April 20, 2014

Sector Portrait: Law

Florida's business courts

Attorneys laud progress in the system but see room for improvement.

Hot Practice Areas in 2012

  • Commercial bankruptcy
  • Latin American practices
  • Corporate litigation (construction, white collar, trade secrets)
  • Healthcare
  • Labor and employment law
  • Social media

Still Chilly

  • Real estate
  • Eminent domain / condemnation
  • Banking

Stats and Facts

  • Women comprise 34% of Florida Bar membership. Thirty years ago, women accounted for only 8% of membership; 20 years ago, 20%; 10 years ago, 27%.
  • 62% of women lawyers in Florida are employed in private practice positions compared to 87% of men.
  • In a randomly selected poll of Florida Bar members, 35% of all respondents report their hourly rate to be more than $250, while 16% report their hourly rate to be more than $300. Additionally, 40% report their hourly rate to be $200 or less.
  • Biggest areas of concern for lawyers in Florida: "Lack of ethics/professionalism" and "poor public perception."
  • Florida Bar members say issues of greatest impact on the profession over the next decade: Technology, too many attorneys and the economy.

Source: Florida Bar 2010 Economics and Law Office Management Survey, 2009 Florida Bar Open Membership Opinion Survey

Digital Deluge

» The proliferation of electronic communication is creating mountains of evidence that may be promising but are difficult to mine.

Paul Singerman
Paul Singerman has retrieved documents from hard drives and memories of copy machines and voice mails from corporate and personal mobile devices. [Photo: Scott Barfield]

In complicated cases, Miami attorney Paul Singerman may amass thousands of e-mails and voice mails during the discovery process. Singerman, who currently represents clients in two of Florida’s biggest fraud cases, knows just one electronic record can hold the key to a million-dollar judgment. But how many can an attorney realistically scour — and how much should a company have to spend to retrieve electronic information to defend itself?

Increasingly, the volume of electronic communication is creating big challenges when a company ends up in court. A company with about 100 employees sending an average of 25 e-mails daily produces about 625,000 e-mails yearly. When sued, if a company can’t easily comply with a court order to produce specific e-mails or other electronically stored information it can face sanctions and higher litigation costs. A judge can even bar a defense if it appears the party being sued didn’t preserve evidence after a claim was asserted.

During consultations, one of the first questions Singerman says he asks a potential client is how the company manages its electronic information. "If they have paid no attention to electronically stored information policies and practices, we’ve got lot of educating to do in terms of human and financial resources required to zealously represent or defend them."

Singerman says his firm has hired two full-time litigation support specialists and invested in a document management program that allows its lawyers to input and review documents for themes or key words. Firms around the state are making similar investments in document management systems. "It would surprise people to learn how much trouble you can be in if you don’t know how to manage and exploit large amounts of electronically stored information," he says.

An area of increasing debate is who picks up the tab for the cost of retrieving electronic information. Lawyers likely will make their case in March before Florida’s Supreme Court to shift the cost to the party requesting the information.

Orlando attorney Francis Sheppard, who represents public agencies such as school boards, says plaintiff attorneys are asking for his clients to produce electronic information that takes hundreds of hours to retrieve.

"These agencies already are strapped for cash," says Sheppard, managing partner of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell. In some instances, he says, the cost of retrieving the information might force a client to settle. "Some of these discovery requests may or may not be necessary."

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