Guest post by: Richard Akin, Esquire
Whether you are a realtor, a contractor, a health care professional or a licensed professional of any kind, maintaining your professional license is vital to your livelihood. While each type of license has different requirements for initial licensure and continuing education, certain types of conduct will inevitably subject your license to discipline no matter your professional field.
You likely know the big/obvious violations to avoid, but often times it’s the smaller violations that can cause problems for the average professional.
- Practice Outside the Scope of Your Licensed Field. At first glance this seems obvious, and it may be. For example, as a lawyer I shouldn’t give medical advice. Likewise a licensed contractor shouldn’t be handing out legal advice. However, the truth is that issues regarding practice outside the scope of one’s licensed field rarely come up in circumstances that obvious. Instead, we tend to see complaints and investigations where a realtor is alleged to have given legal advice in connection with a real estate transaction or a licensed general contractor performs work that requires an additional license (like plumbing, electrical, roofing). All too often a client will ask for advice or work in an area that is just beyond the legal bounds of a professional licensure. When the relationship sours, complaints are inevitably filed, leading to costly investigations. The moral of the story here is to know the limits of your licensure and stick to it. Don’t let your client talk you into giving advice or performing work that you know or suspect is outside the scope of your licensure. If you do, you will eventually regret it.
- Don’t Report an Arrest. First, don’t get arrested – that goes without saying. However, if you do get arrested make sure you check the requirements of your license for reporting the arrest to the licensing agency. All too often an individual will get arrested and the conduct that led to the arrest (or the charge itself) would not be sufficient to warrant action against his/her license – but then they fail to report the arrest to their licensing agency. The failure to report is almost always a violation. Many times the agency will discipline your license for the failure to report but take no action for the underlying crime (often times the charges are dismissed). Don’t make this mistake. Check the requirements for reporting arrests that apply to your license, and where it’s required, self-report.
- Fail to Maintain Licensing Requirements. Every license that I know requires an annual renewal fee/dues and continuing education. Again this may seems obvious, but based on the number of licenses suspended for failure to comply, it’s a problem. It may be easy to forget, it may be easy to let slide, but it’s the dumbest reason to lose a license and the easiest to avoid. Take responsibility for your own education and renewal fees. Place a renewing agenda item on your calendar. It may be inconvenient to comply with the requirements, but sorting out the mess after failing to comply will be worse.
- Don’t Be Up-Front With Clients. This one falls into the category that is likely to generate a complaint even if it doesn’t result in discipline. The fastest and easiest way to get a complaint against your license is to have a disgruntled client who feels he or she was misled or not given the whole story. If you work long enough, it is inevitable that you will eventually have a client that is unhappy with something you have done. However, in my experience representing professionals in licensing matters, complaints often come from a client who believes he or she was given the run-around by the licensee. Sometimes things do not go as planned. When that happens it may be difficult to deliver the news to the client, but it is part of the job. When clients feel they have not been advised of the circumstances, only given part of the story, or that they have been given fabricated excuses, they go from unhappy to vengeful. Don’t allow a bad result, a delay, or any other problem to become worse by failing to advise your client – fully.
- Don’t Return Messages. This goes hand-in-hand with number four, above. It’s not uncommon for a client, vendor, or adversary to be unpleasant to deal with. When this happens a natural feeling of dread comes over us when we have to return a phone call or message. You cannot let that stop you from doing it. Get back to them – every time. I have seen this particular problem generate more licensure complaints than any other single issue. When people cannot get a response from you their next step is to contact the agency that licenses you – because they know that will get your attention. Don’t let that happen. Even when you have nothing substantive to tell the other person, call them back and let them know. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring a difficult situation. If you can’t resolve the issue, let them know your position. They may not like what you have to say, but nothing creates more issues than when people can’t get a call back.
Don’t take your license for granted and listen to your instincts. Sometimes it’s the little things that cause big problems. Don’t let a small issue turn into a larger problem by ignoring it, and don’t let your clients talk you into doing something you shouldn’t. It’s your license, guard it carefully.
About the Author
Richard Akin represents businesses and individuals in administrative litigation, including licensing and permitting matters. He also represents local municipalities, businesses, insurance companies and individuals in civil, employment and tort claims, including constitutional claims, premises liability, product liability, and motor vehicle accidents.
Richard also represents many Florida school boards (before both administrative and civil courts) in tort and special education matters under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act, and representation in connection with Constitutional matters under the 1st, 4th and 14th Amendments.
Richard may be reached at 239-344-1182 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.