Amended Comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-5.8, effective 2/1/18, clarifies client notice procedures when lawyers leave law firms

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the amended Comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-5.8, clarifying procedures when lawyers leave law firms, which became effective 2/1/18.  The Florida Bar filed a Petition with, inter alia, the proposed rule amendment with the Florida Supreme Court on October 15, 2016.  The Court approved the amended Comment in an opinion dated 11/9/17, and the revision became effective on February 1, 2018.  The SC case is: In re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar (Biennial Petition), 229 So.3d 1154 (Fla. 2017) and the opinion is here:

Florida Bar Rule 4-5.8 sets forth the required procedures when a lawyer leaves a law firm or when a law firm dissolves. The text of the rule was not changed substantively; however, the Comment was been revised to clarify the procedures and address issues which frequently arise in these circumstances.  The revisions include the following:

  1. when a lawyer leaves a firm or the firm dissolves or changes its members, the departing lawyer and the firm “should engage in bona fide, good faith negotiations within a reasonable period of time” after the change is known, and notice to clients must be given “within a reasonable period of time.”  This revision clarifies the time frame for negotiations to be “within a reasonable time.”
  1. the required notice to clients may be made by telephone; however, proof of compliance ”may be difficult unless the notification is in writing.”  This clarifies that the notice to clients may be by telephone; however, proving compliance with the rule when notice is made this way “may be difficult.”
  1. client notice should be given to “current clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services with direct client contact”; however, notice to clients with whom the departing lawyer had no direct contact is not required.  This revision clarifies to which clients the client notice must be sent.
  1. to comply with the rule, “both departing lawyers and the law firm should be given access to the names and contact information of all clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services and with whom the lawyer has had direct contact.”
  1. when neither the departing lawyer nor the firm intend to continue representing a client, the client may be notified with a joint notice (or separately if the parties are unable agree on a joint notice); however, any obligations to give notice, protect the client’s interests on withdrawal, and obtain required court permission “may apply to both the departing lawyer and lawyers remaining in the firm.”  This clarifies that the client notice obligation may apply to the firm and the lawyer leaving the firm.

Bottom line:  This Bar Rule amendment clarifies some of the issues which come up frequently regarding notice to clients when lawyers leave law firms or the law firm breaks up or changes members.

Be careful out there.

If you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert  is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice, and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150,

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
This entry was posted in 4-5.8 lawyers leaving law firms, Attorney ethics, corsmeier, Florida Bar Rule 4-5.8 lawyers leaving law firms, Florida Bar Rules, joe corsmeier, joseph corsmeier, Lawyer Ethics, Lawyer leaving law firm, Rule 4-5.8 amendment to comment 2018, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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