Lawyers must designate an inventory attorney
Lawyers must designate an inventory attorney February 1, 2006 Regular News Lawyers must designate an inventory attorney To protect clients of an attorney who unexpectedly dies or otherwise becomes unable to practice, the Florida Supreme Court recently amended Bar rules — at the Bar’s request — to provide that members who practice in-state must designate an inventory attorney.The amendment to Rule 1-3.8 took effect January 1, and the best and easiest way to designate an inventory attorney is to do it online at floridabar.org.Inventory attorneys take possession of the files of a member who dies, disappears, is disbarred or suspended, becomes delinquent, or suffers involuntary leave of absence due to military service, and no other responsible party capable of conducting the member’s affairs is known. The inventory attorney has the responsibility of notifying all clients that their lawyer is no longer able to represent them. The inventory attorney also may give the file to a client for finding substitute counsel; may make referrals to substitute counsel with the agreement of the client; or may accept representation of the client, but is not required to do so.Designated inventory attorneys will be contacted when the need arises and will be asked to serve. Because circumstances change, the designated inventory attorney is not obligated to serve. Inventory attorneys are not directly compensated but may receive reimbursement from The Florida Bar for actual costs incurred while carrying out the duties of an inventory attorney.Only those members who practice in Florida — regardless of where they live — must make a designation. Members who are eligible to practice in Florida, but who do not do so, are not required to designate an inventory attorney.Lawyers who practice in Florida — regardless of whether they reside in the state — even if they have only one client (such as in-house counsel or if they represent governmental entities) are required to designate an inventory attorney.Here are answers to common questions about the rule: Who is not required to designate an inventory attorney? A Florida Bar member who lives in another state and does not practice at all in Florida is not required to designate an inventory attorney, even if the nonresident member is eligible to practice law in Florida.Florida judges and other members who are precluded from practicing law by statute or rule also are not required to designate.Florida resident members engaged in other occupations, even if eligible to practice law in Florida, are not required to designate. Who may be designated as an inventory attorney? Only other members of The Florida Bar may be designated as an inventory attorney.Designated inventory attorneys must be eligible to practice law in Florida. They are not required to be practicing, only that they be eligible to do so.Resident and nonresident members of the Bar may be designated as inventory attorneys. How are inventory attorneys appointed? When the need for an inventory attorney arises, Bar counsel will verify that the designated inventory attorney is eligible to practice law in Florida and shall contact the designated inventory attorney. If the designee agrees to serve, Bar counsel will file a petition with the local circuit court for appointment of the inventory attorney and secure an order of appointment. How do I designate an inventory attorney? The easiest way is to visit the Bar’s Web site at floridabar.org. Go to “Member Profile” and look for the “Inventory Attorney Designation” link and fill out the online form. You must already be registered and have an online password to be able to fill out and submit the online form. Members who are not yet registered may follow the instructions on the Web site and fill out the form once they receive their password. How often must I make a designation? Once a designation is made another designation is not required unless the originally designated inventory attorney is no longer willing or able to serve. In such event designation of another inventory attorney may be made online. Is the requirement to designate an inventory attorney applicable to government lawyers? Yes. The rule applies to all members of The Florida Bar who have clients. This rule is designed to try and help clients in times when their lawyer is unexpectedly unavailable. I am a government lawyer. Who should I designate? This rule also applies to the lawyer staff of the Bar’s Lawyer Regulation Department. The way in which those agency lawyers have complied with the rule is by designating their supervisors. Their supervisors have designated the next level supervisors, and so on. Other government/agency lawyers could do likewise. I am a member of The Florida Bar practicing in Florida, but am employed by a federal agency and the only person authorized by federal rule or law to see my files is a lawyer who is not a member of The Florida Bar. What do I do? Do not designate an inventory attorney. You should follow the applicable federal rule or law. However, you should contact the Bar and relay your circumstances so that we may acknowledge this advice. I am a member of The Florida Bar practicing in Florida. I have tried to obtain someone willing to serve as my designated inventory attorney, but I am not able to do so. What do I do? You cannot compel someone to do something that they are not required to do. If, after reasonable efforts, you are unable to obtain a volunteer, contact the Bar and relate those facts. You will receive a response acknowledging your efforts, requesting you to make periodic new attempts to designate, and advising you that no enforcement action will be undertaken, based on your representations. If I need to contact the Bar, how do I do that? You may contact the Bar by e-mail at [email protected]; by calling the Lawyer Regulation Dept. at 800-342-8060, ext. 5839; or by writing to Department of Lawyer Regulation, The Florida Bar, 651 East Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399-2300. How often must I designate an inventory attorney? Once you have designated an inventory attorney you need not do anything else unless that attorney becomes unavailable or unwilling and you are aware of that change of circumstance. If this happens, go online to floridabar.org and edit your Bar profile information with your new designation, or write the Bar at the address provided above and give us this new information.Text of inventory attorney rule RULE 1-3.8 RIGHT TO INVENTORY (a) Appointment; Grounds; Authority. Whenever an attorney is suspended, disbarred, becomes a delinquent member, abandons a practice, disappears, dies, or suffers an involuntary leave of absence due to military service, catastrophic illness, or injury, and no partner, personal representative, or other responsible party capable of conducting the attorney’s affairs is known to exist, the appropriate circuit court, upon proper proof of the fact, may appoint an attorney or attorneys to inventory the files of the subject attorney (hereinafter referred to as “the subject attorney”) and to take such action as seems indicated to protect the interests of clients of the subject attorney. (b) Maintenance of Attorney-Client Confidences. Any attorney so appointed shall not disclose any information contained in files so inventoried without the consent of the client to whom such file relates except as necessary to carry out the order of the court that appointed the attorney to make the inventory. (c) Status and Purpose of Inventory Attorney. Nothing herein creates an attorney and client, fiduciary, or other relationship between the inventory attorney and the subject attorney. The purpose of appointing an inventory attorney is to avoid prejudice to clients of the subject attorney and, as a secondary result, prevent or reduce claims against the subject attorney for such prejudice as may otherwise occur. (d) Rules of Procedure. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure are applicable to proceedings under this rule. (e) Designation of Inventory Attorney. Each member of the bar who practices law in Florida shall designate another member of The Florida Bar who has agreed to serve as inventory attorney under this rule. When the services of an inventory attorney become necessary, an authorized representative of The Florida Bar shall contact the designated member and determine the member’s current willingness to serve. The designated member shall not be under any obligation to serve as inventory attorney.