Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent decision of The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors of to approve language to be added to the comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-5.8 related to lawyers leaving law firms. An article in The Florida Bar News discusses the proposed revision and is here: https://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829/7d1fa5d263aee7a585257dc400492f7d!OpenDocument
At its December 2014 meeting, The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors voted final approval of a proposed rule amendment clarifying the duties of lawyers and law firms when a lawyer leaves a law firm or the law firm dissolves. According to the Bar News article, the proposed rule amendment “addresses questions directed to Bar staff through the Bar’s Ethics Hotline by lawyers and law firms and addresses how and which clients must be informed of changes in a firm and provides that such communications must be reasonable in timeliness and nature.” The proposed revision will now be sent to the Florida Supreme Court for review and potential approval and implementation.
The proposed revision to the comment to Rule 4-5.8 is below with significant language in bold:
“Lawyers and firms should engage in bona fide, good faith negotiations within a reasonable period of time following their knowledge of either the anticipated change in firm composition or, if the anticipated change is unknown, within a reasonable period of time after the change in firm composition. The actual notification to clients should also occur within a reasonable period of time. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, including the nature of the matters in which the lawyer represented the clients and whether the affected clients have deadlines that need to be met within a short period of time.
“For purposes of this rule, clients who should be notified of the change in firm composition include current clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services with direct client contact. Clients need not be notified of the departure of a lawyer with whom the client has had no direct contact. Clients whose files are closed need not be notified unless the former client contacts the firm, at which point the firm should notify the former client of the departure of any lawyer who performed significant legal services for that former client and had direct contact with that former client.
“Although contact by telephone is not prohibited under this rule, proof of compliance with the requirements of this rule may be difficult unless the notification is in writing.
“In order to comply with the requirements of this 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.
“If neither the departing lawyer nor the law firm intends to continue representation of the affected clients, they may either agree on a joint letter providing that information to those clients, or may separately notify the affected clients after bona fide, good faith negotiations have failed. Any obligation to give the client reasonable notice, protect the client’s interests on withdrawal, and seek permission of a court to withdraw may apply to both the departing lawyer and lawyers remaining in the firm.”
Bottom line: According to the proposed amendment revision, clients who should be notified of the lawyer(s) leaving the law firm include “current clients for whom the departing lawyer has provided significant legal services with direct client contact.” Further, if the lawyer had no direct client contact, “(c)lients need not be notified of the departure of a lawyer.” However, the proposed revision does state that “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.”
If approved by the Florida Supreme Court, this revision will clarify, and have a very significant impact on, the ground rules for the notification of clients when a lawyer leaves a law firm or the law firm is dissolved and will significantly restrict the current clients to be notified when a lawyer leaves a law firm.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship 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.
2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431
Clearwater, Florida 33759
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670