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