.floridabar.org

[ii] Reporter’s Handbook, available at http://www.floridabar.org

[iii] Florida Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, available at http://www.floridabar.org

[iv] Slide 7 of “Overview of the Florida Bar Discipline System,” available at http://www.floridabar.org

[v] The Florida Bar Disciplinary Statistics 08-13, available at http://www.floridabar.org