When Bad Things Reflect on Good Professionals
I was disheartened to learn that a Florida elder law attorney was arrested and disbarred in December 2015 for financially exploiting vulnerable clients, and for not fulfilling his responsibilities to clients who hired him to preserve their government benefits and protect their lawsuit proceeds. One bad apple (or in Florida we’ll say bad orange) does not mean that consumers should not work with a board certified elder law attorney when creating your estate & incapacity plan, long term care plan, or require qualified legal advice to maximize your rights and protect yourself and your loved ones.
It is important that consumers know how to find a board certified elder law attorney and ask whether the attorney can provide the necessary services to resolve their legal issue. There are approximately 18 areas under the umbrella of ‘elder law’ so it is important to inquire whether the attorney has experience in the particular type of matter. I suggest you consider these tips shared by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) for being an informed consumer of legal services:
- Examine the qualifications of the attorney before contacting them. It may be helpful to review the law firm’s web site. Contact the attorney’s firm and request their qualifications in writing. This request should be honored by the firm without hesitation.
- Review the Florida Bar’s website (www.flabar.org) to see whether there has been any disciplinary history against the attorney you are considering. The bar reports an attorney’s disciplinary history for a period of ten years.
- Ask whether the attorney has a consultation fee, the amount, whether the time spent with you includes a confirmation letter, and whether the consultation fee will be applied toward legal services. Many elder law attorneys do charge such a fee, whereas personal injury attorneys do not.
- Make sure your representation is clearly set forth in writing with a signed retainer agreement. This should describe the services the attorney will provide and the client’s responsibilities. It should also explain the fee arrangement (i.e. hourly, flat fee) and whether any retainer (i.e. deposit) is required and to what extent any portion of the fee is refundable.
- Remember that the attorney works for you. You have a right to request a progress report and to be updated on a reasonable basis.
- You have a right to complain to the Florida Bar. If you suspect that your attorney has acted unethically and want to file a complaint, you can contact the local professionalism panels which are set up across the state. The Bar has each judicial circuit’s contact information. You can also contact the Bar’s Attorney Consumer Assistance Program toll-free (866-352-0707).
The Law Office of Stephanie L. Schneider has been advising clients of all ages at all stages of the aging continuum for 20 years. Board certification assures the public the attorney has substantial experience and has demonstrated special knowledge, skills and proficiency in certified areas of practice and professionalism and ethics in the practice of law. When you contact our office we will gladly provide you with information about my qualifications. Our staff will spend time with you on the telephone to obtain information about your legal issues and confirm that we can assist you before we schedule a consultation. Here are some important facts to know about elder law attorneys:
There are 84,148 lawyers eligible to practice in Florida.
- Stephanie and 1,769 attorneys are members of the Florida Bar Elder Law Section – where Stephanie is a former Chair.
- Stephanie and 97 of those members are board certified in elder law.
- Stephanie and 97 elder law attorneys within fifty miles of our office are members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).
- Stephanie and 24 Florida attorneys are also certified by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) – the only national certifying program for elder law and special needs attorneys.
Don’t be left uninformed. Make a New Year’s resolution to seek the advice of a board certified elder law attorney to create or review your estate plan and to help you plan for your future so you can achieve your goals and have peace of mind.
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