Ethics hotline offers lawyers prompt advice

first_imgEthics hotline offers lawyers prompt adviceWhen lawyers are faced with ethical dilemmas and aren’t sure what to do, The Florida Bar’s Ethics Hotline is available to help.One of the first of its kind in the nation, the toll-free Ethics Hotline (800-235-8619) was established in 1984 to help guide lawyers through the minefields of conflict dilemmas, confidentiality questions, communication concerns, trust accounting problems, and other ethical difficulties unique to the profession.Last year, about 17,815 Florida lawyers contacted the Ethics Department hotline, according to Bar Ethics Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert. The department also accepts written inquiries and has recently begun to take questions via e-mail, which can be sent to [email protected]“We began to offer e-mail service because we realized that many attorneys are computer-savvy, and we want our members to be able to contact us in whatever way is most convenient for them,” Tarbert said.Tarbert said hotline attorneys are authorized to respond to inquiries from members in good standing who are asking about their own contemplated conduct. When there is no Florida authority upon which to base an answer to an inquiry, ethics counsel can decline to issue an opinion. Staff must decline to render an opinion when an inquirer asks a question of law, a question about past conduct, a question about another attorney’s conduct, or a question about the subject of a pending grievance.The toll-free number can be reached between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and is used hundreds of times a week by Bar members. The department’s telephone system has recently been improved and now gives members the option to leave a message if all lines are busy. Members also may dial (850) 561-5780 to leave a message, which will be returned within one business day. “The majority of questions relate to conflict issues, but we frequently get questions on everything: what to do with closed files, retaining liens, ancillary businesses of lawyers, confidentiality, and just about anything you can think of,” Tarbert said.The Ethics Department also has a strong presence on the Bar’s website at www.FLABAR.org. Once you are at the Bar’s homepage, click “Member Services” in the left-hand column and then “Ethics Opinions.” There you will find an index of formal ethics opinions which are searchable by key word, or you may view the subject index of the opinions. There also are links to proposed advisory opinions; Chapter 4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct; resources for researching ethics questions on your own; and copies of Ethics Update, the quarterly publication of the Bar Ethics Department. Informational packets on frequently asked ethics questions are also available on the site.The ethics service has been consistently highly rated by Bar members in annual membership polls.“That’s one of the things I love; almost every single contact with the membership is positive,” Tarbert said. “Lawyers really want to do the right thing. Recent polls of the membership indicate ethics and professionalism rate among the highest concerns lawyers have about the profession.”Tarbert said the nine attorneys who answer the phones will discuss any issue, no matter how complex. But, occasionally, the staff may suggest, or an attorney may request, a written response because of the difficulty and amount of research involved in a question. If a member is unsure of or disagrees with a verbal answer from a staff attorney, that lawyer can then request a written response. If there are still doubts, the Bar member can appeal to the Professional Ethics Committee, which can affirm the staff opinion, reject the staff opinion, adopt the staff opinion or issue their own proposed advisory opinion. Those are publicized in the Bar News to get feedback from the entire membership.If the PEC formally adopts the opinion, an attorney who still has a question can appeal that to the Board of Governors, which can adopt, reject or modify the committee’s opinion.“Members who use the hotline feel they are really getting value for the service that we offer, and they can feel comfortable that they are acting ethically if they follow our advice,” Tarbert said.To receive a written ethics opinion, which takes three to five weeks, members of The Florida Bar in good standing may make written inquiries to The Ethics Department, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399-2300. Ethics hotline offers lawyers prompt advice November 15, 2000 Regular Newslast_img

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