10 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming an Attorney in Florida
There are 75,697 attorneys in Florida. That means there are 37 attorneys for every 10,000 people living in Florida. The Professional Rules of Conduct are the statutes that guide an attorney in Florida actions in the practice of law.
By learning the rules of conduct, you will be able to practice law ethically and avoid reprimand from the Florida bar.
Keeping reading for 10 statues that every attorney in Florida should know when practicing law.
1. Fixed Fees
Many lawyers charge a fixed fee for frequent and uncomplicated work.
Items that would fall into this category include uncomplicated wills, simple real estate transactions, and basic traffic violations.
2. Hourly Fees
Often, an attorney in Florida will charge a fixed hourly rate for service to their clients. You determine the total fee by multiplying the fixed hourly rate by the number of hours your work.
You may then add direct out of pocket expenses. These are representation costs such as court costs, photocopy costs, phone charges, and travel expenses.
You should give your client an estimate of how expensive representation will be.
You should also explain any potential complications that could arise and increase the cost of litigation.
Divorce cases have special rules for fees. You cannot charge a contingent fee. Fees are a flat rate for parties who have already agreed to a divorce decree.
A court may also order one party to pay for the other’s attorney fees if the spouses are in an unequal position.
3. Court Determined Fees
Fees Set by a Judge
The judge determines the number of fees based on a variety of factors and can vary greatly. The judge sets the fee by determining a list of factors that are set out in the Code of Professional Conduct, Rule 4-1.5(b).
Some of the things a judge will consider are the complexity of the case, customary charge, the lawyer being precluded from other work, time limitations, relationship to the client, and experience of the lawyer.
Fees Awarded by the Court
You should arrange with your client the possibility of the court awarding attorney fees to be paid by the client and how that affects the responsibility of your client.
4. Contingency Fees
Personal injury, collections, and auto accidents are cases where attorneys can agree to be paid a contingent fee. The lawyer’s payment is based on the amount of money recovered for the client.
This agreement MUST be in writing. It must state how the fee will be calculated and what percentage the lawyer will receive.
The amount you can agree to receive depends on the stage of litigation you are in and the type of case litigated.
You can contract with your client for payment less than the limits set, but if you the court must approve for higher payment.
5. Medical Malpractice Fees
There are specific limits on the amount of contingency fee you can accept for medical malpractice cases. The fees are specifically explained in the Professional Rules of Conduct.
Determining the amount of fee acceptable is based on the amount awarded by the court, the stage of the litigation the case is in. You must provide a copy of the rules to your client.
You may ask your client to waive the limits. You must tell your client they may consult another attorney before waiving the limits.
If your client agrees to the waiver, you must have them agree in writing. In addition to the waiver, you must provide a detailed explanation of the new fee structure.
6. Division of Fees
Your client must agree before you may hire another attorney in Florida to assist in representation.
If the case is personal injury or wrongful conduct with property damage then the approval must be in writing. The main attorney receives a minimum 75%.
The court will have to approve how the fee with be split if the attorneys from different law firms participated equally and want to split the fees more equally.
If the lawyers are being paid by hourly fee then the fee split is based on the work each lawyer does or they can agree on how the fee splits.
You may not split fees with non-lawyers. For example, if you are working with a client’s accountant on a particular case, you may not practice fee splitting with the accountant.
Each party must determine their fee and bill accordingly separately.
7. Naming Your Firm
You may not pick a law firm name that is false, misleading, or deceptive. You cannot imply a connection with a government agency or well known charitable organization.
You may not imply you have a partnership with another attorney if you do not.
You may not imply you are in business with a non-legal service.
You may not use the name of an attorney in Florida who currently holds a public office if that lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.
If you are merging your sole practice with another firm you may list deceased partners on your letterhead.
8. Sharing Office Space
Attorneys may share office space, but need to be wary of holding themselves out to be partners if they are not. It is acceptable to share a common reception area or library.
If you decide to practice criminal defense, then you should not share office space with public defenders.
Giving the impression of operating a partnership includes actions such as using one letterhead, one official name, one office building directory listing, and unclear language used by a receptionist.
9. Lawyer As a Witness
You don’t need to withdraw from representing your client even if you will be called to testify as a client’s adversary.
This situation occurs if you are representing your client in one matter but then are called to be an adversarial witness in a separate and unrelated matter.
Generally, an attorney in Florida or their employees may not solicit prospective clients in person when the main motive is a pecuniary gain if that potential client doesn’t have a familial relationship or a former client.
You can send print advertising but you must follow the rules set out. Submit your print materials to the Florida Bar for approval before you send them out to potential clients.
Non-Resident Cost Bond
A non resident cost bond was a bond that non-Florida residents had to pay if they wanted to bring a lawsuit against a Florida resident.
It was important for Florida attorneys to ensure the opposing party posted bond if their Florida client gets involved in a lawsuit with a party from out of state.
The goal of the statute was to protect Florida residents from frivolous lawsuits from out of state litigants.
The Florida Senate repealed the statute in 2016.
Become an Attorney in Florida
Once you are a member of the bar, you will want to start your own law firm. Follow these and the other Rules of Professional Conduct to ensure you have a properly functioning practice.
Read tips on how to grow your small legal firm into a thriving and successful business.