By Mark D. Killian
Florida Bar members will soon receive their 2013-14 fee statements, reflecting no increase in annual fees, which are payable July 1 and late after August 15.
Members should also note that last year the Supreme Court amended Bar rules to require lawyers who have business email addresses to report those to the Bar.
Members will receive one of two fee statements: one designed for active members or another for those who have elected inactive status. Annual fees for active members are $265. Inactive members pay $175.
This marks the 12th consecutive year without a fee increase.
The fee statement is two-sided and both sides must be completed and be mailed along with payments to cover fees and sections joined.
If they have not already done so, members can provide the Bar with their email address in the part of the fee statement that allows members to update their member profile, including the name of their firm, mailing address, phone number, fax number, and email address. Bar rules also require members to list the physical address of their offices, if that address is different from their mailing address. Membership data also may be changed at any time by visiting www.floridabar.org.
The court adopted the email requirement April 12, 2012, when it acted on a Bar petition for a variety of rules changes. Rule 1-3.3 already requires that each member must provide the Bar with an official Bar name, mailing address, and business telephone number. The revised rule adds to the list by specifying a “business email address, if the member has one,” must be provided.
Members have the option to complete their annual fee statement and pay their fees online via the Bar’s website, but to do so, members must first be registered on the Bar’s website. If members have not registered, they can go to the member log-in on the Bar website, then follow the prompts. Instructions for paying Bar fees online are also provided on the paper form mailed to members’ official Bar addresses.
Under the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, fees postmarked after August 15 will be assessed a $50 late fee. Members whose payment is not received by September 30 will be deemed delinquent. The delinquency may be cleared by petitioning the Bar, paying the fees, the late fee, and a $150 reinstatement fee.
Members’ fee statements include options for making voluntary contributions to a number of organizations, including:
* Children’s Legal Services/The Florida Bar Foundation: 100 percent of this contribution goes to help protect the rights of low-income children who suffer most during difficult economic times.
* Florida Supreme Court Historical Society: focuses on preserving the state’s judicial history and educating the public about the role of the courts.
* Attorneys Charitable Trust (ACT): formed as a disaster relief fund offering Florida attorneys an avenue for donations for aid and assistance following disasters which cause the disruption of legal processes and court systems or which result in reduced citizen access to the legal system and the pursuit of justice. ACT will help fellow attorneys as well as victims and their families in the aftermath of a disaster.
* Florida Lawyers Association for the Maintenance of Excellence (FLAME): supports activities that promote a positive public attitude toward the legal profession and justice system, such as efforts to secure funding for state courts.
Pursuant to Rule 5-1.2, each year Bar members are required to certify whether they have complied with the trust accounting requirements of Rules 5-1.1 and 5-1.2 during the previous fiscal year.
For many years, the certificate only asked whether lawyers had complied with the trust accounting rules, and the only possible answers were “yes” or “no.” For a number of Florida Bar members, such as judges and government lawyers, the language of the old certificate could be confusing since many of them never received trust funds or property from clients or third parties and, therefore, were not required to keep such funds or property in trust. Some lawyers who were not required to maintain trust accounts marked “no” to indicate noncompliance with the trust accounting rules when they apparently meant “no” they did not have a trust account.
To avoid confusion and improve the accuracy of responses, the trust account compliance certificate has been modified to specifically include an option for lawyers who are not required to maintain trust accounts. This group would include lawyers who never receive funds (e.g., cash, checks, money orders, wire transfers) or property (such as jewelry, cars, stock certificates, or other tangible property) from clients or third parties in the course of a legal representation. These lawyers may indicate under the second option that they are not required to maintain a trust account.
Lawyers who do receive third-party or client funds or property in the course of their representation of a client should mark either option (1) or (3) of the current certificate, depending on whether they have complied with all the requirements of Rules 5-1.1 and 5-1.2. Lawyers who mark option (3) must provide The Florida Bar with information explaining the way in which they have failed to comply with the trust account and/or the safekeeping property rules.
Pro Bono Reports
This year’s fee form again includes a pro bono section for Bar members to report if they have contributed toward the Supreme Court’s aspirational pro bono goals. The court asks lawyers to provide 20 hours of pro bono service or donate $350 to a legal aid program each year. While providing pro bono is optional, filling out the pro bono reporting form on the statement is required by Bar rules.
A series of questions promulgated by the court appear on the fee statement, depending on what option the attorney selected. The court wants to know:
* How many hours of pro bono service the lawyer donated, and if the work was done through an organized legal aid program or on the lawyer’s own.
* If the lawyer’s firm provided pro bono collectively under a plan operated by a circuit pro bono committee, with an indication of how much was allocated to the member.
* If the lawyer has contributed to a legal aid organization in lieu of performing the pro bono work.
* Whether the attorney was unable to provide pro bono service or met the provision for deferral.
* How the lawyer fulfilled his or her service if done in some manner not specifically envisioned by the plan.
This year’s fee statement features a purely voluntary section that allows members to report the community and public service they have performed over the past year. The purpose is to obtain data to show contributions lawyers make by way of community service. Lawyers may voluntarily report whether they have provided service to the legal community, religious organizations, civic organizations, or other charities and the number of hours donated.
The community service questions are separate from the court’s pro bono reporting requirements, and answering these questions does not constitute compliance with the required pro bono responses.
Bar members also may join sections and the Out of State Division using the fee form. The attorney’s current membership in a section is indicated on the form. To join other sections, members may darken the circles next to the section they want to join and include the appropriate amount with their membership fees.
The fee statement provides lawyers the opportunity to reduce their section dues by joining combinations of the Government Lawyer Section with the Administrative Law Section and/or the Criminal Law Section or the Administrative Law Section and the Criminal Law Section.
Members may opt for inactive membership by marking the inactive status proclamation located near the bottom of the front page of the active membership statement – or online via the Bar’s website — and paying their fees by a postmark date of August 15.
Those who chose inactive status on last year’s statement will receive an inactive membership fee statement this year. It has many of the same features as the active membership fee statement, but does not allow the inactive member to join sections. Inactive members, however, can become affiliate members of the Out of State Division or the Administrative Law; Alternative Dispute Resolution; Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law; Environmental and Land Use Law; Equal Opportunities Law; Family Law; Government Lawyer; Health Law; Public Interest Law; Real Property, Probate & Trust Law; and Tax sections.
By choosing inactive status, Bar members will reduce their annual fees by $90 and receive automatic exemptions from continuing legal education requirements. They will, however, give up a number of privileges, including the privilege to practice or advise on Florida law or hold a job that requires a Florida law license; to participate in the Bar’s certification program; to vote in Bar elections or be counted for purposes of apportionment of the Board of Governors; and to receive the Journal.
Inactive members continue to receive the News. Inactive members who wish to become active again must call the Bar’s Membership Records Department at (850) 561-5832 or (800) 561-8060, ext. 5832.