The concept of service at The Florida Bar extends beyond membership services. The bar is active in many areas which jointly affect our membership, the legal profession as a whole, and the society in which we live. These programs are premised upon one or more of the purposes stated at the beginning of this presentation. Just as with our membership programs, maximum service is the cornerstone of their existence. Among them are...
Fee Arbitration--Most complaints specifically regarding attorney's fees are addressed by the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar--Chapter 14 (Fee Arbitration Rule). When a complainant indicates that a dispute involves an illegal or clearly excessive fee, the Bar may pursue that claim through its regulatory system. Otherwise, the client should contact the fee arbitration administrator in an attempt to resolve the dispute. The statewide Fee Arbitration Program is voluntary and depends on both the client and lawyer agreeing to have their fee dispute settled by a sole arbitrator or a panel composed of lawyer and citizen members. The fee arbitration program also addresses fee disputes between attorneys. Upon proper filing of a request for arbitration, the matter is referred by the circuit arbitration committee chairperson to: 1) a sole arbitrator when the amount in controversy is $2,500 or less, or 2) a panel of three, consisting of at least one lawyer and at least one nonlawyer, when the amount exceeds $2,500. If arbitration is not an option, a fee dispute may require resolution through the courts.
Grievance Procedure--Inquiries into the conduct of an attorney may be initiated by a member of the public, the Bar, or any other person who has information regarding alleged misconduct. Inquiries are reviewed by Bar staff attorneys and if a possible violation is indicated, the inquiry is treated as a complaint.
Supreme Court rules require that complaints be in writing and signed under penalty of perjury. The Bar may proceed with a complaint in its own name without a sworn complaint. If the complaint cannot be proved or does not warrant discipline, Bar attorneys may dismiss the complaint. The complaint may be referred to a local grievance committee composed of lawyers and nonlawyers located in the area where the attorney practices or the events occurred.
The grievance committee is responsible for continuing the investigation of possible lawyer misconduct. If the committee finds probable cause to believe unprofessional conduct has occurred and that further proceedings are warranted, a formal complaint against the accused attorney is filed with the Supreme Court of Florida. The court then appoints a judge as a referee to hear the case.
The referee hears testimony and receives evidence. Bar attorneys act as prosecutors before the referee and the attorney involved is entitled to participate in the trial and may be represented by counsel.
The referee makes a report regarding the findings of fact and guilt or innocence, and recommends the disciplinary sanction to be imposed on the attorney. This report is filed with the Supreme Court of Florida. The report may be reviewed by the Board of Governors to decide whether the Bar will appeal. The court will ultimately issue an order regarding disciplinary sanctions which may include diversion, an admonishment, a public reprimand, suspension, disbarment, or accept a disciplinary resignation.
Alternative Resolutions of Complaints-ACAP: A program designed to screen complaints and assist in resolving minor problems that do not rise to the level of an ethical complaint. ACAP serves as an information clearinghouse to direct such complaints to the proper agency, program, or Bar committee. See page 26.
Diversion: The removal of a disciplinary matter from the disciplinary system and placement of the matter into a skills enhancement program in lieu of a disciplinary sanction. This program involves attendance at an ethics school and possible referral to such programs as Florida Lawyers Assistance, Law Office Management Assistance Service, trust accounting, or lawyer advertising workshops.
Mediation: Referral of disputes between clients and attorneys to a mediator for resolution without involvement of formal disciplinary processes. A successful mediation of such disputes allows for the closure of complaint file without the entry of a sanction.
Fee Arbitration: In those matters where the disciplinary rules do not provide for jurisdiction over a fee dispute, such matters can be arbitrated upon consent of both parties.
Unlicensed Practice of Law-The purpose of investigating and prosecuting the unlicensed practice of law (UPL) is to protect the public. The Florida Bar, through the UPL department, functions as an investigatory and prosecutorial agency with orders enjoining an individual from engaging in UPL issued by the Supreme Court of Florida.
Complaints alleging that an individual is practicing law without a license may be initiated by anyone with information in this regard. Complaints are investigated by one of the 32 local circuit committees. A statewide...