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Plappert takes stock of his inventory attorney opportunities

first_imgPlappert takes stock of his inventory attorney opportunities ‘I was a fairly new lawyer without much work. I thought at the time, it will give me more experience, and some more exposure, so I’ll do it’ Stanley W. PlappertMost lawyers who take the plunge into professional service have a hard time describing the satisfaction they get from helping others — or why they keep volunteering again and again.Ocala attorney Stanley W. Plappert, president of the Florida Legal Advocacy Group, P.A., is no different — but his service is all too rare.Plappert has become a go-to “inventory attorney” — someone who volunteers to manage the files of a lawyer who is unable to continue practicing law.Helping the courts and the Florida Bar protect the interests of stranded clients requires diplomatic and detective skills and can involve many tedious and uncompensated hours. But somebody has to do it, Plappert says.“Number one, it’s good for the public, because the Bar is looking after the clients who have been orphaned or abandoned,” he said.And the other reason? Because somebody asked, Plappert said.“I try to help when I can and where I can,” he said.Over the years, Bar staff attorneys who are responsible for petitioning the court to appoint an inventory attorney have come to rely on Plappert’s willingness to serve.“Mr. Plappert’s incredible service to the Bar and the public assures that the former clients’ property is protected,” said a staff attorney who preferred to remain anonymous. “The Bar is so grateful for his ‘can-do’ approach, and we know that we can call upon him when other sources of assistance are unavailable.”Florida Bar Rule 1-3.8 (Right to Inventory) requires most Florida attorneys to designate an inventory attorney, but for obvious reasons, the rule does not require the designated attorney to serve.According to Bar website, “inventory attorneys take possession of the files of a member who dies, disappears, is disbarred or suspended, becomes delinquent, or suffers involuntary leave of absence due to military service and no other responsible party capable of conducting the member’s affairs is known.”It also explains that “the inventory attorney may give the file to a client for finding substitute counsel; may make referrals to substitute counsel with the agreement of the client; or may accept representation of the client, but is not required to do so.”Plappert had only been a lawyer for a few months when the Marion County Bar Association asked him to be an inventory attorney for a local lawyer who died “without having made any provisions.”Plappert sensed an opportunity.“I was a fairly new lawyer without much work,” he said. “I thought at the time, it will give me more experience, and some more exposure, so I’ll do it.”Bar attorneys petitioned the chief judge to appoint Plappert as an inventory attorney, and Plappert set to work. Fortunately, there were people familiar with the former lawyer’s practice who agreed to assist.“He had a paralegal who worked for him, and she was willing to help, she was working for another attorney who was in the same building where his office had been, so that really worked out,” Plappert said. “It was very helpful to me learning the practice, learning more about the law.”There were about 50 active files, and about 250 inactive files, Plappert said. Of the clients he was able to contact, he recalls only about eight who engaged him as their new lawyer.Much of the work is organizational, Plappert said.“The first thing we do is, we make an Excell spreadsheet of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of all of the clients from the files, and then we try to differentiate whether they are active or closed,” he said.The next step is contacting clients, he said.“We send a letter, and that letter introduces me as the local inventory attorney appointed by the local court,” he said. “We have an election form that’s attached to the letter that gives them the choice to either receive their file, have their file sent to another attorney, or to inquire with us about potential representation by us,” he said.There can be finances to straighten out, too, Plappert said.“In some cases, there are trust accounts, so I’m also given authority to do a trust accounting to see whether there is enough money to reimburse the people who had money in the trust, and if not, ask the Florida Bar to ask the judge how to apportion the money that’s left.”When the work is done, Plappert goes back to court.“Once I have contacted all the clients, then I report back to the court, and say, I contacted the 50 current open files, I was able to reach 35 of them, 15 of them I cannot find the addresses, I’m asking the court for permission to shred all the files and to relieve me of my duties.”Not all of Plappert’s inventory attorney assignments resulted from a death. One attorney disappeared, probably due to a substance abuse problem. A few others became mentally incapacitated. He is currently an inventory attorney for a Brevard County attorney who was killed in a fire.And not all clients are relieved when the inventory attorney approaches them, Plappert acknowledges. Many are confused by the process and worried about the progress of their case. They also resent paying for legal services that weren’t delivered, Plappert said.“If the person dies, they’re more compassionate, more understanding,” Plappert said. “But what they’re concerned with is, moving their cases forward, and having to pay twice to hire another counsel. I understand their pain, and I understand their frustration, I don’t let it bother me.”It’s also easy for abandoned clients to misinterpret the inventory attorney’s role, Plappert said.“I had one recently call The Florida Bar helpline, trying to file a complaint against me,” he laughs. “I told the person on the help line, I’m not his attorney, I’m trying to get the information together so he can choose who he wants to be his attorney.”Even judges sometimes forget, Plappert said.“The local court will sometimes try to make demands of us, but we are not the attorneys for the clients,” he laughs.Plappert’s firm has grown to several attorneys and his practice is busy, so he no longer needs to take inventory attorney assignments to learn the legal ropes. But as Florida Bar membership ages the demand for inventory attorneys grows, Plappert remains willing to serve.In December 2020, the Board of Governors recommended a proposed amendment to Rule 1-3.8 that would authorize the Bar to pay inventory attorneys for their services if certain conditions are met. The proposal anticipated paying 33 inventory attorneys up to $3,000 each, plus expenses. The Florida Supreme Court has yet to rule on the proposal.Plappert thinks it’s a good idea.“I think it would be a healthy thing to do,” he said.And yes, Plappert had made arrangements for another attorney in his firm to take over his cases if he is no longer able to practice law.“Everybody should do that,” he said. May 11, 2021 By Jim Ash Senior Editor Top Storieslast_img read more