Since the passage of Florida’s Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Act, § 501.1377, many operations have been trying to get around the new law by teaming up with attorneys to offer services, in hopes that the attorney’s exemption would shield them from liability.
The Florida Bar has called foul. In a just-released Ethics Opinion, the Bar has stated (properly, in my opinion) that fee-splitting arrangements with these operations, along with other types of business deals, violate the attorney’s obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The Florida Bar’s Ethics Hotline recently has received numerous calls from lawyers who have been contacted by non-lawyers seeking to set up an arrangement in which the lawyers are involved in loan modifications, short sales, and other foreclosure-related rescue services on behalf of distressed homeowners. These non-lawyers include mortgage brokers, financial management advisors, foreclosure “consultants” and others who engage in foreclosure related rescue services or other similar services. Non-lawyers have proposed a variety of agreements, even offering to hire lawyers as “in-house counsel” to provide services to the non-lawyer’s customers. The Foreclosure Rescue Act, Section 501.1377, Florida Statutes, went into effect October 1, 2008 and imposed restrictions on non-lawyer loan modifiers to protect distressed homeowners. The new statute appears to be the impetus for these inquiries.
Lawyers should be wary of these proposals, as many violate the ethics rules and may subject the lawyer to discipline.
The whole opinion is worth reading: Download the Opinion [pdf]