A surgeon asks his heart transplant patient to choose: he can have the heart of a 23-year-old triathlete or a 65-year-old lawyer. The patient quickly responds, "No doubts about it, the lawyer." The surgeon, surprised, asks why the the older lawyer over the young athlete. The patient replied, "Simple. I want the heart that's never been used." From the day a student announces he or she is heading to law school, the jokes begin. The jokes come even faster if the student opts to focus on personal injury law. We enjoy a good joke, even at our own expense. However, we don't like that so many jokes focus on the area of ethics. Like most lawyers we know, Attorney Wes Pittman and his Panama City injury law firm team takes our ethical duties seriously. Attorney ethics include duties to clients and the courts, principles reinforced by the state bar requirements.
In Florida and across the country, attorneys owe a number of general and specific ethical duties to their clients, many of which are tied to the attorney's position as a fiduciary. General duties include a basic requirement to act ethically and in the best interest of the client. Examples of the specific duties include the following duties: avoid conflicts of interest; render competent legal service, including having knowledge of the specific areas of law involved; keep client money separate from the attorney's money or the firm's; and obey the client's directions relating to their case (assuming the instructions are legal). Additionally, attorneys must keep the client informed about the legal matters, ensuring the client is able to make informed decisions (see Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.4).
Another key obligation, one that deserves special mention, is the duty of confidentiality. As a general rule, communications between the client and attorney made in the course of the representation are confidential and cannot be revealed by the attorney without a client's informed consent. This duty is spelled out in Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.6. The Rule also provides that attorneys must break confidentiality to prevent the client from committing a crime or to protect another person from death or grave injury. Attorneys may, but aren't required to, break confidentiality to serve the client's interests or to protect the attorney in a conflict between the lawyer and client. Notably, the duty of confidentiality is broader than the attorney-client privilege, which is a part of Evidence law.
In addition to owing duties to their clients, attorneys owe ethical duties to the court and the system as a whole. Rule 4-3.3 requires "Candor to the Court" and forbids an attorney from making false statements or supporting false evidence. This rule is also supported by the criminal law against perjury. Another ethical duty to the court is found in Rule 4-3.1, which provides that an attorney may not bring a case or support a claim without a basis in the law (or a reasonable argument for a change in the law).
In order to practice law in Florida, prospective attorneys must show an understanding of their ethical obligation. Applicants to the bar must pass the state bar exam and must also take the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination and achieve a score of 80 (see Florida Board of Bar Examiners Rule 4-33.2). Additionally, in order to be accepted to the Florida bar, applicants must show "good moral character," a standard based on "honesty, fairness, and respect for the rights of others."
We can take a joke, though it's hard to find one we haven't heard! However, all joking aside, our team is committed to the highest ethical standards. We understand that clients of our Panama City personal injury law firm trust us to guide them through the legal system and represent their interests during one of the most trying times in their lives. We are honored by this trust, and take this trust very seriously. Please call if we can help you seek justice following an injury caused by someone else's negligence or wrongful acts.