Skip Navigation

The Florida Bar

Access to the Legal System

On This Page
I. Issue
II. Bar Position
III. Constitutional Basis for Access to Courts
IV. Background
V. Facts and Statistics

I. Issue

Access to the legal system is a necessity in our complex society. Equal and full access to the justice system for all citizens who have legal problems, regardless of their ability to pay or the unpopularity of their cause, has traditionally been an aspirational goal of the legal profession. However, a gap has always existed between the goal and the realities of the daily delivery of legal services. Various issues surface regarding three primary facets of access: (1) citizen access to information about the legal system (adequacy of public information programs, lawyer referral programs, legal clinics, law­related education in schools, etc.); (2) representation by lawyers (pro bono services for indigents, affordable legal services for middle income persons, adequacy of public defender funding, legal aid funding, representation for appeals in capital cases, availability of prepaid legal plans, etc.); and (3) access to actual dispute resolution (simple procedures, pro se representation, small claims court rules and procedures, contingency fee, mediation/arbitration programs, heavy case loads, etc.). All facets of the access issue carry within them economic burdens which will have to be met in whole or in part by the Bar, by society, or by some combination thereof.
Back to Top

II. Bar Position

A. American Bar Association Position

In August 1989, the ABA agreed that one of its goals is "to promote meaningful access to legal representation and the American system of justice for all persons regardless of their economic or social position."

In August 1991, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a resolution that the "highest priority of the bar and bench must be to promote improvements in the American system of justice by ensuring balanced and adequate funding for, and timely access to, the entire justice system. . . ."

In 1996, the ABA Special Committee on Funding the Justice System, with the Judicial Division Lawyers Conference, National Center for State Courts and State Justice Institute held a "National Interbranch Conference on Funding the State Courts," which tried to reconcile court funding needs with legislative demands for accountability and economy.

In 1997, the ABA continued its consistent support for an adequately funded and independent Legal Services Corporation. Although the Clinton Administration supports the program, there are strong efforts in Congress to eliminate it or substantially reduce its funding. In response, ABA leaders have testified before congressional committees and urged that a federal commitment to legal services be maintained.

In July 1998, the ABA Task Force on Prompt and Affordable Justice, in conjunction with the National Center for State Courts, the National Judicial College, and the Justice Management Institute, published A National Agenda for Prompt and Affordable Justice in the 21st Century.

In an effort to encourage public access to the legal system, the ABA supports judges participating directly and indirectly in the recruitment of pro bono attorneys. In February 1993 the House of Delegates amended rule 6.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct to state that lawyers should "aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year," but maintains the voluntary nature of pro bono.

In 1981 the ABA established the Private Bar Involvement Act, later renamed the Center for Pro Bono, which "provides technical assistance, a clearinghouse of information, on-site visits, Info Packs, telephone consultations, and a variety of other services to bar associations, legal service programs" and others engaged in pro bono delivery efforts.

B. The Florida Bar Position

According to the preamble to Chapter 4 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, "A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance, and should therefore devote professional time and civic influence on their behalf. A lawyer should aid the legal profession in pursuing these objectives and should help the Bar regulate itself in the public interest." The Oath of Admission states in part: "I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any man's cause for lucre or malice. So Help Me God."

On November 10, 1994 The Florida Bar Board of Governors voted to support amendment F.S. 57.081 to require indigent petitioners to certify that they paid no more than a specific sum to a lawyer or a nonlawyer for preparing legal documents.

In February 1995, the board voted to support adequate funding of the Legal Services Corporation by the federal government and opposed any funding cuts. The Board of Governors and the Public Interest Law Section voted to support passage of the Florida Access to Civil Legal Services Act, to provide annual state funding for free legal services to the poor in Florida through geographically-based field programs supported in part by The Florida Bar Foundation's Interest on Trust Accounts/Legal Assistance to the Poor program.

In April 1995, the Board of Governors voted to oppose portions of the proposed federal tort reform legislation "to the extent that it imposes barriers to access the court as guaranteed by the Florida Constitution and adversely affects the delivery of legal services in this state."

In September 1995, the Board of Governors voted to support adequate federal funding of post­conviction defender organizations.

In August 1998, the Board of Governors voted to take an active role in non-biased education of the public regarding 12 proposed constitutional amendments on the November 1998 General Election ballot, but takes a formal position of neutrality on the ballot proposals.

In August 1998, the board also voted to support adequate funding of the Legal Services Corporation by the federal government and opposes any funding cuts.
Back to Top

III. Constitutional Basis for Access to Courts

Florida is the only state that has a constitutional provision guaranteeing the right of access to courts. Article I, Section 21 of the Florida Constitution specifically provides: "The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay." In terms of alternative dispute resolution, the Florida Supreme Court has indicated that the mere substitution of alternative dispute resolution proceedings for the right to bring an action in Court would violate Article I, Section 21, but that such proceedings could be required before allowing a party access to the courts.
Back to Top

IV. Background
    A. Historical
      Providing free legal aid to those who are unable to afford it has been a tradition in the U.S. since 1876, when the German Legal Aid Society was formed in New York to provide legal protection to Germans unable to afford private counsel.

      Florida Legal Services, Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation, was organized in 1973 by leaders of The Florida Bar and Gov. Reubin Askew's administration for the purpose of providing or helping to provide legal services for persons in need who would not otherwise have the means to obtain a lawyer's assistance. In 1974, Congress officially established the Legal Services Corp. as a federally funded, private, nonprofit organization.

      The Governor's Commission on Advocacy for Persons with Developmental Disabilities was started in 1977 with two full­time attorneys on staff. It has instituted and maintained substantial litigation through Southern Legal Counsel, Inc., a public interest firm in Gainesville. Since its inception, the commission has served as many as 600 individual clients a year. In 1977, the commission was instrumental in the formation of The Florida Bar's Special Commission on the Mentally Disabled, the Bar's first committee to invite the participation of nonlawyers. The committee (now the Disability Law Committee in the Public Interest Section) was instrumental in securing one of the early ABA Bar Funding Programs (BFP) grants for The Florida Bar. It has advocated legislative reform of civil commitment and guardianship.

      B. Legislative Involvement
        • The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a Constitutional right of self representation. The 1980 legislative amendments to the in forma pauperis statute, F.S. §57.081, waive court costs and filing fees for the indigent who is proceeding pro se. Making it easier for those who are unable to obtain the services of an attorney to proceed pro se in appropriate cases is a step toward the goal of ensuring access to the legal system.
        • In 1984, the Legislature passed the Florida Equal Access to Justice Act. It covers only the small business party who prevails in any adjudicatory proceeding or administrative proceeding.
        • In December 1984, the Legislature enacted The Florida Commission on Advocacy for the Disadvantaged Act. The commission was composed of 13 members appointed by the Legislature, The Florida Bar, Florida Legal Services, the Attorney General, the Florida Supreme Court and the Governor.
        • In 1985, the Legislature created the Study Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution to design alternative forms of dispute resolution procedures that would help improve the administration of justice in Florida. The nine­member commission, which included lawyers, judges and legislators, was staffed by the Office of the State Court's Administrator. In March 1985, the final report of the Study Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution was submitted to the Supreme Court and the Legislature. The commission believed that mediation, arbitration and a trial should be combined as a matrix of dispute resolution devices. The commission concluded that the operation of the Alternative Dispute Resolution program must not effectively deny the participant his/her right to a jury trial or access to the courts.
        • In 1986, the Study Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution recommended a statute containing four dispute resolution mechanisms. The Legislature passed a new law in 1987 that provides for court­ordered mediation and court­ordered arbitration in specified civil actions. Nonlawyers may serve as mediators and arbitrators.
        • Since January 1, 1988, Florida circuit and county judges have had the power to refer all contested civil actions to mediation or nonbinding arbitration while disputants have the right to request binding arbitration. The new option was codified in 44.301­.306 F.S., passed by the 1987 Legislature.

        C. Judicial Involvement

        U.S. Supreme Court
        • In Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932), the court requires legal counsel in capital cases.
        • In Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the court requires legal counsel in felony cases.
        • In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), the court requires legal counsel in juvenile cases where confinement is possible.
        • In Argensinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972), the court requires legal counsel in misdemeanors where imprisonment could be imposed.
        • Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, 91 S.Ct. 780, 28 L.Ed.2d 113 (1971) held that due process of law prohibited the State from denying indigents seeking divorces access to its courts simply because they could not pay court costs.
        • In terms of alternative dispute resolution, United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 93 S.Ct. 631, 34 L.Ed.2d 626 (1973) established there is no basic constitutional right to litigate all disputes.

        • The Petition of Florida State Bar Association, 40 So.2d 902 (Fla. 1949), recognized the integration of the bar. Justice Terrell, writing for the Florida Supreme Court, gave the definition of the integrated bar: "The integrated bar has also been defined as the process by which every member of the bar is given an opportunity to do his part in performing the public service expected of him, and by which each member is obligated to bear his portion of the responsibility." 40 So.2d at 904.
        • In 1976, in upholding the Medical Malpractice Reform Act, which required the submission of medical malpractice claims to a mediation panel before filing suit, the Florida Supreme Court notes: "Although courts are generally opposed to any burden being placed on the rights of aggrieved persons to enter the courts because of the constitutional guaranty of access, there may be reasonable restrictions prescribed by law. Typical examples are the fixing of a time within which suit must be brought, payment of reasonable cost deposits, pursuit of certain administrative relief such as zoning matters or workmen's compensation claims, or the requirement that newspapers be given the right of retraction before an action for libel may be filed." Carter v. Sparkman, 335 So.2d 802, 807 (Fla. 1976), cert. den. 97 S.Ct. 740, 429 U.S. 1041, 50 L.Ed.2d 753.
        • The Florida Supreme Court approved the IOTA program in March 1978, to be administered by The Florida Bar Foundation. The court named Florida Legal Services, Inc. as a co­partner with the Bar in carrying out the purposes of IOTA.
        • The Florida Bar v. Brumbaugh, 355 So.2d 1186 (Fla. 1978) defined how the sellers of forms and "do­it­yourself" legal kits could operate. This case liberalized the former laws by allowing nonlawyers to sell printed material purporting to explain legal practice and procedure to the public in general and to operate secretarial services and type forms for customers, if typists only copy the information given to them in writing by customers.
        • The Florida Supreme Court ordered The Florida Bar to conduct a study of the legal needs of the poor and underrepresented citizens of Florida [The Florida Bar v. Furman, 376 So.2d 378 (Fla. 1979)], an indication of judicial interest in the examination of the delivery of legal services to the underrepresented.
        • In the In Interest of D. B. decision, 385 So.2d 83 (Fla. 1980), the Court wedded the duty of the courts to protect the rights of indigents to the historic duty of the bar to represent the poor.
        • In The Florida Bar v. Moses, 380 So.2d 412 (Fla. 1980), a Supreme Court decision, Moses appeared before a hearing office of the State Division of Administrative Hearings, relying on a Florida statute which provided a person is entitled to representation by "counsel or by other qualified representatives." So, nonlawyers may practice in Florida administrative proceedings if they comply with Moses and the applicable Florida administrative rules.
        • Private "for profit" lawyer referral services were approved by the Florida Supreme Court on July 17, 1986. As of January 1, 1987, Florida Bar members were allowed, for the first time, to participate in for­profit referral services.
        • In an effort to "open up" the Unlicensed Practice of Law (UPL) function, the rule change which became effective in January 1987 added nonlawyers to the circuit UPL committees and changed the appointment process for the UPL committees. Previously, the committees were appointed by the Board of Governors.
        • As of October 1, 1989, IOTA became mandatory. (Matter of Interest on Trust Accounts: A Petition to Amend the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, 538 So.2d 448 (Fla. 1989), 14 FLW 371 (Fla. S.Ct., July 20, 1989))
        • In The Florida Bar re Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar (Chapter 10), 510 So.2d, 596,597 (Florida 1987), the Supreme Court of Florida approved an amendment to The Florida Bar unlicensed practice of law rules (Rule 10­1.1(b)) to allow nonlawyers to elicit factual information to assist in the completion of forms "approved by the Supreme Court of Florida.'' The amendment to the rule was proposed by The Florida Bar Board of Governors Committee on Access to the Legal System and was approved by the Board of Governors. The purpose of the rule was to provide better access to the courts for those who represent themselves pro se but are unable to complete the legal forms without assistance.
        • In 1991, the Supreme Court of Florida amended Rule 10­1.1(b) again, The Florida Bar re Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar - Chapter 10, 581 So.2d, 902 (Florida 1991) to read as follows: Oral communication between nonlawyer and person being assisted is "restricted to those communications reasonably necessary to elicit factual information to complete the forms and inform the person how to file the form.''
        • The Florida Bar re Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar­Chapter 10, 581 So.2d 901 (Florida 1991) states if you are using a Supreme Court Approved Form, the Bar rules and the Supreme Court of Florida require that you place the following language on each form:
          Telephone Number
          It also states: If you are using a Supreme Court Approved Form, the Bar rules and the Supreme Court of Florida require the following: Before a nonlawyer assists a person in the completion of a form, the nonlawyer shall provide the person with a copy of a disclosure. A copy of the disclosure, signed by both the nonlawyer and the person, shall be given to the person to retain and the nonlawyer shall keep a copy in the person's file. The disclosure does not constitute a waiver, disclaimer, or limitation of liability. The disclosure shall contain the following:
          (Name) told me that she/he may only help me fill out a form approved by the Supreme Court of Florida. (Name) may only help me by asking me questions to fill in the form. (Name) may also tell me how to file the form.
          (Name) told me that she/he is not an attorney and cannot tell me what my rights or remedies are or how to testify in court.
          ________ I can read English
          ________ I cannot read English but his notice was read to me by (Name) in (Language).
        • On February 20, 1992 the Supreme Court of Florida accepted the recommendations of The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation special commission by adopting its comprehensive proposals to expand access for the poor to the justice system. On September 1, 1992 the Commission submitted implementing rules for the Court's consideration.
        • In June of 1993, the Florida Supreme Court approved the pro bono recommendations of The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation Joint Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services to the Indigent in Florida. The plan, which went into effect October 1, 1993, sets up pro bono administrative committees in each of the 20 judicial circuits in the state. The aspirational standard of 20 hours of pro bono work or a $350 contribution to a legal aid organization has been set up by the court. Each lawyer will be required to report whether they have met the voluntary pro bono standards.
        • In June of 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5­4 decision ruled that a major source of state support for legal aid -- about $100 million a year -- comes from a fund that does not belong to the states. The repercussions of this decision may destroy the legal services programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
        • With growing bipartisan support in Congress and strong backing by the White House, Legal Services Corporation received $300 million funding for FY 99.

        D. Florida Bar Involvement
          Special rules recognize the importance of legal services programs: In the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, Chapter 11 provides for law student intern programs; Chapter 12 authorizes the "emeritus attorney" to participate in the delivery of legal services; and Chapter 13 allows for legal aid practitioners.

          In 1970, The Florida Bar commissioned a study of the legal needs of the poor in the state. The study, known as the "Levinson Report," found that only 21 of Florida's 67 counties had an organized program for providing legal services to the poor. A major study recommendation was to form a nonprofit corporation for the expansion and coordination of legal services to the poor on a statewide basis.
          • The Florida Bar's Lawyer Referral Service Committee was formed in 1970 and charged, initially, with the responsibility of evaluating, approving and authorizing new local lawyer referral services. The Florida Bar's Lawyer Referral Service program began on March 1, 1972.
          • The Supreme Court of Florida approved Article XIX of The Florida Bar Integration Rule in 1970, permitting Florida lawyers to participate in group legal services plans. Frequently referred to as "prepaid" and sometimes "group" legal services plans, these programs are a form of insurance.
          • When the first group legal services plan in Florida was submitted for approval in 1974, the Board of Governors created the Group Legal Services Committee. The Prepaid Legal Services Committee of the Bar, which has jurisdiction over plans governed by Chapter 9, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, promotes attorney involvement in plans and seeks to increase public awareness.
          • Also in 1974, the Bar created the Florida Lawyers Prepaid Legal Services Corp. (FLPLSC). Its purpose was to develop a legal services plan in which all Florida lawyers would be eligible to participate as panel attorneys. The Bar continues to promote the plan among lawyers through what is now known as Florida Lawyers Legal Insurance Company (FLLIC).
          • As early as 1976, the Supreme Court of Florida established rules for the use of credit plans by lawyers at the Bar's request in order to assist clients in the payment of their legal fees.
          • In 1978-80, the Lawyer Referral Services began two specialty panels: the elderly referral panel and the low­fee panel. As a result, many local legal services programs developed similar panels. The elderly referral panel is for low­income senior citizens. The low­fee panel is for low income clients whose income exceeds legal aid guidelines. Clients receive a free half­hour initial consultation.
          • In 1978, the Bar was instrumental in developing and passing Florida's Legal Expense Insurance Act, basically a consumer protection statute (Chapter 642). The purpose of this act is to authorize certification and regulation of certain organizations which provide programs for the payment of the costs of legal services or provide legal services.
          • The Florida Supreme Court directed the Bar in its May 10, 1979 decision of The Florida Bar v. Rosemary Furman, 376 So.2d 378 (Fla. 1979), to investigate the delivery of legal services to the poor in Florida. The Bar contracted with the Center for Governmental Responsibility and the University of Florida to conduct a four­month, $15,000 study. The Florida Bar in 1980 submitted a report entitled The Legal Needs of the Poor and Underrepresented Citizens of Florida: An Overview in response to the Court's direction. The study found substantial deficiencies in the delivery of legal services to both middle income and poor persons in Florida.
          • By 1980, The Florida Bar Office of Public Interest Programs was working with Group Legal Services, Lawyer Referral Services, Mental Disability Law, The Florida Bar Foundation, Clients' Security Fund, Special Committee on the Elderly, the Lawyers and the Arts Committee, and Legal Aid Committee. The department is now known as the Public Service Programs Department. Its purpose is to assist Bar members in fulfilling their obligation to provide legal assistance in the interest of the public.
          • Pro bono service awards were begun in 1981. The Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award is presented statewide by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court and The Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award recognizes individual service in specific circuits in Florida. The awards recognize attorneys' voluntary legal services in order to encourage such services by others.
          • Implementation of IOTA began in August 1981. The Florida Bar was the first in the nation to initiate such a program. The income generated by IOTA goes primarily to providing legal services to the poor.
          • As of December 1981, The Florida Bar's Lawyer Referral Service began another special statewide panel, the Disability Law Panel.
          • In 1981-82, The Florida Bar and Legal Services of North Florida received a grant from the Legal Services Corp. to set up the Volunteer Lawyers Project to provide services in a 12­county North Florida area. The purpose was to encourage local attorneys to get involved in volunteering their services. The Volunteer Lawyers Project has become part of the private bar participation project of Legal Services of North Florida.
          • The Florida Bar helped form local legal services programs.
          • The Inmate Grievance Project of The Florida Bar began in July 1981 and lasted two years. The purpose was to improve the administration of justice by reducing the number of lawsuits filed by prisoners against the legal system for abuses and violations of their civil rights. Members of the Bar were recruited and trained by the Bar to investigate complaints filed by inmates. The Bar investigator then investigated the complaint and filed a report to the Department of Corrections for action. The Department of Corrections chose not to continue the project.
          • In 1982, the Bar established the Legal Assistance Project (LAP). Moving away from involvement in direct delivery of legal services, LAP was designed to develop and expand voluntary private bar participation in the delivery of legal services to the poor. The Florida Association of Pro Bono Coordinators grew out of LAP. It is an association of 30­40 people who recruit and assist lawyers who provide pro bono services. LAP itself no longer exists.
          • The Florida Bar Board of Governors recommended the development of a simplified dissolution of marriage statute. The petition for the Simplified Dissolution of Marriage Procedure Rule was filed June 1982. The rule became effective June 1984. In addition to the rule, the Bar developed an instruction booklet to explain how to use the procedure and properly complete the forms. The simplified dissolution of marriage applies to clients without children and who are in full agreement.
          • In 1984, The Florida Bar Commission on Access to the Legal System was created with members appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and the president of The Florida Bar. The purpose of the commission was to explore various alternatives which would increase access to the legal system on the part of the poor and middle class. In 1985, the commission published its report detailing recommendations involving the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Legislature, and The Florida Bar. The commission found that the mechanisms for better access by the middle class are already in place and recommended in general that existing mechanisms be expanded, publicized, promoted and utilized by the bench, the Bar and the public. The legal needs of the poor remain unmet, in part due to cutbacks in funding for federal programs.
          • In its Five Year Plan, published in the July/August 1984 issue of The Florida Bar Journal, The Florida Bar's Long Range Planning Committee made recommendations on five broad issues, one of which concerned delivery of legal services.
          • The Death Penalty Project sponsored by The Florida Bar was started in January 1985. It was begun because death row inmates were without counsel. The idea behind the project was for large law firms to provide support services for lawyers who were providing counsel without fee. An outgrowth of the project was creation of the Office of Capital Collateral Appeals by the Legislature. The Bar's special committee on death penalty lobbied for the legislation that created the agency. The Bar's project lasted about two years. The Bar received the Harrison Tweed Award from the ABA because of its involvement.
          • The Board of Governors supported the Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Participation Rule which went into effect October 24, 1985. The rule allows retired attorneys (either from other states or retired from The Florida Bar) to be certified to practice with a qualified legal aid organization on a pro bono basis without being admitted to The Florida Bar.
          • In November 1985, The Florida Bar Board of Governors created the standing Board Committee on Access to the Legal System. The purpose of the committee is to inventory all legal access programs, determine the unmet need, determine available Bar resources and discern if Bar resources are being appropriately spent to support legal access.
          • As a public service project, The Florida Bar published a 1990 Pro Bono Directory: Low Cost and Free Legal Assistance for the Poor and Low Income Groups in Florida. The directory is updated every two years.
          • In January 1986, the Board of Governors approved a joint report of the Special Commission to Study Contingency Fees and Referral Practices and the Tort Litigation Review Commission, agreeing to a proposed fee schedule to regulate fees in personal injury, property damage, death cases or loss of use cases. In adopting the fee schedule, the Board reaffirmed that the contingency fee system is an important element of access to the legal system, serving as "the poor man's key to the courthouse.''
          • In April 1986, the president of The Florida Bar created the Unlicensed Practice of Law/Access to the Legal System Joint Committee, composed of three members of the Board of Governors' Standing Committee on UPL and three members of the Board of Governors' Committee on Access to the Legal System.
          • In terms of the Bar's interest in simplifying certain procedures relating to simple dissolutions of marriage and other legal procedures, the UPL/Access Committee approved and the Board adopted a proposal to change the Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules to allow nonlawyers to engage in limited oral communications to assist individuals in the preparation of legal forms approved by the Supreme Court and inform the individuals on how to file such forms. In 1987 and in 1991, the Supreme Court adopted The Florida Bar's proposal to amend Chapter 10 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar regarding the unlicensed practice of law.
          • In 1987, the Board's Access to the Legal System Committee began the process of implementing the above rule change by requesting the committees and sections of the Bar propose changes to forms and create new forms that would be helpful in this regard.
          • Call­A­Law project of The Florida Bar was approved in January 1987 and became operational in September 1990. Its purpose is to inform the public of their legal rights and responsibilities and to educate callers as to when to consult an attorney. It consists of recorded telephone messages providing basic legal information one to three minutes in length covering approximately 50 different areas of the law. For 1993-1994, the most popular tape is Divorce in Florida followed by Small Claims Procedures.
          • Early in 1987, the Young Lawyers Section of The Florida Bar implemented its "Law School for Layman" project, holding seminars in various communities over several evenings teaching basic law to citizens. Subjects dealt with are small claims court procedures, simplified divorce, credit law and other common legal problems.
          • Since early 1987, the Access to the Legal System Committee has encouraged guardian ad litem programs and lawyer participation in them. In October 1991, the state, searching for ways to save money, considered wiping out the program's $3.5 million budget. That month The Florida Bar began issuing a call for volunteers. After a three month television public service campaign to recruit volunteers, nearly 1,000 people responded. The Florida Legislature decided to maintain financing for the program during a special legislative session.
          • The Access to the Legal System Committee and Board of Governors recommended a rule change (the Legal Aid Practitioners' Rule) to the Supreme Court which would make it easier for out­of­state legal services lawyers to come to Florida and practice for one year at legal aid organizations without being a member of The Florida Bar. This rule was approved by the Supreme Court on January 1, 1988.
          • At the September 1988 Board of Governors meeting, The Florida Bar adopted the following statement for use by licensed legal expense insurance companies in their marketing materials: "The Florida Bar endorses the concept of legal services plans as a means of providing the public with modestly priced legal services and encouraging consultation with a lawyer before serious legal problems arise. Licensed Florida attorneys may provide legal services to the public through any plan when offered by a legal expense insurance company licensed by the Florida Department of Insurance.''
          • In March 1989, the Board of Governors voted to request that all sections and committees draft simplified standardized forms for review by the Access Committee. In May 1989, the Board of Governors voted to submit certain forms, at the recommendation of the Access Committee, to the Supreme Court. On September 15, 1989, the petition concerning forms was filed in the Supreme Court. On September 27, 1989, the petition was withdrawn because the Access Committee felt that the forms weren't simple enough. On October 3, 1989, a letter again went out to all section and committee chairmen and legal aid offices throughout the state asking for even simpler forms. On June 20, 1991, The Florida Bar petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida for approval of 56 simplified forms relating to family law matters. The Supreme Court of Florida approved the Bar's petition. In December of 1991, The Florida Bar again petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida for the approval of 17 more simplified forms pertaining to family law and landlord/ tenant issues. The Supreme Court approved 16 of the forms. On April 1, 1992, The Florida Bar made public the booklet entitled, "Florida Supreme Court Approved Simplified Forms Booklet" which includes all of the 72 approved forms. The 1993 edition was updated and a 1995 edition was made available in late 1995. The bulk of the simplified forms dealt with family law issues, and as such, on January 1, 1996, those forms were incorporated into a publication called "Family Law Rules of Procedure." The family law forms are updated as needed.
          • In July and December of 1992, the Florida Supreme Court approved simplified forms pertaining to both residential leases and stepparent adoption. In July of 1993, The Florida Bar petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida for the approval of 6 forms concerning landlord/tenant evictions. The Supreme Court approved the forms and The Florida Bar published the 2nd Edition of the "Supreme Court Approved Simplified Forms" book in July 1993. Publication ceased in 1995.
          • On October 1, 1989, the IOTA program became mandatory for all Florida lawyers whose clients hold trust accounts of limited amount or short duration.
          • As of October 1989, the AIDS Legal Network began, a project of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Committee of The Florida Bar. One component of the Network is The AIDS Law Panel Referral Program. The Network is assigned to provide referrals to lawyers who have agreed to provide pro bono or reduced fee legal services to persons who have AIDS and AIDS­related syndrome. The network is designed to respect the confidentiality of the individuals involved. This project also helped form the Florida AIDS Legal Defense and Education Fund which is primarily for the purpose of raising money for impact litigation, education, and to reimburse attorneys for some aspects of their help. An AIDS panel has been added to The Lawyer Referral Service specialty panels. The Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar co­produced a 38­page booklet in 1995, "AIDS: A New Perspective -- Living with HIV and AIDS."
          • In March 1991, The Florida Bar released its commission report in conjunction with The Florida Bar Foundation on the problems of legal representation of the poor. The "Report of The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation Joint Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services to the Indigent in Florida" states that the critical legal needs of the poor generally and of groups with special needs such as children, institutionalized persons, and migrant farm workers are not being met with present resources and will not be met with the presently anticipated increase in resources. The commission concludes that only approximately twenty percent of the legal needs of the poor are being addressed. The commission called for a voluntary pro bono plan to satisfy the deficit in legal needs of the poor. The Florida Bar Board of Governors has endorsed the commission's recommendations.
          • Under a petition suit to the Florida Supreme Court in September 1989, nonlawyers who help fill out legal forms would be required to sign their names to their work. The Bar's proposal would also require nonlawyers to explain to clients that they are not lawyers and cannot offer legal advice. The Supreme Court of Florida granted the Bar's petition in 1991.
          • The Florida Bar publishes 44 consumer pamphlets on various legal subjects. The pamphlets are free of charge upon request. Some are also available in Spanish.
          • In 1996, Chief Justice Gerald Kogan created a multifaceted program called the "Access Initiative" designed both to improve public access to courts and to make the courts system a proactive educator. The plan consists of nine strategic directions.
          1. Access to the Courts: Utilizing the Internet to distribute court­related information directly to the public, including: on­line self­help centers; Supreme Court opinions; Supreme Court oral arguments; and "Kids Court."
          2. Fairness and Diversity: Funding to increase the number of minority family mediators and recruiting and training minority educators to provide mediation services and establish peer mediation programs in the school system (Orange and Osceola counties).
          3. Performance and Accountability: Providing training and experience guidelines for some judges. Expanding education programs for officers of the court that assist judges. Making a centralized computer training lab for judges. Continuing the enhancement of the New Judges College, the College of Advanced Judicial Studies and other judicial education programs.
          4. Jurisdiction and Workload: A comprehensive review of all aspects of the appellate court system including: workload standards, organization, jurisdiction, limits on the number of appeals, and the use of additional resources.
          5. Special Courts and Services: Identifying the core elements of family courts. Reviewing the use of volunteer guardians ad litem. Providing support to treatment­based drug courts.
          6. Dispute Resolution: Expanding the use of mediation services.
          7. Infrastructure: Increasing state funding to cover court­related expenses. Funding for installation of a statewide telecommunications network to provide e­mail and Internet access between state agency databases.
          8. Judicial­Legislative Relations: Improving communications between the judicial and legislative branches.
          9. Governance: Examining strategies to streamline the court's rulemaking process; decrease inconsistencies among trial courts, and improve the ability to reference local court rules and administrative orders. Providing technical guidance for all courts regarding information systems development.
          • In June of 1998 the Florida Supreme Court approved the expansion of a successful Florida Bar pilot program designed to mediate citizen complaints against lawyers. The program could initially reduce the Bar's annual caseload of 9,500 complaints to 400 to 500 annually.
          • In May 1998, the Bar created The Florida Bar Citizens Forum to provide a vehicle for two-way communication between Florida's major citizens constituencies and The Florida Bar, to inform and educate the public about significant legal-justice issues and to gain public understanding and support. Each year, The Florida Bar president appoints 15 to 18 persons to serve on the Citizens Forum. All but two or three are nonlawyers. The Forum meets periodically throughout the year.
          Back to Top

          V. Facts and Statistics

          • In 1995, federal funding in Florida through the Legal Services Corporation was originally $17.55 million but the federal rescission of funding has reduced that 1995 funding to $17.16 million. This works out to approximately $7.82 per eligible poor person in Florida. (Source: Florida Legal Services, Inc., 1995.)
          • In 1994, Congress approved a $415 million nationally for federal funded legal services for the year 1995. This represented a 3.75 percent increase over 1993 funding levels. However, the Congress in 1995 has rescinded the $15 million increase so that there will be no increase in funding in 1995. Also, the Congress is currently proposing severe cuts in funding in 1996 from 30 to 40 percent with some calling for the total elimination of federal funding. (Source: see above.)
          • In 1994, Foundation supported legal assistance to the poor supported programs handled 127,148 cases, 17,456 of those were pro bono cases. For the total number of cases handled this works out to an average cost of $325.00 per case.
          • In 1996, the federal funding for legal assistance to the poor through the Legal Services Corporation was reduced from the 1995 level of $17.6 million to $12.17 million, a reduction of 29.1%.
          • In 1998 Congress appropriated $283 million for the Legal Services Corporation, $57 million less than requested.
          • In 1995, Florida Bar Foundation supported legal assistance to the poor programs handled 120,963 cases, a 7% reduction from 1994, with the 12 programs which also receive federal LSC funds handling 72% of the cases.
          • Legal needs surveys estimate that for the average poor household of three people, there will be 2.5 legal needs per household per year. Thirty percent of those are considered severe (having to do with food, shelter and clothing needs and with child abuse and spouse abuse). Legal Aid is currently meeting only 20 percent of the need, leaving 80 percent unserved. (Source: The Florida Bar/Florida Bar Foundation Joint Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services to the Indigent in Florida.)
          • In 1983-84, Florida's formula for appropriating public defense money was funded at only 78.6 percent. In 1987-88, that figure had slipped to 56.1 percent, despite the fact that public defender caseloads continued to climb. The 1994-95 appropriation for public defense money fell to a new low of 46 percent. (Source: Florida Bar News, May 15, 1994.)
          • Forty­three legal assistance to the poor providers in Florida receive IOTA funds. From information these providers supply to The Florida Bar Foundation, paid staff in these programs in 1995 included 315 attorneys, 150 paralegals, and 341 other staff positions. In 1995 there were 17,260 attorneys on pro bono panels supported by these providers.
          • Since IOTA began in Florida in 1981, it has raised more than $109 million. In 1994-95, IOTA raised almost $10.6 million. (Source: The Florida Bar Foundation 1995.)
          • In 2001, The Florida Bar Foundation gave $10.5 million to 38 legal aid programs in Florida.
          • The 2003 Report of the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Services Report to the Supreme Court, The Florida Bar and The Florida Bar Foundation indicates that Florida Bar members reported the following hours of pro bono legal assistance donated to the poor and dollars contributed to legal aid organizations:

          Fiscal YearPro Bono Hours DonatedPro Bono Dollars Contributed
          July 1, 1993 ­ June 30, 1994806,874$1,518,781
          July 1, 1994 ­ June 30, 1995 561,351$ 876,837
          July 1, 1995 ­ June 30, 1996709,070$1,169,718
          July 1, 1996 ­ June 30, 1997866,658$1,427,263
          July 1, 1997 - June 30, 1998 989,336 $1,861,62
          July 1, 1998 - June 30, 19991,068,666$1,688,708
          July 1, 1999 - June 30, 20001,146,501$1,642,032
          July 1, 2000 - June 30, 20011,206,357$2,314,181
          July 1, 2001 - June 30, 20021,316,964$2,539,295
          July 1, 2002 - June 30, 20031,400,859$3,747,580
          July 1, 2003 - June 30, 20041,531,400$3,739,541

          Prepared by The Florida Bar Public Information and Bar Services Department.
          Back to Top

          [Revised: 11-30-2005]