Winter Park Florida business and civil litigation lawyer Eric Lanigan has practiced Florida law since 1976. In working with small, medium and large Florida businesses he has helped to protect and resolve, litigate, negotiate and provide legal advice to clients who have challenges that threaten their businesses.
In all legal business decisions where an attorney’s advice is needed, Eric suggests that you don’t make a move before speaking with an attorney if your answer can decide the fate or success of your company. It’s worth taking time to speak with an experienced business lawyer who is familiar with the laws, can interpret and resolve or litigate and negotiate with you and for you. He recently posted a new YouTube video about protecting yourself by not speaking to professional licensing agents without an attorney. No matter how innocent you are, no matter how much you feel you should cooperate: don’t talk to any investigator without an attorney present.
Eric talks about defending your professional license. And he’s not talking about a malpractice claim or a negligence claim. He’s talking about where someone has filed a complaint with the entity that regulates your professional license. Those can be governmental and those can be what we call SRO, or self-regulatory organizations.
Professional Licensing Types: SRO–Self-Regulatory Organizations
Examples of those are the Florida Bar, FINRA for stock brokers. CFP for certified financial planners, those are self-regulating organizations and they police their own members. And then there are the government-regulated and you can go to your state statute if you go in Florida if you go to the Florida Department of business and professional regulation you can see all the different professions that are governed by that department and if you have a license you know that.
When you get a complaint filed, typically if it’s in an SRO my experience has been that it’s handled through the mail. You receive the copy of the complaint that somebody has made against you or that the SRO itself is making against you and you respond in writing. And those are you have the time and the opportunty to seek out counsel and prepare a response.
Governmental-Regulated Professional Licensing Organizations
The ones that are the most troubling I find are the governmental regulations. Because they tend to have investigators to come out. And they use the surprise visit. They just show up and they want to sit down right now and they want to start quizzing you about this complaint. And I find that what happens is that people’s inclination is to then sit down and prove that the complaint is wrong, unfounded and also prove that you’re a good guy and you’re honest and you’re gonna answer their questions. That approach is wrong, wrong, wrong!
Your License is On the Line
You gotta remember: This is your license that’s on the line. This is your career. If you lose your license it’s the business equivalent of a death sentence! And in today’s world even getting a black mark against you, which in almost any profession people can find via the Internet could cause you to lose a client or even a potential client or contract.
So what you need to do when these people show up, YOU need to be the one that asks the questions. You need to say, “what is the specific charge being made against me? Is it in writing? If it is let me see it. What’s the worst case penalty that I’m facing? Is it loss of license? Criminal?
I had a recent case where there someone, there was some complaint about unlicensed sale of insurance. The investigators came in, they did exactly what I’m talking about and they made the sort of a surprise visit. Let’s sit down let’s talk right now. The client talks to these people for 45 minutes and at the end of the 45 minutes the investigators say, “well, the potential penalty here is a felony–AFTER the person has already sort of spilled their guts on the table. Now they tell them that it’s a felony. And that makes it very difficult for the attorney if the client has already engaged in a 45 minute conversation where they haven’t had any time to prepare or think about what they’re being asked.
You Need to Be the Only One Asking Questions
So you you’re the one that asks the questions and when they say the worst case scenario is that you can lose your license and even face criminal charges, then you have to treat it as if it’s the FBI or the IRS that’s sitting across from you and you quickly end the meeting and you say, “given the severity of the potential penalties, I must consult with an attorney before I respond to any of your questions.”
And you send them out the door and you get in touch with somebody to review what the situation is. And then you let them decide A. if there’s going to be a meeting at all and if there is what are the parameters of that meeting going to be.
And invariably what the attorney is going to want to do is to get on the phone with those people, let them know that he’s going to be involved and feel them out informally as to what you’re really dealing with and then get back to you to talk about how to prepare for that and how to deal with it.
So remember one thing: when that investigator walks in your office you treat it as if the badge he’s showing you says FBI. And you react just as you would if that were the badge that you were seeing.