The Florida Bar has an active ethics and discipline program designed to maintain high ethical standards of lawyers who practice law in our state.
Despite the stringent standards of admission to the Bar enforced by the Supreme Court of Florida, there may be few lawyers who are not worthy of the trust their clients place in them.
What is the Clients' Security Fund?
The Clients' Security Fund was created to help compensate persons who have suffered a loss of money or property due to misappropriation or embezzlement by an attorney.
The Clients' Security Fund began operations in 1967. Florida lawyers developed the program which is funded solely by a portion of the annual dues of each member of The Florida Bar.
The Fund operates on a fiscal year beginning July 1 and ending June 30, and has a fixed amount available for payments each year.
How much can I recover?
The maximum amount allowable per claim is $50,000. Attorney's fee claims are reimbursed up to $2,500. Approved claims will initially be paid up to $10,000. At the fiscal year's end, depending upon the remaining Fund balance, approved claims above $10,000 will be paid on a pro rata basis up to the $50,000 limit.
What losses are covered?
The loss must have occurred during an attorney and client relationship or while the attorney was providing services customary to the practice of law. Fees paid to an attorney are reimbursed only after it is determined that no useful services were provided.
Your claim can be denied, even if it is one of the types of losses covered. No one has the right to recover money from the fund. To be eligible for compensation, you must file a claim with the Bar within two years after you know, or should have known, about the loss.
What losses are not covered?
The Clients' Security Fund does not reimburse for losses as a result of negligence or malpractice on the part of the attorney. Business or investment relationships between the client and attorney are also not covered. The reimbursable loss is limited to the actual amount taken by the attorney and does not provide for damages, expenses incurred, lost interest, etc. caused by the attorney taking or mishandling clients' funds or property.
Relationships such as, but not limited to family, partnership or other associations may be grounds for disallowance of a claim. Normally, claims by governmental agencies, publicly owned corporations, institutional lenders, insurance companies and subrogees are not considered.
Who should apply to the Fund?
Anyone who has suffered a loss as defined in the covered losses section may file a claim with the fund. If the claim is made on behalf of an estate, the proper party to file is the personal representative of the estate.
How is a claim processed?
An application to the Clients' Security Fund is reviewed by the staff of Public Service Programs. If all is in order, staff assigns the claim to a member of the Clients' Security Fund Committee for investigation. The full Clients' Security Fund Committee reviews all committee members' reports and makes a recommendation to the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar. The Board makes the final decision on whether or not a claim should be paid.
And how long does it take?
Recovery of money or property is handled in an orderly, prescribed way to assure the Bar and complaining clients of thorough investigations of all cases which involve unethical lawyers.
The entire process takes anywhere from six months to sometimes 18 months to reach conclusion. The need for a thorough and complete investigation and the Clients' Security Fund Committee and Board of Governors meeting schedules sometimes require that much time. A number of other reasons can cause delay, for example, insufficient information or documentation, pending legal or disciplinary proceedings, etc. The Clients' Security Fund and the Bar will work as thoroughly and diligently as possible to process your claim.
What will I be required to do?
Your cooperation in providing needed information and documentation is necessary; however, you will not be asked to appear before the Clients' Security Fund Committee or the Board of Governors.
You will be required to file a grievance complaint against the attorney alleging the attorney violated his or her ethical responsibilities. This can be done by contacting the Bar's Lawyer Regulation Department. It may also be necessary for you to file a criminal complaint against the attorney. This can be done by contacting your local law enforcement agency or State's Attorney.
If it is apparent there may be another way to recover your money or property, you could be required to pursue the alternate source before the Clients' Security Fund considers your claim. Such sources might be bonding or insurance companies, banks or other entities that have honored a forged check or draft, and the accused attorney or the attorney's partners.
If you believe you may be eligible for reimbursement from the Clients' Security Fund, write to Public Service Programs, The Florida Bar, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300 or call or (850) 561-5812.
Call-A-Law Program Available
Do you need basic legal information? The Florida Bar Call-A-Law program provides basic information on a variety of legal topics. Call-A-Law is a collection of recorded messages on legal topics such as divorce, wills, rights and duties of landlords and tenants and consumer protection. Call-A-Law cannot replace the legal advice of an attorney or answer specific legal questions. The tapes are to help you identify a legal problem before seeking professional counsel. Using Call-A-Law is easy. Just call (850) 561-1200 on a push button telephone. If you would like to receive a Call-A-Law brochure, which includes a tape directory, please send a self-addressed, stamped, business-size envelope to: The Florida Bar, Call-A-Law Program, 650 Apalachee Parkway, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2300.
Lawyer Referral Service
Do you think you have a legal problem . . . and don't know an attorney? Lawyer Referral Services have been established in Florida by local bar associations to refer you to an attorney. If there is not a Lawyer Referral Service in your area as listed in your telephone directory, call this toll-free number from anywhere in Florida:
It will place you in direct contact with the Florida Lawyer Referral Service maintained as a public service by The Florida Bar.
The material in this pamphlet represents general legal advice. Since the law is continually changing, some provisions in this pamphlet may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.