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Personal Conduct

> A Lawyer Is A Lawyer . . . Is A Lawyer

The practice of law is a privilege that carries with it responsibilities as well as rights. A lawyer is responsible for following the ethics rules while practicing law; however, a lawyer's personal conduct can also implicate the ethics rules, and affect the privilege to practice. In the opinion of the Florida Supreme Court, the fact that a lawyer does not practice law at all times does not mean that legal ethics can be “checked at the door,” or that a breach of legal ethics by any attorney can be tolerated, even outside the practice of law. See Florida Bar v. Della-Donna, 583 So.2d 307, 310 (Fla. 1989). The Court has held that a lawyer’s personal conduct while not acting as a lawyer can subject him to disciplinary proceedings. Florida Bar v. Hefty, 213 So.2d 422 (Fla. 1968). Even in his personal conduct a lawyer must avoid tarnishing the profession or harming the public. See Florida Bar v. Bennett, 276 So.2d 481, 482 (Fla. 1973) (stating that “an attorney is an attorney is an attorney.”).

Stated simply, Florida lawyers are expected to abide by the ethics rules at all times, and a lawyer can be subjected to a Florida Bar complaint for any personal conduct, regardless of its impact on any client and regardless of any connection the personal conduct may have with the lawyer's professional duties, or the actual practice of law.  Any Florida attorney who has been subjected to the following can face a Florida Bar complaint and ultimately, discipline by the Florida Bar for breaching legal ethics:

           > Criminal arrest

           > Criminal contempt

           > Civil contempt

           > Court sanctions

           > Child support delinquency / Unpaid debts

           > Civil judgments / Financial irresponsibility

These types of adverse events (and others) can prompt the Florida Bar to initiate formal Bar disciplinary proceedings against the attorney, even if such conduct occurs out of the jurisdiction - that is, outside the State of Florida.  Rule 3-4.3, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.

A Florida lawyer is expected to self-report certain criminal charges and any criminal conviction.  See Rule 3.7.2, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. If you are arrested and charged with a crime, it is very important for your Florida Bar defense attorney and your criminal defense lawyer to work closely with one another. Please contact us as soon as possible if this type of situation threatens your career.


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