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January 15, 2013
Board set to meet in Tallahassee in February

Legislative issues, pro bono awards, and changes to the Bar’s disciplinary process will be on the Board of Governor’s February 1 agenda when it meets in Tallahassee. The board may also get potentially far-reaching recommendations on the way it oversees for-profit lawyer referral services and the lawyers who use them.

The meeting will be about a month before the Legislature convenes its 2013 Regular Session, and legislative matters typically occupy an important segment of the meeting.

The board, at its December meeting, adopted for the 2012-14 biennium two traditional Bar positions. One calls for the Supreme Court maintaining its oversight of the legal profession and the other reiterates support for adequate funding for the court system.

Legislation Committee Chair Laird Lile noted at that meeting the committee will likely have more Bar legislative positions for the board to consider at the Tallahassee gathering. In addition, sections usually have several positions for board review as they gear up their legislative activities for the session.

The day before the meeting, the board will attend the annual pro bono award ceremony at the Supreme Court. Awards include the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award to honor a lawyer who has demonstrated exemplary pro bono service during his or her career; The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award, which goes to a lawyer from each circuit who has shown outstanding pro bono service; the Chief Justice’s Law Firm Commendation, which recognizes a law firm for extraordinary commitment to pro bono; the Chief Justice’s Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award, which honors a local bar that has shown a significant contribution to pro bono service; the Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award, which recognizes a young lawyer who exemplifies the profession’s ideals; and the Distinguished Judicial Service Award, which recognizes a judge for his or her service to the public, especially for supporting pro bono service.

The Communications and Disciplinary Procedure committees will present rule amendments based on recommendations from the Hawkins Commission, which last year completed a review of the Bar’s grievance process.

The DPC is looking at the rule, which limits disciplinary diversions to one every seven years. The Bar offers diversion courses for advertising, ethics, professionalism, trust accounting, law office management, stress management, and Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc. To qualify for diversion in less than seven years, the affected lawyer would have to be diverted to a different program from earlier diversions.

Diversions are available for lawyers facing minor disciplinary issues, and the Hawkins Commission concluded it was unfair to deny a lawyer a diversion, for example, for trust accounting problems because the lawyer had an earlier diversion for an advertising issue.

The Communications Committee will be making recommendations on the communications-related proposals from the commission. Those include having one location on the Bar’s website for grievance-related information for the public, improving education for both Bar members and the public about the disciplinary system, creating a communications program to deal with high-profile, high-visibility discipline matters, such as the Scott Rothstein Ponzi-scheme case, and improving feedback to judges who refer lawyers for discipline to the Bar.

The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics has been studying the recommendations submitted last summer by the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services, and Chair Carl Schwait told the board in December he expects to report on those at the board’s February or April meeting.

The special committee’s recommendations included prohibiting lawyers from accepting referrals from a service that also makes referrals to other professional services for the same incident. That recommendation would affect large referral services that solicit accident victims for both medical and legal referrals.

Another proposal would require lawyers to report to the Bar all referral services to which they belong and disclose to referred prospective clients about their participation in referral services. Currently, services are required to register with the Bar and list participating lawyers — a requirement that would be maintained.

Other recommendations include having one lawyer in a law firm being responsible for handling referrals from a service and prohibiting lawyers from initiating contact with a referred client, instead requiring that the prospective client initiate contact with the lawyer.

The board also could receive a report from the Program Evaluation Committee on the Leadership Academy being proposed by Bar President-elect Gene Pettis and former YLD President Reneé Thompson. The academy would train lawyers for Bar and community service.

Additionally, The PEC will present a request to form the Senior Lawyers Section.

On another matter, the Bar will appoint two lawyers for three-year terms on The Florida Bar Foundation Board of Directors.

[Revised: 03-02-2014]