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Posted on March 12, 2018 in

Brian L. Tannebaum Makes Front Page Of The Daily Business Review 3/12/18 (Twice) Sticky Fingers: Attorney Thefts From Clients Spiked In Great Recession. The last recession saw a significant increase in Florida disbarments for stealing and other serious trust account violations. Florida saw an uptick in disbarments for stealing from clients in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The Great Recession left a wake of disbarred attorneys in Florida who lost their licenses after dipping into client trust funds in order to keep their practices afloat.

Florida Bar data reviewed by the Daily Business Review showed client theft-related disbarments after the recession increased by nearly 88 percent, peaking at 47 disbarments in 2010. It often takes a year or more for the state Supreme Court to issue a final disciplinary order once the Florida Bar is notified of a possible trust account violation. That means disbarments for recession-era conduct came slightly after the economic downturn.

The recession lasted from December 2007 through June 2009, according to the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research. Many attorneys lost business during the recession as companies and families struggled to balance their checkbooks. “Lawyers have an identity,” he said. “That identity is of a person with a certain level of status in society. A lot of lawyers build their lives around that, so you’ll find lawyers who have very expensive cars, very expensive homes, very expensive lifestyles.”

“Lawyers have an identity,” he said. “That identity is of a person with a certain level of status in society. A lot of lawyers build their lives around that, so you’ll find lawyers who have very expensive cars, very expensive homes, very expensive lifestyles.”

Lawyers’ egos sometimes prevent them from facing the music, said Tannenbaum, special counsel to Bast Amron. 

“I’ve spoken to lawyers who have said, ‘I have all these expenses, all these bills, and I couldn’t tell my family I wasn’t making X-amount of dollars anymore because of the recession,’” he said. View the full article Copyright © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

We Need To Talk About Lawyers’ Behind-The-Scenes Help To Pro Se Clients 

It’s not working out well for Ice Legal, but ethics lawyers say there’s nothing wrong with attorneys ghostwriting court pleadings for pro se litigants.

The Royal Palm Beach law firm offers “unbundled” and “as-needed” services to litigants who represent themselves in court. Its attorneys doesn’t attend hearings or sign any of the pro se court filings, but the foreclosure defense firm does everything else for clients paying a flat fee of about $200 per month.

That’s good news for clients, who would otherwise spend four times as much, according to firm founder Thomas Ice. But it’s bad for Ice Legal — now in hot water with judges who sanctioned at least one of its clients and demanded its attorneys show their face for litigation involving their “ghostwritten” pleadings.

But here’s the rub: Ethics lawyers say Ice Legal appears to be in strict compliance with Florida Bar rules. Plus they say the service allows clients in financial distress to afford legal representation.

“It is an access-to-justice rule,” said Florida Bar ethics committee member Andrew S. Berman, senior partner at Young Berman Karpf & Gonzalez in Miami. “When used properly, it could be of great benefit to clients.”

The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct allow limited representation as long as attorneys provide clear notice of their participation. Under the rule, a lawyer may draft and not sign documents for a pro se litigant but must add language to show the filing was “prepared with the assistance of counsel.”

Ice Legal’s pleadings include this disclosure, but experts say some jurists and attorneys misunderstand the guidelines.

“The issue is the language that’s being used … is in the comments to the rule. It’s not in the actual rule. That might be where the disconnect is,” said Bast Amron special counsel Brian Tannebaum, who represents attorneys in civil and criminal courts and in disciplinary matters before the Florida Bar and Board of Bar Examiners. “This is why I always tell lawyers to read the comments because the comments give great insight into the interpretation of the rule.”

The comments include a subhead on “Agreements limiting scope of representation.” That section reads in part: “If the lawyer assists a pro se litigant by drafting any document to be submitted to a court, the lawyer is not obligated to sign the document. However, the lawyer must indicate ‘Prepared with the assistance of counsel’ on the document to avoid misleading the court, which otherwise might be under the impression that the person, who appears to be proceeding pro se, has received no assistance from a lawyer.”

Tannenbaum said, “Not to offend any judges, but as I’m telling lawyers (to read closely) … I guess I should also say to judges, ‘By the way, keep reading and look at the comments.’ ”

Meanwhile, Berman, who’s lectured on limited representation, said ghostwriting is common in family court where litigants often represent themselves for financial reasons.

Ice Legal’s predicament suggests the firm is perhaps pioneering the same model in foreclosure cases.

“It’s a rule that’s still in its infancy,” Berman said. “It’s still trying to find its equilibrium.” View the full article Copyright © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Brian is the firm’s General Counsel and practices in the areas of Ethics and White Collar Defense, representing law firms as well as future, current, and former lawyers and legal professionals in matters before the Florida Bar and Board of Bar Examiners as well as in civil and criminal courts.

Specific ethics matters include Bar Admission Hearings, Grievance Defense from the initial complaint to argument before the Florida Supreme Court, Reinstatement and Readmission matters, Sanctions Hearings, Legal Malpractice Defense, partnership disputes and dissolutions as well as ethics opinions. He has been counsel in over 50 Florida Bar matters at The Florida Supreme Court level and has been appointed in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in and for Miami-Dade County, Florida as a Special Master.