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Archive for the ‘California LPL’ Category

Are “Flat Fees” For Legal Services Okay in California?

Posted on: July 15th, 2020

By: Greg Fayard

Many lawyers in California charge their clients “flat fees.” That is, immigration lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, bankruptcy and estate planning lawyers, and patent lawyers all routinely charge “one price” for all services, regardless of the time it took the lawyer to do the work.

Under the old rules of Professional Conduct for California lawyers, if a lawyer received a flat fee, the rules were silent on where to put those funds—the lawyer’s trust account or operating account? Under the current rule, Rule 1.15, flat fees MAY go into the lawyer’s operating account.

Flat fees over $1,000 can go into the operating account provided the lawyer discloses in writing that the fee MAY go into the client’s trust account until earned and the client is entitled to a refund of any amount that is unearned.

If the lawyer does not have this disclosure in writing, which the client must sign, flat fees over $1,000 MUST go into the lawyer’s trust account.

Fortunately, the California State Bar has ethics guidelines to help lawyers determine what part of a flat fee is earned and when. For those California lawyers who charge flat fees, please read Rule 1.15 to make sure you are in compliance.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Fayard at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

Attorneys, Beware Of The “Settle & Sue” Maneuver!

Posted on: July 6th, 2020

By: Elizabeth Lowery

Malpractice lawsuits against attorneys are often referred to as a “case within a case” because they must delve deep into the underlying lawsuit in order to determine whether an attorney’s representation fell below the standard of care, and if so, what damages, if any, resulted. There is a common misconception that an attorney is always insulated from a malpractice action if the client consents to a settlement. However, many jurisdictions, including California, permit a client to “settle and sue.”

Last month in Maselllis v. Law Office of Leslie F. Jenson, California’s Appellate Court upheld a lower court’s $300,000 judgment against a divorce attorney whose client, the Wife, consented to a $1.2 million settlement. In that case the value of marital estate, which included several businesses, was hotly contested. In addition, Wife was suspicious that Husband had been hiding assets. A few days before the trial, Wife’s attorney pressured Wife to accept an $800,000 settlement; when she refused, Attorney said “I’m done,” and left. Panicked and without counsel, Wife accepted Husband’s last minute $1.2 million offer. She then sued Attorney for malpractice. 

During the 11-day malpractice trial, one report from Wife’s expert valued her half of the marital estate at $1.62 million, and another at $1.49 million. Wife prevailed and obtained a $300,000 judgment against Attorney. During the appeal, Attorney did not directly challenge the jury’s finding that her representation of Wife was negligent. Instead, Attorney argued that the standard of proof for “settle and sue” cases was, or should be, higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof typical applied in attorney malpractice lawsuits, and that Wife hadn’t satisfied this higher standard. Wife’s counsel argued that Wife did not need to show that Husband was going to reach a settlement higher than $1.2 million; it was sufficient to show that it was “more likely than not” that she would have received a better result at trial. The Appellate Court confirmed that the lower burden of proof, i.e. the preponderance /”more likely than not” standard was correctly applied in the underlying trial, and that Wife had satisfied this burden. As a result, Wife’s victory was upheld. 

The foregoing illustrates that attorney malpractice lawsuits present special challenges, especially in jurisdictions which allow a client to “settle and sue.”  If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Elizabeth Lowery at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

When Laws Conflict: What Ethics Rule Applies to a California Lawyer Advising On Cannabis?

Posted on: June 30th, 2020

By: Greg Fayard

It goes without saying that a lawyer—from California or elsewhere—shall not counsel a client to do something illegal.

But what about a state law that conflicts with a federal law? For example, federal laws that criminalize the use of marijuana and state laws that don’t criminalize marijuana–how should the lawyer advise a client when laws conflict regarding a subject matter?

Under California’s Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to lawyers, a lawyer can assist a client in complying with California law, but must inform the client when California law conflicts with federal (or Tribal law). The lawyer then needs to discuss the consequences of complying with a California law that runs afoul with another law.

For those lawyers that work in the area of Cannabis law, Rule 1.2.1 is the Rule to follow in California.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Fayard at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

How Should a California Mediator Deal With An Unrepresented Party?

Posted on: June 17th, 2020

By: Greg Fayard

Most California mediators are lawyers. When mediator-lawyers handle a mediation where one party does not have a lawyer, the lawyer-mediator has to treat that pro per party differently than a party who has a lawyer.

Specifically, if the mediator suspects the unrepresented party does not understand the role of a mediator as compared to a lawyer, the mediator needs to explain the difference to the lawyer-less party. That is, the mediator needs to advise the pro per that he or she, as the mediator trying to resolve a dispute, is neutral and not representing anyone.

Under Rule 2.4 of California’s Rules of Professional Conduct, it is the job of the mediator to help the pro per party understand what mediators are and what they do, and how they are not advocates, and are different from lawyers.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Fayard at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

CAUTION! Disciplinary Action Ahead

Posted on: February 27th, 2020

By: Anastasia Osbrink

It has now been over a year since California Evidence Code, section 1129 went into effect, and as such, it is a good time to be reminded that compliance is mandatory and attorneys who fail to comply face possible disciplinary action. Evidence Code, section 1129 requires attorneys to provide the client with a written explanation of mediation confidentiality and obtain a signed acknowledgment from the client on the disclosure document prior to the client agreeing to participate in mediation. (Evid. Code, § 1129.) Mediation confidentiality is codified in Evidence Code, section 1119. If an attorney fails to obtain this signed disclosure, which the attorney must also sign, he or she could face disciplinary action. Moreover, Evidence Code section 1122 was amended as part of this requirement. That Evidence Code section now provides for the admission of evidence of a signed disclosure form, or lack thereof, as part of a disciplinary action against an attorney for failure to obtain it. (Evid. Code, § 1122.)

This change, of which many California attorneys are still unaware, occurred as a result of the holding in Cassel v. Superior Court, where the California Supreme Court ruled that mediation confidentiality prohibited plaintiffs from introducing communications that took place during mediation as evidence of malpractice against their former attorneys. (Cassel v. Superior Court (2011) 51 Cal.4th 113.) After that ruling, the California Law Revision Committee wanted to ensure that clients understood the extent of mediation confidentiality and how it could impact the current or future litigation.

Providing a written explanation of mediation confidentiality that is signed by the client is not only good practice, it is the law. Moreover, compliance with Evidence Code, section 1129 is especially simple because there is form language within this code section that an attorney can use to ensure compliance. There are a few additional points to remember. First, the document must be a separate, stand-alone document that is not attached to any other document. Also, it must be obtained prior to the client agreeing to mediation. That often means before the Case Management Conference, California lawyers. The simplest means of compliance is to provide this document to the client at the same time as an engagement agreement and any conflict waivers, but separately from those documents. Additionally, the document must be provided in the client’s preferred language, so make sure to find this out from the client ahead of time. Finally, attorneys must make sure that they sign the document as well and provide a fully executed copy to the client. These are steps an attorney must take to make sure they do not face later disciplinary action.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Anastasia Osbrink at [email protected].