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November 1, 2013
Letters

Discrimination?
Kellie A. Cameron Baker bemoans some lawyers’ decisions to represent only husbands in divorce proceedings as being discriminatory. Actually, however, there is a lot of such “discrimination” across the board, if one can call it that.

For example, some lawyers and firms only represent employees in labor disputes, while others only represent management. At least in the vast majority of cases, the ACLU only represents plaintiffs in First Amendment cases. Some lawyers limit their practices to plaintiffs’ personal injury litigation. Some lawyers represent only landlords, while others only tenants.

What is so different about a decision to only represent husbands when it comes to divorce? Would Baker complain equally vociferously if a lady lawyer represented only wives?

Ultimately, it is questionable that any lawyer should be compelled to represent any particular client in any particular case, or type of case. While the government has gone to considerable lengths to say who has to be hired as an employee, surely it would be overreaching its bounds to require someone to handle cases which they find to be morally objectionable, or objectionable on virtually any grounds. Baker may urge lawyers to handle various cases, but I don’t believe she has a good basis to seek compulsion.

Thomas F. Harkins, Jr.
Ft. Worth, Texas

________________________

In response to Mr. Warda’s October 15 letter critiquing my assessment of the state of law firm practice in Florida, I would like to point out that I am licensed to practice law in two other states, and I have practiced law for years up North.

The point of my prior letter was to point out that Florida law allows discrimination and it seems to be justified by advertising that misleads the public into thinking that men and women have different rights when it comes to divorce.

Setting aside the issue of discrimination against women, where I am from, I believe that if a firm tried to discriminate against women using deceptive advertising, the issue with such advertising alone would be enough to get the firm shut down by the board of bar overseers before any attorney at such a firm could even finish the first case. It seems to be in Florida that you can make the public think that the divorce statutes in this state are not gender neutral when in fact they are.

As for Mr. Warda’s laws and statistics, the “men’s rights” firms are not advocating for legal rights for men because children are being aborted or men are paying for children that are not theirs, but even if they were, are these issues only “men’s” issues? Do all women think that only women should be allowed to decide if a child is born, and do all women think that men should pay for children that are not biologically theirs? As a mother to three sons, I can assure you that these issues are not male versus female ones.

Mr. Warda goes on to indicate that men pay more in child support and alimony. Yes, they do because men are still typically the higher wage earners in a marriage. Case outcomes simply reflect other societal factors that are at work which create income disparity between men and women. I fail to see how a law firm’s refusal to accept women as clients furthers the goal of closing the male/female wage gap that exists in this country.

I agree with Mr. Warda that there are some societal issues boys and men are up against. I do not, however, think the answer to these issues lies in discriminating against women. It seems to me that allowing law firms to exploit men, by making them believe that statutes are not neutral and that they would get a different result by hiring a “men’s rights” firm rather than hiring any other firm, only exacerbates the problems between men and women when they are going through a divorce. The public should know that all lawyers and judges operate within the same gender neutral statutes and that men will get the same result whether they hire a “men’s rights” lawyer, a family law lawyer, or even a land trust attorney.

Kellie A. Cameron Baker
Jacksonville

LinkedIn
On September 11, The Florida Bar responded to a request for an advisory advertising opinion to determine whether lawyers may list their areas of practice under the LinkedIn heading “Skills & Expertise” when those lawyers are not board certified.

The staff opinion advises that lawyers may not do so, and an October 3 communication from the Young Lawyers Division provided instructions for removing the category altogether. (After all, we would hate for the public to think that an attorney has a “Courts” or “Law” skill.)

The advisory opinion is based on outmoded, 20th century pre-Internet views of lawyer advertisement, and it overreaches even today’s hyper-regulation of lawyers by infringing on the First Amendment rights of free speech and peaceable assembly of third persons.

Each lawyer’s LinkedIn profile may be considered a forum for public speech. Third persons may voice their views thereon, unsolicited, including whether they endorse a lawyer for a particular skill. The Florida Bar’s guidance would prohibit them from doing so. The same may be said of the “Recommendations” heading.

By charging lawyers to regulate the speech of third persons, The Florida Bar commandeers lawyers to infringe those third persons’ constitutional rights. The members of The Florida Bar should not countenance the antiquated views espoused in the guidance.

One brief aside: Upon reading the guidance, I removed the “Skills & Expertise” heading from my own LinkedIn profile. This downgraded my “Profile Strength” from “All-Star” to “Expert.” I fear I can no longer maintain a LinkedIn profile, for a member of the public might look over my shoulder while I’m on my “Edit Profile” page at a local coffee shop, see the word “Expert,” and get the wrong idea.

Andrew Paul Kawel
Miami

(Editor’s Note: The Bar has not formally taken a position on the LinkedIn issue, although a September 11 staff opinion held that it would violate Rule 4-7.14(b) for a lawyer to list an area of practice under the “Skills and Expertise” section of a LinkedIn account unless the lawyer is certified in that area. Since law firms cannot be certified, it would violate Bar rules for a firm to list areas of practice under “Skills and Expertise.” The Standing Committee on Advertising has set a special meeting for the LinkedIn matters for October 29, after this News went to press.

Pvt. Manning
Pardon me for interrupting Mr. Petrano’s and Mr. Tiffany’s inspiring “J’accuse” moment concerning Pvt. Manning, but shouldn’t they have referred to him/her/? as Chelsea instead of Bradley?

James I. Ridley
Sebring

Unprofessionalism
I’ve long sat silently and frowned while reading articles and commentaries concerning the plague of young unprofessional lawyers, and wondered if that is true, why are some of the least professional lawyers I know nearing retirement?

I have nothing but my opinion and my experience, but I feel the stereotype of the young unprofessional lawyer is harsh. I do not think a lack of professionalism is solely the province of young lawyers. I believe moderately experienced and lifetime lawyers have their fair share of unprofessionalism as well.

Not long ago I attended Practicing with Professionalism. As an aside, while the in-person-attendance was an inconvenience, it was overcome by the benefits of face-to-face discussion. I recently read The Florida Bar and Young Lawyers Division are considering removal of the in-person-attendance requirement; I would much rather see more dates and/or locations offered than dropping the valuable interaction.

While at Practicing with Professionalism, one of the older speakers acknowledged that this problem of young lawyers’ professionalism has apparently been around for a while and likely originated as a problem with the older generation of lawyers who lost the public’s positive opinion and failed to guide the previous young lawyers into an ethical practice.

This acknowledgment certainly made me feel vindicated, temporarily, but it still doesn’t answer the real question: How did this become such an epidemic problem? As I said before, based solely on my own experiences and those of friends, colleagues, or other lawyers who have shared stories, I grew to question the law school system.

A mandatory curve is a wonderful way to force competition. Hard work is rewarded, whether the hard work is undertaken to outperform others, or simply reduce the chances of others’ success, the work will pay off. If one student can harm another student’s grade potential, it pays off just as well as if the student had studied more. New law schools pop up all over the country, four tiers of young lawyer factories that pit us against our future colleagues, coworkers, and opponents. We are taught from day one to excel; all we need to do is be better than our fellow students. Logic games have taught us the converse is true; we can excel if our fellow students are worse than us.

I believe it would benefit all the lawyers of America (and especially Florida where we have so many practicing lawyers, new law graduates, and law schools) if we placed a focus on reducing the cutthroat law school environment and fostered the collegial and cooperative environment so few law schools possess. I was fortunate. I attended a law school I did not feel was cutthroat to the point of preventing others’ success, and it was a healthy competitive environment. Whether everyone felt that way or just many of those I interacted with and surrounded myself with, I cannot say. I think it starts with the faculty and administration but largely depends on the student body, the guidance and leadership of 3L’s, the welcome or lack thereof by 2L’s with transfers and 1L’s, and the support system in place for 1L’s and incoming students. I practice near a law school, and I find it my responsibility to interact when possible with law students and encourage civility, professionalism, and cooperation, stressing they are all a short time away from being professionals and colleagues.

I do believe there is and should be a professionalism concern. I strongly believe it cannot be isolated to one demographic of lawyers. And I know regardless of who is at fault, we all pay the price when the public believes our profession untrustworthy.

Benjamin Melnick
Tallahassee

DCF
I applaud Department of Children and Families Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo for her efforts to address the issues with our state’s child protection services. One method has been the use of outside experts to review the safety model, tools, and practice manual intended to improve the performance of child protective investigators and community-based care agencies.

The results of this initiative — the Casey Family Programs report — display the true need for DCF to fix its child protective investigation “transformation” before real change can be made. In fact, the report itself says, “The Safety Model’s Guidelines are incongruent with child protection practices designed for babies and toddlers, the age group at greatest risk for serious inflicted injuries and maltreatment fatalities.” Further evidence that more work is needed before DCF’s new model will achieve its intended purpose of protecting our kids.

I urge Secretary Jacobo to halt the implementation of the new system until the proper changes are made regarding the protections for foster children and other youth. Moving forward with an incomplete plan is a waste of time and resources. They need to stop implementation until it is proven this new system will better protect our youth.

I hope DCF’s leaders will stop, regroup, and invest needed resources to ensure the new model does what we need it to do — protect our state’s most vulnerable and avoid unnecessary deaths in the future.

Gloria Fletcher
Vice President, Florida’s Children First
Gainesville

[Revised: 12-12-2014]