The High Cost of Inexperience

This week, the Fifth District Court of Appeal issued an order imposing sanctions against an Orlando law firm for what the court determined were “negligent violations of rules of procedure” with respect to the law firm’s prosecution of an appeal.  Hagood v. Wells Fargo N.A., Case No. 5D12-2015 (Fla. 5th DCA June 28, 2013).  According to the Court, the attorneys demonstrated  “a lack of understanding of substantive law and rules of procedure” and “multiple acts of professional negligence that began in the trial court and continued through the oral argument.”  

The negligent acts included the filing of a frivolous “initial brief [that] was based entirely on a false assertion of fact,” and appeared to have stemmed from the fact that an inexperienced “part-time” lawyer for the firm was tasked with drafting the appellate brief despite having no access to the record.  Relying only upon the trial attorney’s notes to draft the initial brief, and without even reviewing the underlying motions, the brief was drafted and filed without revision by the supervising attorney.  The court admonished that “each attorney of record is responsible for the content of the entire document when his or her name appears on the document.”  

Ultimately, the sanction assessed was a $1,000.00 fine, but the costs to the appellant and attorneys’ reputations can’t be measured.   Professional negligence aside, this case demonstrates the reality of trial practice and the challenges that many trial lawyers face when they endeavor to handle their own appeals, rather than outsourcing to an experienced appellate attorney.  Because of the often frenetic pace of trail practice, trial lawyers may not have the time, man power, or inclination to focus on the complexities of appellate practice.  In lieu of delegating the task to an inexperienced junior lawyer with the goal of keeping the work “in house,” trial attorneys should reflect on the Hargood order, and give due consideration to consulting an experienced appellate practitioner.

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