The Florida Supreme Court confirmed that when non-lawyers control or derive income from providing legal services, there is “a substantial risk that the public will be exposed to and harmed by incompetent, unethical, or irresponsible representation.
In The Florida Bar v. TIKD Services, LLC, No. SC18-149 (Fla. Oct. 14, 2021), the Florida Supreme Court enjoined non-lawyers from selling legal services in Florida, explaining that “only attorneys licensed to practice law in Florida are authorized to act like a law firm by advertising and selling the legal services of lawyers to the public,” unless specifically authorized by the Court’s Rules. The Court agreed with arguments presented by The Florida Bar and by several law firms appearing as amici curiae and represented by Thomas & LoCicero.
TIKD, which is not a law firm, operates a website through which a driver wishing to contest a ticket can upload a photograph of his ticket. If TIKD accepts the ticket, the driver is charged a percentage of the ticket’s face value, and his contact information is forwarded to a Florida lawyer with whom TIKD has contracted to provide legal services. A portion of the fee the driver pays to TIKD is paid to the assigned lawyer, who represents the driver in court.
In January 2018, The Bar filed a petition alleging that TIKD was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law (“UPL”) in Florida. The Court appointed a referee to consider the petition and she ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of TIKD, finding that it was not engaged in UPL, in part because lawyers, not TIKD, appeared in court on behalf of TIKD’s clients.
Appearing before the Florida Supreme Court, Thomas & LoCicero attorneys James J. McGuire and Gregg D. Thomas represented a group of Florida lawyers and law firms as amici curiae and argued that TIKD was engaged in UPL because the only thing that TIKD sold to ticketed drivers was legal services – i.e., the defense of traffic tickets – meaning it was practicing law. Moreover, TLo argued, TIKD faced conflicts of interest, did not have the legal skills necessary to oversee court proceedings, and split client fees with attorneys, all in contravention of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.
The Florida Supreme Court agreed. Disapproving of the referee’s recommendation, the Court found that “TIKD is in the business of selling legal services to the public” and that “the nature of TIKD’s business is such that it cannot be deemed as anything other than engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.” As a result, the Court enjoined TIKD from operating its business in Florida.
The Court’s decision will benefit the public because “the inherent conflict that arises when a nonlawyer either derives income from or exercises a degree of control over the provision of legal services presents a substantial risk that the public will be exposed to and harmed by incompetent, unethical, or irresponsible representation.”
With offices in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Thomas & LoCicero is a Florida-based firm with a national practice focused on Media and Free Speech, Business Litigation, Intellectual Property & Marketing, and Data Privacy & Security. Clients benefit from the firm’s extensive knowledge and experience in defamation, complex commercial litigation, business torts, breach of contract, antitrust and unfair competition, invasion of privacy, trademark, and copyright.