Thursday, October 28, 2021

How the Internet and Social Media Have Changed the Legal World

            Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my Legal Research and Writing class was online the fall of my 1L year. Despite having access to three legal search engines, as well as citation e-books, my professor took the time to take us on virtual tours of the library. In what she referred to as the “good ol’ days”, she explained how research used to require going to the library, opening a book (gasp!), and spending hours finding a single resource to support the paper, brief, or memo that you were crafting.

            I’d be lying if I said I didn’t relish the fact that I can lay on the couch in my pajamas and do extensive legal research to craft a law review article, Moot Court Brief, or complete my law clerk work. However, it does cause me to pause and think just how different the legal world is thanks to social media and the internet.

            So what has changed with the development and revolution of the internet and social media? Actually, a lot, but for the purpose of this post I am going to focus on just a few areas.

            Impact on legal world as a whole. In addition to changing the way lawyers and their clients communicate, handle court matters, and establish relationships, internet and social media have also created an entire new area of crimes. Cyberstalking, Identity Theft, Virus Attacks and Intellectual Property disputes have all forced both lawyers and legal scholars to understand how the law can apply to crimes committed on the internet as well as transfer their skills to serve their clients diligently. It also means staying on top of new litigation to understand how courts ruled in the past and will rule in the future.

            Social media has allowed lawyers to expand their presence and reach clients with more ease and efficiency. With the click of a button a contact form can be sent to lawyers to arrange consultations or speak about a claim. A quick google search allows potential clients to find lawyers who specialize in the issue that they are having, as well as read reviews of other clients and find lawyers who are nearby.

            Impact on litigation. One of the downsides of social media is that is has expanded the amount of evidence available to opposing parties when collecting materials for discovery in litigation. As I stated in a previous blog post, ANYTHING you post on social media can and will be used against you in court. If you would not say it to the person’s face or you would not act that way in front of a crowd, then it should not be posted to your social media platforms.

            The internet has also led to pitfalls for jurors. With the prevalence of social media, judges have now had to instruct the jurors that they are not to post, tweet, or use any form of social media while they are sitting as jurors during a trial. You would think this is common sense, but clearly it has happened enough to warrant jury instructions by judges. This makes sense, because you never know how people in your virtual circle will react, and how these reactions may affect the unbiased view that you as a juror are supposed to have.

            Impact on legal ethics. Lawyers have duties of confidentiality, communication, and diligence (Model Rules 1.6, 1.4, and 1.3). The internet and social media can make that difficult for many lawyers when it comes to dealing with clients. It is much harder to maintain privacy on social media, and lawyers have to ensure that they are not violating any of the Rules if they post on their website, share testimonials, or attempt to communicate with potential clients. Lawyers should always have disclosures on their websites or posts, because otherwise things they share could be misconstrued as legal advice and they could be subject to discipline if they are not then diligent with the potential clients that they have communicated/established a relationship with.

            What does the future hold? Social media and the internet, especially during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic have been incredibly valuable tools for lawyers and law firms. It has become ever important for law firms to be aware of the newest technologies and trends so they are not swallowed up by other firms who are experts in the virtual world. While I don’t foresee the traditional courtroom and way of handling legal matters disappearing any time soon, technological developments have certainly changed what is expected of a lawyer. Lawyers will need to be competent both in and out of the courtroom as well as in person and virtually.

            We all love the ease of sharing a picture, sending a tweet, or googling whatever we please with instant results. While the benefits of the internet and social media are immense, it is also important to be aware of how it has changed our everyday lives. In the legal world, it has changed in ways that lawyers of 30, 40, 50, years ago could never have imagined. It will continue to be important for lawyers and law students to stay up-to-date with the changing world of social media, and use it to their advantage in their careers and everyday lives.

**This blog is meant to serve as informational only and does not constitute legal advice. Should you need legal advice or are wanting to speak with an attorney please fill out our contact form below to schedule your free consultation with attorney Marcie L. Baker.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

What is Marital Property and Why is Knowing About it Important?

We all own different types of property. Cars, homes, furniture, and land are some of the most common ones. However, did you know that there is also a sub-category that many of these items can fall into called marital property? Marital property can be confusing, but it is important to understand, especially when it comes to getting a divorce.

So, what is marital property? According to Florida Statute 61.075, marital property includes: “Assets such as a house, car, and investment income that are acquired after the wedding day are considered marital property. It does not matter which spouse acquired the property, which spouse used the property or even which spouse’s name appears on the title of the asset.” Basically, the statute holds that any property acquired after you say “I do” is most likely marital property.

Some examples of marital property are:

Vehicles purchased during the marriage. This is true regardless of whether or not your spouse’s name is on the title.

Gifts from one spouse to another. Again, even if your name is in no way related to the gift and regardless of how the gift was bought, it is still subject to division.

Certain retirement benefits. It is possible that money put into your 401K before the marriage will be considered non-marital property, however, in Florida, courts can and do divide up money that was acquired in a 401K account during/after the marriage. In a majority of Florida cases, retirement plans that have money acquired after the marriage are divided.

In Florida, courts typically begin by dividing marital property through equitable distribution (50/50). That does not mean that everything is split automatically in half. From there, they refer to other Florida statutes and a case-by-case basis to change the percentages to make the division fair to each spouse. To do this, courts will consider many factors, such as:

Each spouse’s income, debts, and property

How long the marriage lasted and each spouse’s age

The physical and mental health of both spouses

Tax considerations related to property division

    It is important to be aware that there is property that you and your spouse own that is considered non-marital property. Some examples are:

1.)    Assets acquired prior to marriage. If you bought a car after graduating high school and then got married three years later, the car counts as an asset acquired before marriage and will likely be treated as separate property.

2.)    Property excluded by agreement. If parties have a valid prenuptial agreement, then anything they agreed to keep separate in that agreement will not be treated as martial property even if it was acquired after the marriage.

3.)    Property acquired by inheritance. This type is also most likely going to be considered non-marital. For example, if your grandma leaves you a house in her will, that would be property that you inherit and is often kept separate from marital property.

Sadly, defining marital and non-marital property is not as clear many attorneys hope that it would be. That is why it is important to consult with an attorney and learn how the property that you have will either stay in your possession or be divided at the conclusion of your divorce. As I have said before, divorces can be chaotic, confusing, and stressful times in a person’s life. However, if you know the elements that are coming your way once you start a divorce proceeding, you’ll be better prepared to figure out what is best for you and your case. As always, Marcie would be happy to set up a free consultation with you to discuss any questions or concerns that you may have about your divorce and marital property.

***This blog is meant to serve as informational only, and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns about marital property please fill out our contact form below or call our office at (813) 929-1900 to schedule your free consultation with Marcie!


Thursday, October 14, 2021

What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

          We all have different relationships in life. Siblings, spouses, best friends, and work colleagues to name a few. They all play different roles, some more important than others. However, the relationship between a client and their attorney is a different one altogether.

            When someone hires and attorney to help them with their claim, they form something known as the attorney-client relationship. According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, attorney-client privilege, “refers to a legal privilege that works to keep confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client secret.”

            Each state may have their own variation on the definition, though many follow the general foundation listed above. The definition of attorney-client privilege in Florida is governed by the Florida Statutes which say, “A client has a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing, the contents of confidential communications when such other person learned of the communications because they were made in the rendition of legal services to the client.”

            Every conversation you ever have with any attorney does not necessarily mean that an attorney-client relationship has formed. You cannot have attorney-client privilege without first creating an attorney-client relationship. In Florida, there are four elements that must be established for the attorney-client privilege to apply.

1.)    There must be a communication.

2.)    The communication must be made between privileged persons (a client with an attorney who has agreed to offer advice or take their case).

3.)    The communication has to be made in confidence (the client who shares the information with the attorney trusts that the attorney will keep what they said between them).

4.)    The client shares the information for the purpose of seeking or obtaining legal assistance in the hopes that the attorney will provide that legal assistance to the client.

However, the attorney-client privilege is NOT absolute. While you may share things with your attorney that you believe will not be shared with anyone else or the court, there are rules governing what attorneys are and are not obligated to share with others.

            Here are some examples of when an attorney-client privilege will not exist.

-  If the client is looking for their attorney to help them in committing a crime or help them in the planning of future criminal activity.

-   If the attorney is representing two or more clients who have a common interest, then one client cannot assert attorney-client privilege to prevent the attorney from communicating with the other client that they are representing in the same matter.

-   If an issue arises that would cause the attorney to breach a duty that they owe their client, then the communication that would result in that breach is not protected by attorney-client privilege.

            One important note. Attorney-client privilege is NOT the same as confidentiality. Every attorney is bound by the duty of confidentiality. This duty, “prevents attorneys from even informally discussing information related to their clients' cases with others. They must keep private almost all information related to representation of the client, even if that information didn't come from the client.” This is an important distinction to make because while you may think certain things are confidential, they may actually just be a result of attorney-client privilege and have the potential to be shared with others or the court.

            If you have any questions or are looking for more information about attorney-client privilege or another issue that you may have, please do not hesitate to fill out our contact form below to schedule your free consultation with Marcie Baker.

***The post is not intended as legal advice nor does it constitute the creation of an attorney-client relationship. It is for informational purposes only. Should you have any questions or concerns regarding a new or pending case that you may have please speak with an attorney or fill out our contact form below.***


Thursday, October 7, 2021

Communication is Key

           On the first day of my Senior Thesis seminar in college, my professor/advisor told us that she simply would not respond to anyone who failed to send a professional, well-articulated, and respectful email to her. She wanted proper attribution to her status as Dr. Carey, a thorough explanation of our question or issue, and a proper closing (ie. Regards, respectfully, best, and so on). I am fortunate to be the daughter of an English teacher and a writer, so this came as no shock or concern to me. However, I remember a classmate muttering under her breath, “who uses email anymore, she gave us her phone number can’t I just text her?”

            It blew my mind that not only did she never use e-mail, but also that she thought that texting our professor was an appropriate way to have questions and concerns addressed. However, this sheds light on a bigger issue: we as a society have lost the quality of being effective communicators.

            While social media has revolutionized our world in many ways, it has also had damaging effects on our communication skills, both in our personal and professional lives. It is so much easier to text, tweet, and share, versus sending a well-crafted e-mail, or (gasp!) picking up the phone and making a phone call. Person to person communication is always best, but with the current state of our world, either of the other two previous are just as effective. Zoom, Facetime, and Skype can also simulate the face-to-face meeting if needed.

            In law school I am learning how to prepare oral arguments, defend my clients, analyze copious amounts of legal research, but perhaps most importantly, how to be an effective communicator. This is not only used with my current hypothetical clients, but also with my Moot Court teammates, professors, and career advisors.

            The Model Rules of Professional Conduct promulgated by the American Bar Association, require that attorneys communicate competently, effectively, and clearly. Part of the rule reads, “A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.” In addition, attorneys must consult clients about their objectives, any conflicts of interest, and keep them updated about the status of their case as it proceeds.

            While attorney client communication is incredibly important to be an effective attorney, perhaps even more important is the ability for an attorney to be an effective communicator in all communication settings (attorney-attorney, attorney-client, attorney-law clerk, personal relationships, etc.).

            There are many reasons that attorneys need to be effective communicators. For example:

  • -          Creates a Good First Impression. By being an effective communicator when first meeting a new client, fellow attorney, or opposing counsel portrays your confidence, competence, and ability to address problems and solutions. It is much easier to have this foundation and trust from the start, rather than trying to prove these skills as the relationship progresses.
  • -          Boosts Productivity. The ability to effectively communicate with coworkers and fellow attorneys means that people will feel valued, and comfortable sharing any confusion or concerns. Instead of confusion, being an effective communicator allows for clarity and confidence in who you are as an attorney.
  • -          Builds and Maintains Relationships. In both personal and professional relationships, good communication is key for the relationship to flourish and grow. Healthy relationships that are boosted by effective communication can address issues without animosity and a willingness to be open to differences of opinion.

In addition to these reasons, there are many situations beyond attorney-client communications in which attorneys need to be effective communicators with the people they encounter, and use the above skills/reasons to be the most effective at doing so. For example:

1.)    Communicating with Colleagues. Be adaptable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and learn the different personality styles and styles of practice of your fellow attorneys in the firm that you work at. There can be a lot to learn from other attorneys, and it is also important to learn how it is best for you to address conflicts and concerns with each attorney that you work with. Most importantly, DO NOT get involved with office gossip. It never ends positively, and can impede effective communication.

2.)    Communicating with Opposing Counsel. It is important to be professional and courteous, but also do not be afraid to advocate for your client. If there is a conflict address it, but do so in a way that can lead to an effective resolution instead of hard feelings and drama. It is also extremely important to be responsive and prompt. It is extremely unprofessional to delay, or simply not respond, to e-mails, especially when time-sensitive matters need to be addressed.

3.)    Communicating with the Courts. Communication with courts is held to an even higher standard because there are certain court rules and practices that must be followed. You have to always be on top of changing rules, filing documents in a timely matter, and addressing any issues as soon as possible. It is your job to be aware of requirements of the court that you are working in, and it is your job to identify any questions that you may have and get them resolved as quickly as possible.

At the end of the day, the best way to ensure proper communication is picking up the phone and calling whomever your are trying to communicate with. This gives an opportunity for immediate response, and a better understanding of people's tone and intentions behind their words. Of course, when COVID-19 is under control, a face-to-face meeting will always be the best. Seek to call or meet in person first, and then follow up electronically via e-mail or phone call.

It is difficult to be successful in any career/professional setting without effective communication. While it is important for attorneys to possess good communication skills, everyone should strive to be as effective as a communicator they can be in their personal and professional lives. This will allow for better understanding, less conflict, and a hopefully amicable resolution for all people involved in any type of conflict.

***This blog is for informational purposes only. All thoughts and opinions are my own and I have linked sources below for facts that I referenced. Should you need legal advice please take advantage of our free consultation and contact us using the form below to find out more!***


Time to Say Goodbye

Happy Thursday, all! Enjoy this upcoming long weekend and the unofficial start to summer! Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and to...