Adria Quintela is staff counsel and director of Lawyer Regulation for The Florida Bar. She supervises the operations of...
Christine Bilbrey is a Senior Practice Management Advisor at The Florida Bar’s Practice ResourceCenter. She holds a master’s degree...
Karla Eckardt, a Miami native, moved to Tallahassee to pursue a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and criminology from...
When Florida lawyers behave unethically, The Florida Bar steps in to ensure that justice is served. In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, hosts Christine Bilbrey and Karla Eckardt talk to Adria Quintela about The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation and attorney discipline. She shares how an investigation works, from the filing of a complaint all the way to what happens after the trial. The episode also features tips for lawyers who have received complaints or wish to avoid them.
Adria Quintela is staff counsel and director of Lawyer Regulation for The Florida Bar.
The Florida Bar Podcast
Intro: Welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, where we highlight the latest trends in law office and law practice management to help you run your law firm, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Christine Bilbrey: Hello and welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by LegalFuel, The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar on Legal Talk Network. We are so glad you are joining us. This is Christine Bilbrey. I am a Senior Practice Management Advisor and one of the hosts for today’s show, which is being recorded from our offices in Tallahassee, Florida.
Karla Eckhardt: Hello. I am Karla Eckhardt. I am a Practice Management Advisor at the Florida Bar and a co-host of today’s podcast. Our goal at the Practice Resource Center is to assist Florida attorneys with running the business side of their law practices. We focus on a different topic each month and carry the theme through our website with related tips, videos and articles.
Christine Bilbrey: So this month our topic is lawyer regulation and the Bar complaints that are filed against some attorneys, and joining us is attorney Adria Quintela. Adria is Staff Counsel and the Director of Lawyer Regulation for The Florida Bar. In that capacity she supervises the operations of the entire Lawyer Regulation Department and the attorneys in each of the five branch offices of The Florida Bar. She has been with the Bar over 22 years, starting out as Bar counsel, investigating and trying cases.
Adria received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Miami and then attended Northwestern Law School in Chicago. After law school she worked for a large Miami firm handling commercial litigation, real estate, employment law matters and later worked as a plaintiff’s trial attorney handling complex personal injury products liability and medical malpractice cases.
Welcome to the show Adria.
Adria Quintela: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Christine Bilbrey: So Adria, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and what your department does here at the Bar?
Adria Quintela: Sure. As Staff Counsel and Director of Lawyer Regulation for The Florida Bar, what I do is I oversee the discipline process for the Bar. We have five offices and each of those branches is tasked with a specific geographic region for which they are responsible for. And in each of those regions we receive complaints against attorneys that our lawyers investigate and look at and if there is a basis for ethical misconduct, carry all the way up through trial and the appellate process.
So our main role is to protect the public and to ensure that lawyers are being true to the ethical rules.
Christine Bilbrey: Great. And so we have had Shanell Schuyler on in the past, and she is the head of ACAP, the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program here at the Bar. So for some listeners, if you want more background about that, you could pull up that podcast.
But Adria, from your end, how does a complaint get started when someone contacts the Bar?
Adria Quintela: Well, the complaint does initially get started with Shanell’s department, which is the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program known as ACAP, and that’s the initial process where anyone who believes that their attorney has acted unethically or anyone who is dissatisfied with the attorney can contact our ACAP unit at their toll-free number and the attorneys at ACAP will gladly assist them in trying to resolve, the dispute they may be having or the misunderstanding they may be having with their attorney, or they can actually guide them in sending them a complaint form that they can later on fill out and submit for ACAP’s review.
Karla Eckhardt: And once it’s submitted for ACAP’s review, where does the initial investigation start, does it stay with ACAP or does it then go straight to your offices?
Adria Quintela: The initial and very, very first step of the investigation begins at ACAP, to the extent that ACAP will open up a file, they will actually send the lawyer who is being complained against the actual complaint and give them an opportunity to respond to that grievance, and ACAP will try to resolve, and they frequently do resolve quite a number of problems that the individual is having with their attorney.
When they cannot, that’s when it comes over to my division, Lawyer Regulation, for us to do some investigation that’s a lot more in-depth than what was initially looked at by ACAP.
Karla Eckhardt: So once the Bar investigates a complaint, as an example, if an attorney fails to communicate with the client and the client files a complaint, it’s now reached Lawyer Regulation, what happens after you have done your investigation at Lawyer Reg?
Adria Quintela: What will happen is that file will be transferred to one of our branch offices depending on where the lawyer is located. It will be assigned to one of our Bar counsel. The bar counsel will work with, we have former FBI investigators, we have auditors, we have a number of individuals who assist the Bar in the investigation of that complaint.
And once that investigation is complete, there will be a determination by Bar counsel to either close the file on the basis that there appears to be no ethical violation or to move the file further down in the process, and the further down in the process would be our next step, which is the Grievance Committee.
Christine Bilbrey: And we hear — I think we see the most salacious ones on the Bar News, those kind of things, all the attorneys live in fear of getting a Bar complaint, but what would you say the bulk of the complaints stem from?
Adria Quintela: It’s interesting, because it has always been throughout my tenure at the Bar, and it’s still true today, that the most common complaint we see is lack of communication. It can be as simple as the lawyer doesn’t return phone calls, the lawyer doesn’t keep the client informed as to what’s happening in their case, so the client feels as if nothing is being done. And that’s not necessarily true. The lawyer may be in trial, the lawyer may really have nothing to communicate at that moment in time to the client, but that lack of communication is what really frustrates the clients the most.
So what we frequently see and continue to see are a lot of communication complaints. We see a fairly high number of neglect cases, where the lawyer is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, and we do see some significant trust accounting violations. So those are probably the three largest categories.
Of course we see everything else. We are seeing professionalism or lack of professionalism cases. We see criminal misconduct by the lawyers. So it’s really a broad category of different types of complaints. But to this day lack of communication begins with the lawyer not being communicative with the client and that leads to most of the complaints that we see.
Christine Bilbrey: And so it seems like a lot of that could be avoided even before it’s gotten to the Bar complaint level because, like when I was a firm administrator, we would have kind of like a mini training for new attorneys and we would tell them to be very specific in their billing, so that literally every month when that client got a bill, even if they didn’t owe any money, they could see because of each entry what had been done by the attorney on their case. Are there other things that you can recommend to help attorneys to avoid the communication issue?
Adria Quintela: Yes, absolutely. The simplest thing which we have talked about is just communicate with your clients, let them know what’s going on. Even if you are busy, call them, text them, send them an email, letting them know that you are going to be back in touch with them.
Documentation of the files is another very important thing for a lawyer to do and can be very handy if a grievance does come in. We see a lot of cases where there is really very poor documentation by the lawyer. So it puts everyone in a very difficult position when a client is saying, for example, I wasn’t informed of the settlement, and the lawyer says, yes, I did, I called him or her.
Well, the first thing the Bar would look at is the lawyer’s file. Send us a copy of the letter that you sent the client advising them of their settlement, or show us some kind of phone record that says that you communicated with the client. And you would be surprised but quite a few lawyers really don’t have that and that could resolve the grievance right there and it would result in the file certainly being closed.
So one of the best things I think a lawyer can do to avoid a grievance and to once they do find themselves in the grievance process, if they do, is document their files clearly.
I would say a third thing would be don’t create unreasonable expectations. Sometimes lawyers take cases they shouldn’t be taking or, unintentionally perhaps, but promise results that they really can’t deliver and that leads to problems down the line. So I think being realistic with your client is also something that’s not easy to do for all of us who practice law. And I come from that background so I know it’s not easy to tell a client that their case isn’t really a great case, but at the end of the day that lawyer is going to be very happy that they had that honest conversation with that client, that they communicated it to the client and that they documented it in their files.
Christine Bilbrey: And I think that’s a good point to stress too. So even if you’re waiting for a settlement, we at one of our recent luncheons we asked how many people are doing billing like even if you’re doing contingency cases, and so many of them worked.
Karla Eckhardt: Right, yeah.
Christine Bilbrey: And we were shocked because we wrote for those very reasons document, document, document and it seems like obvious but people forget and they don’t — so many attorneys don’t like doing it, but —
Karla Eckhardt: Right, even if it’s for a flat fee matter that you are not billing on an hourly basis, just do the billing and leave it as zero charge, that way you create that record, it’s really important.
Speaking of attorneys that have issues communicating what happens if an attorney doesn’t respond to that letter that they get from the Bar letting them know that a complaint has been filed?
Adria Quintela: One of the worst things a lawyer can do when they face a complaint is ignore it and pretend it’s going to go away. It is a fatal mistake because the failure to respond in and of itself is an ethical violation that subjects that attorney to discipline. It’s not going to go away, it will be there. We want to see even if it’s a one sentence letter that says, I deny all of the allegations, you know what, that’s fine, that’s a place where we can start from and build from, but if the lawyer does not respond regardless of whether or not the allegations in the underlying Bar complaint are true or not, that failure to respond has been deemed by the Supreme Court of Florida to be something that the Bar can and should prosecute and they are subject to discipline for that.
Christine Bilbrey: And there’s been a lot of the email scams that go on we try to warn our members about that, if you have received a Bar complaint, will you always be notified by letter, by snail mail by the Bar?
Adria Quintela: Yes, yes you will get a letter from the Bar that says, here’s your Bar complaint and it will be in writing with a copy attached the actual complaint that we received. It will have the name of a Bar counsel who’s investigating the case and it will be something that you can identify as a legitimate Bar document because you can call that office, call that number, find out if that Bar counsel works there and indeed talk to a live person if you need to verify that I guess.
Karla Eckhardt: And now once, so now the complaint has been filed and we know that there are grievance committees involved, how does a grievance committee work and who serves on the committee?
Adria Quintela: The grievance committees are one of the best aspects of the Florida Bar system in my opinion and the grievance committees are volunteers, they are volunteers from each of the communities of the respective Bar offices, they consist of lawyers and non-lawyers, and they are appointed by our board of governors who is the governing body of the Florida Bar.
So, serving on a committee it’s a voluntary process, what they do is they sit very much like a grand jury, it’s typically nine members in a committee of those nine members one-third are non-lawyers and the way the process works is one Bar counsel has made a determination to not close the file and move the file in the system forward to the grievance committee, what will happen is an investigating member gets appointed from the grievance committee and that person is tasked with the job of doing some very involved and very detailed investigation on that file.
Keep in mind it’s already come from Bar counsel, it’s already been looked at by Bar counsel, so there’s already been some investigation by the Bar and the Bar staff whether it’s an auditor or a Bar investigator who’s looked at that file. But the grievance committee is really essential in doing some very in-depth investigation, they can interview witnesses, they can request documents, they can subpoena people to testify, and what will happen is the investigating member will give a report as to his or her recommendations on that file and the committee can then decide whether they’re ready to make a finding based on the recommendation or hold a hearing where they can actually bring in the parties and take testimony of the parties. So very much like a grand jury the grievance committee serves as the core body that makes a recommendation to the Bar as to whether the Bar can proceed on a given matter.
Christine Bilbrey: And Adria, give us a sense of the timing here, like after the complaint is filed and the Bar has notified the attorney, how long do they have to respond, is it based on how involved the investigation is, versus how quickly they will get to the committee, what’s the time period we’re looking at?
Adria Quintela: Yes, that’s a very difficult question to answer only because it depends on of course the nature of the file typically from ACAP to the Bar as far as the Bar attorney doing an investigation. There’s not a whole lot of time that passes because really that’s a preliminary investigation.
Once Bar counsel has looked at the file it can be very quick or it can be even months if Bar counsel has to actually work with our auditor to do an audit and obtain bank records, say it’s a trust accounting case. We’re sort of at the mercy of that banking institution as to when they actually give us the documents that we ask for.
So, that’s why the timeframe can really vary. We obviously try to get all of the documents and all the information to the committee and the same thing at the committee level if there’s an investigating member requesting additional information or trying to schedule a witness to testify in front of the committee, the timing can vary, but I would say, we really do our very best to conclude a matter at grievance committee if at all possible with no more than one, two, maybe three meetings. The committees meet once a month. So you may be looking anywhere between 30 days, 90 days, now frankly having said that, of course it depends on the case. There’s cases that can be at a committee for what seems like a very long period of time but that’s because there’s other factors outside of our control that we may be waiting on whether that’s a document, it’s a trust accounting record, whether it’s an availability of a witness.
So, it really varies, but we try to conclude the matter, I would say, within 30 to 90 days of it getting to the grievance committee.
Christine Bilbrey: And does Florida Bar member if they have been summoned to the grievance committee, what are their rights? Can they bring an attorney with them at that point our most representing themselves, what’s going on with that side of it with representation?
Adria Quintela: Yes, at any part of the process from the very inception of the process, any attorney can and frequently are represented by attorneys on their behalf and they can participate with that respondent throughout the entire proceedings.
Once the file gets to grievance committee chances are that they are going to be represented by counsel, so we frequently deal directly with that person’s attorney, and what’s interesting is most of the respondents that we deal with are represented not only by attorneys but by attorneys who really know what they’re doing because many of them are former Bar counsel.
So, they are familiar with the process, they are familiar with the system and they understand the rules and procedures, but we deal, I would say, the majority of times with people who are not pro se, there are some who are but once they find themselves in front of a grievance committee most people choose to and do get representation.
Karla Eckhardt: And what types of sort of determinations does a grievance committee come to when it comes to taking action against the attorney?
Adria Quintela: A grievance committee has several options that they can choose to exercise. They can certainly close the file and that’s a no probable cause finding that means they looked at it, they looked at all the evidence and there’s not sufficient evidence to conclude that there’s any violation by the attorney. So that’s a no probable cause finding.
They have other options such as a letter of advice, and a letter of advice is also a no probable cause finding in a sense that the file gets closed; however, the letter is a reminder, it is actually a letter written to the attorney reminding him or her about the ethical duties that they came very close to violating. It didn’t rise to the level of an ethical breach, but it is something that they should be cautioned about.
Then we have all of our diversion programs and the diversion programs consist of a number of different opportunities for the attorney to improve his or her either communication skills, trust accounting skills, professionalism, if they came close to violating a professionalism rule, we have stress management workshops, we have Florida Lawyers Assistance for lawyers who are facing impairment issues and those programs are meant to help the attorney.
They are not disciplined. They are different programs depending on what the issue is that the attorney is sent to; they can be as short as a day, some are longer. But as long as the attorney goes through the program and completes the program successfully, there would be no discipline on that attorney’s record. So that’s another possibility that the committee can exercise is to make that recommendation.
Then we have minor misconduct, which is discipline. Minor misconduct stays on your record for as long as you are a member of the Bar. However, by its very name that means that you engaged in misconduct that’s minor. You didn’t really steal hundreds of thousands of dollars or you didn’t commit a felony. Minor misconduct is there as disciplined, but does not typically proceed as far as a complaint and the whole Supreme Court process, because the last option which the committee does have to exercise, which is probable cause means that the committee looked at the case, they considered the evidence and there is a basis for the Bar to continue prosecuting that attorney.
So when a committee makes a recommendation of probable cause finding, they are directing the Bar to go forward and to actually file a complaint in the Supreme Court of Florida.
Christine Bilbrey: So all of those at that point do go on to the Supreme Court.
Adria Quintela: Yes, that would be correct.
Christine Bilbrey: And so when we hear the different levels, someone has been publicly reprimanded or they are being suspended or they are being disbarred, is the Supreme Court looking at all of those or is it just like the more — like the disbarment, because we see where there is a recommendation but the Supreme Court overturns it, so just kind of flesh out that stage of the case.
Adria Quintela: The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of everything we do. So regardless of what level of discipline the Bar enters into, there is two ways you can get there. You can either get there through a consent judgment or you can get there through trial.
So say a case has gone through the grievance process and the committee has made a recommendation for probable cause. At that point in time the lawyer — or before actually, the official recommendation has been made by the committee, if the lawyer knows that the committee is looking at the conduct and probably will entertain a probable cause finding, the lawyer can enter into a consent judgment, which is in essence a guilty plea.
If that happens, that does get reviewed by the Board of Governors and it also gets ultimately reviewed by the Supreme Court, regardless of whether it’s a public reprimand, a suspension, a disbarment that they agreed to.
Likewise, if the committee finds probable cause and the lawyer does not resolve the case and we move forward in the case, at any point in time, between that complaint being filed and the trial, the lawyer can also enter into a consent judgment or choose to go to trial and regardless of which of the two avenues again and at which point in time they choose to do that, that would go up to the Supreme Court as well.
So ultimately the Supreme Court looks at all of our disciplines regardless of what level of discipline we impose.
Christine Bilbrey: So if they don’t enter the consent decree and it’s going to go to trial, where are those trials happening? What type of judges are hearing these Bar cases?
Adria Quintela: The way the Bar trials work is the chief judge in each circuit appoints a judge, who is called the referee in Bar proceedings, that individual can be a county court judge or it can be a circuit court judge. And the trials are very similar to a bench trial. In essence, we are governed by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure; however, the rules are somewhat relaxed.
Both parties, the Bar and the respondent, and if they are represented through their attorney can conduct discovery, they can enter into a consent judgment at any point in time during the proceedings. So the proceedings are very similar to a regular trial. The only difference is at the end of the day if there is a trial, there is no jury, it is just that one referee that hears the case and that referee makes a recommendation in that report of referee that’s ultimately submitted to the Supreme Court of Florida.
So the trial is held in different circuits and it depends on where the respondent is located, but we are talking about local judges being assigned to hear Bar cases, the same judges who hear all kinds of cases, not just Bar cases.
Karla Eckhardt: You talked about the referee making a recommendation and presumably it’s some kind of discipline. How do they determine these disciplinary actions and how do they go about recommending them, are there guidelines, do they go by precedent in previous cases? Is it different with every case? What do they take into consideration?
Adria Quintela: The referee listens to both sides and at the end of the day takes a recommendation from the Bar and takes a recommendation from respondent and their counsel, if they are represented. The way we are governed and the way the referee ultimately makes their decision is we have guidelines and it consists of a number of different things that we look at.
Number one, we certainly look at case law, what is the precedent out there for this type of misconduct, what does the case law dictate that we recommend.
Number two, we are governed by the standards for imposing lawyer sanctions. There are actual standards that talk about what kind of conduct warrants what kind of discipline as a guideline and that’s certainly looked at.
They look at as well mitigating factors, aggravating factors, did the person have prior disciplines, how long has the person been practicing, are they remorseful?
So we put all of these different components together and we the Bar make a recommendation to the referee, respondent does the same, and the referee will take all of that together and render a report of referee outlining in great detail, not only the factual findings in the case, but breaking it down into why the discipline was recommended and mitigations, aggravations, standards, case law and ultimately making a report of referee recommendation that we now have to work from.
Christine Bilbrey: And then after that recommendation is made, what happens after the trial is over?
Adria Quintela: After the trial is over, anyone can appeal, and this is very similar to a regular appellate process except that we have a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Florida. So what will happen is either side can petition for review. Part of that process is governed by the Board of Governors. We consult with the Board of Governors as to whether a matter should be appealed or not. Either side can file a petition for review.
When the case is fully briefed, as it is in any normal appellate case, the Supreme Court may order oral arguments and they sometimes do request oral arguments in Bar cases and ultimately they will enter a final order, which is the final dispositive discipline in that case.
Karla Eckhardt: And what are the most common complaints? We have already talked about sort of the process, but in general, we talked about communication and trust accounting, but are there any really strange ones that you have gotten out there that maybe we haven’t heard of. I know we do hear a lot of, like you said, salacious ones in the Bar News, but any that come to mind just as examples?
Adria Quintela: Strange, we have definitely seen. We have seen a lot of strange cases.
Christine Bilbrey: It is the State of Florida.
Adria Quintela: It is the State of Florida and you sort of see it all. I will tell you when I started here, I never thought some of these things could be real and I never thought until I worked for the Bar that I was reading conduct that a lawyer was engaging in.
But we have gotten complaints dealing with lack of professionalism and this is — it’s not funny, but we have gotten complaints about lawyers engaging in physical altercations with each other because they are upset about the question the other side is asking their witness.
We are seeing I would say more of a lack of professionalism type of complaint and that is — I am not sure if that’s just reflective on stressors that lawyers are under or if there is more than in the past, the economy and different circumstances people may be going through. But I think we are seeing an increase in the lack of professionalism complaints.
Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in the criminal misconduct type of complaints, of lawyers engaging in criminal misconduct and we are seeing a fair number of reciprocal discipline complaint, which we weren’t seeing in the past. We are having more members who are admitted in other jurisdictions and when they get any discipline in that other jurisdiction, we get informed of that discipline and then we have to actually prosecute that case as well even though they didn’t engage in that misconduct here.
So we are seeing a fair number of those, and I don’t know if people again are being admitted maybe in more jurisdictions, more than in just Florida, but we are seeing a lot more of that.
The trust accounting has always been there; communication as I said has always been there, but really strange and interesting ones that are really — you read them and you just can’t believe somebody did something like that, dishonesty complaints, where — I recall seeing one very early on in my career with the Bar where it was simple personal injury case where the lawyer represented to the client that they settled the case for $20,000 and the doctor was owed $10,000 and after fees and costs there was no money left over to the client, who happened to be an elderly individual.
And the person just happened to find out, thought everything was fine, and just happened to find out that the doctor was never paid the amount owed, even though the lawyer represented in the closing statement that he had paid the doctor and that wiped out the biggest chunk of the settlement. And the only reason the client found out was because she ran into the doctor at a grocery store and the doctor said to her, so glad I was able to clear your bill when your lawyer called and said there was no money to pay me. And the client said, well, what do you mean clear my bill, he paid you $10,000, and the lawyers said, no, he didn’t pay me $10,000 and thus we got a Bar complaint.
So, but for that encounter that person may have never known. So all kinds of interesting stories and they do keep on getting more and more interesting every day.
Christine Bilbrey: So what is your best advice for attorneys? I mean obviously don’t dip into your trust account, don’t fight with the other attorneys or steal —
Adria Quintela: Don’t ignore your client.
Christine Bilbrey: But what are some other ways that you recommend that an attorney avoids getting a Bar complaint?
Adria Quintela: I think that the best thing you can do is really be honest with the client, be honest to the extent that if you can’t take their case because this is not an area that you are comfortable in, don’t take the case. If you have never practiced in the medical malpractice field and in comes a wonderful multimillion dollar case, but you know in your heart of hearts that you are not going to be able to do this well, don’t take that case, because as tempting as it is, you are not really able and capable or perhaps even competent to take that case.
And I think the temptation is there and it’s very easy to do and feel as if it’s going to settle, I am going to take it, it will be done in a few months. They will probably offer $5 million and it will be done and over with. And those are a lot of the complaints that I see of lawyers getting involved in cases that are really not within their skill level. So I think if you are honest with the client and say look, I would love to take this case, I can’t take it, maybe I can refer you to somebody else who can, that’s where the relationship, like any relationship, begins with honesty.
So being honest with your client; documenting, which we have talked about, but I can’t stress enough the importance of documenting and how many people have had files closed that were subjects of complaints because they have been able to provide us with documentation proving what they said in the beginning was accurate. I think those two things with effective communication go a long way towards avoiding it.
There are certain fields that you are never going to completely eliminate Bar complaints. The reality is, if you are a public defender, no matter what you do you are probably going to get a Bar complaint and in a lot of cases — and there’s nothing you can do, and in some of those cases you are going to get it, even if you do everything that you are supposed to do, you are potentially going to be subject to a Bar complaint.
But it makes all the difference in the world if you can stop that complaint very early on from moving further in the system because you do have documentation to share with the Bar versus having to go through the entire process even if at the end the committee finds no probable cause. The time you have invested in it, the time and energy and the stress to go through all of that just because you didn’t have proper documentation.
Christine Bilbrey: So if you are a public defender, is that — you said that’s one of the most common areas of law to get complaints, are there other ones that you see higher numbers of complaints, different areas of law?
Adria Quintela: Family law. Yes, family law, people are very unhappy to understandably so, in family law there is no winners, so anybody who does family law they are going to be subject to a lot of complaints. That’s the second area we see the most in personal injury no matter what you do again, they are going to be some individuals who are not satisfied with the outcome of their case.
So, it seems like those are probably the largest areas, but I think public defenders unfortunately really do get a very large number of complaints that many times are not warranted or merited.
Karla Eckardt: And lastly, before we finish our podcast here, if an attorney has already received a complaint, what is the best way to proceed? Should they immediately get representation? Should they try and work it out with a Bar? We’ve already talked about obviously getting documentation, what should they do? Let’s say, it’s their first complaint ever?
Christine Bilbrey: Yeah, after telling them, open the letter.
Karla Eckardt: Yes. Don’t ignore the Bar.
Adria Quintela: Yes, that helps. Opening the letters does help. I would always recommend an attorney get representation. I think it really helps them especially to be represented by someone who understands the process, who’s familiar with the Bar process and who’s emotionally detached from it to some extent. It’s very hard when you are the subject of a complaint to separate yourself from it. Especially if you’re reading it and you’re saying this isn’t accurate, I didn’t do this, I can’t believe this person filed a complaint against me.
So, number one I would say, get someone good to represent you, someone who knows what they’re doing and someone at the same time who can give you a reality check. Just because you’re being represented, there are some attorneys out there who will come to you and say, oh, it’s going to be fine, it’ll go away, we’ll negotiate this, don’t worry about it. Well, if that’s not realistic because the person stole money that’s not going to help you. So, not only get a good lawyer but get a lawyer that can give you a reality check.
Number two, always respond to the Bar. We really are trying to help the lawyer give us whatever information we need. If we’re asking for information it is because we need it and we may need it to close that file. If there may be an issue out there that we need to resolve and we’re asking for it not to burden the lawyer, not to create unnecessary work or take up time needlessly but because we really need the answer to that question. So always be responsive to the Bar, if in doubt call the Bar counsel investigating the case and say I’m looking at this, I don’t understand what you’re asking? What can I send you? I don’t have this but I have this other document. Maybe that can help you. So, that aspect of communication and giving the Bar what they need to investigate the case is very helpful.
Number three, being honest. If you did something wrong and you admit it that goes a very long way when a committee looks at the case to say, you know what, this lawyer made a mistake. We all make mistakes. This wasn’t a really bad one or it was, but at least they’re admitting it, and that goes a long way and we have had a number of people surprisingly enough who responded and said, you know what, I did do this. I totally forgot about that hearing, and I missed it, and I’m so sorry, and you know, here’s what I’m willing to do for that client, and I realized that I made a mistake what now. That helps tremendously.
So, if you do those things, it’s not going to necessarily make something go away, but it is going to go a very long way towards helping your case. It’s going to be mitigation if the case goes to trial and it’s going to help the committee, once it’s that committee see that, yes, you’re honest, that you’re trying to correct what happened and that you’re doing the best we can. At the end of the day we all make mistakes, we look at these cases from the perspective of, is it an ethical violation, if it is, is it something that’s worth disbarment? Not everything is. There’s a lot of mistakes along the way that are just mistakes and we take that into account, the committees take that into account and the referees do as well.
Christine Bilbrey: Excellent advice, and I think it goes a long way to demystify the process for our Bar members.
I also want to let our listeners know that if you’re interested in this topic, we’re also going to have a CLE available on legalfuel.com coming up ten ways to avoid a Bar complaint with Brian Tannebaum, so look for that on our website.
It looks like we’ve reached the end of our program. Thank you so much, Adria Quintela, for joining us today.
Adria Quintela: Thank you. My pleasure.
Christine Bilbrey: If our listeners have questions or they want to follow up, how can they reach you or people in your department?
Adria Quintela: Sure, the best way to reach me is at the Bar, you can call my office number and I’m happy to provide that to you. My number is (954)835-0233 or they can email me. I am at [email protected] and I am happy to answer any questions they may have or assist anyway possible.
Christine Bilbrey: Excellent. Thank you, Adria. So if you like what you heard today please write us in Apple Podcasts. Join us next time for another episode of The Florida Bar Podcast brought to you by LegalFuel: The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar on Legal Talk Network. I’m Christine Bilbrey.
Karla Eckardt: And I’m Karla Eckardt. Until next time, thank you for listening.
Outro: Thanks for listening to The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network.
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The official podcast of the State Bar of Florida.
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