By Gary Blankenship
The Florida Bar will have a minimum of 115,000 members by 2020, but up to 25 percent of them may not work as attorneys.
Those who do practice will more likely work in small or solo practices that rely more heavily on technology — and less on face-to-face contact with clients — to deliver cost-effective legal services.
There will be continuing pressures on the independence of the judiciary and continuing struggles to stablize funding for the court system.
The above were just a few factors considered by the Bar’s Strategic Planning Committee when it met in November to consider Bar priorities for the 2013-16 time frame. President-elect Eugene Pettis presented the committee’s findings to the Board of Governors at its recent meeting in Tallahassee and the board approved the Bar’s updated strategic plan.
“When we look at the plan, we’re looking out over that four- or five-year period,” Pettis told the board. “We’re looking at what the Bar’s composition is going to be. What are the issues that are going to be challenging us in four to five years? What do we need to start doing today to ready ourselves for issues we know are going to be coming up?”
The Bar’s five basic goals remained unchanged from last year’s plan, he said, but the committee this year concentrated on the specific ways to meet those goals.
“We didn’t just look at our positions, but we also looked critically at the action items. From past years, sometimes we had 10 to 12 action items, which we believed were too many,” Pettis said. “We went through the process of eliminating a number of those action items and simplified our focus. Another piece to this year’s review dealt with creating some measurable follow-up. We had some reports that certain things that were on our strategic plan for past years had not been fully implemented.”
In the new plan, assigning specific responsibilities for the action items and deadlines for accomplishing them have been addressed. Pettis said he plans a midyear review of how the objectives are being met.
The plan keeps the following five overall goals of the Bar:
* Ensure the judicial system, a coequal branch of government, is fair, impartial, adequately funded, and open to all.
* Enhance the legal profession and the public’s trust and confidence in attorneys and the justice system.
* Strive for equal access to and availability of legal services.
* Enhance and improve the value of Florida Bar membership and the Bar’s relationship with its members.
* Continue to encourage and promote diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the profession and the justice system.
Pettis said the plan takes the phased approach to court financing. That method calls for coming up with a model for permanent funding this year, building support for the plan in 2014, and then selling it to lawmakers in 2015. If there are still problems, Pettis said the Bar should be ready to take a proposal to the Constitution Revision Commission — a citizens panel appointed once every 20 years to review the Florida Constitution —when it begins meeting in 2017.
“If we don’t start building the necessary basis for that solution today, we’re going to find ourselves in 2017 still reacting on an annual basis to this most important issue of funding for the courts,” he said.
Other strategic plan projects are:
* Improving education of the public, Bar members, and legislators about the judicial system, including using the existing Justice Teaching and Benchmarks education programs.
* Enhancing public trust in the profession and justice system by improving Bar professionalism efforts and using evolving technology to educate the public about lawyers and Florida courts.
* Improving the availability of legal services for all Floridians. This plan is accomplished by better coordination between the Bar’s Pro Bono Services Committee and The Florida Bar Foundation and encouragement of support for the Foundation’s “One” campaign.
* Enhancing the value of Bar membership to the state’s lawyers, including adding goods and services to the Member Benefits Program and using technology to improve communications with members.
* Continuing to encourage diversity in the justice system and the profession.
The Strategic Planning Committee includes members of the Bar’s Executive Committee, representatives from the Council of Sections, and former Bar presidents.
Members considered a vast array of economic, demographic, and professional trends and data in trying to plot the future course of the Bar.
Among the information considered by the committee were:
* A survey of Bar members show their top five concerns were “too many attorneys, difficult economic times, a lack of ethics/professionalism, court overload, and a lack of appropriate judicial system funding.”
* “The most significant challenges/concerns that members identify as personally facing in their daily practice of law are balancing family and work, high stress, net revenue, and time management.”
* “Over two-thirds (70 percent) of members believe the profession, as a career, is becoming less desirable, yet 70 percent also indicate that they are satisfied with their legal career at this time.”
* There may be challenges for preserving a fair and impartial judiciary for several years, in part because the public has a lack of knowledge about the separation of powers and the role of the judiciary.
* There are 12 law schools in Florida with more likely, and the Bar will grow by around 2,500 members a year. That reality “is an area of extreme concern for a significant number of Florida Bar members. Many new attorneys are finding themselves either unemployed or underemployed.”
* “The Florida Bar will have a minimum of 115,000 attorneys by the year 2020. [It now has around 95,000.] Attorney growth is expected to continue and market saturation will increase.” However, other data indicated that 25 percent of those members in 2020 will not practice law, either being unemployed or working in other fields.
* “There will be an increased reliance on electronic communications and technology. Methods of communication will continue to evolve. Law practices in the future will be more virtual and less face-to-face.” Along with that, “The traditional bricks-and-mortar law office will evolve into the establishment of more virtual offices that operate from homes or satellite offices of its lawyers, delivering services to clients at a distance through technology. There will also be expanded use of virtual law firms for staffing of cases.”
The strategic plan is found on the Bar’s website by selecting the “About the Bar” link on the homepage and then choosing “Strategic Plan/Research.”