The Florida Bar Board of Governors met on March 28, 2014. The major actions of the board and reports received included:
With the 2014 legislative session nearing the halfway mark, The Florida Bar continues to advocate for court funding including requests for staff pay and retention as well as district and trial courts’ maintenance/repair and technology needs. Initial budgets released by the House and Senate are good starting points. An April 1 Florida Bar News article provides additional court system budget request details. Both houses have approved civil legal assistance funding — $2 million in the Senate and $1 million in the House and advocates are working to educate the governor’s office on the importance of the program. Bills that would exempt certain activities from criminal penalties for the unlicensed practice of law are being opposed by the Bar.
President Pettis announced his appointment of a task force to bolster diversity among Florida’s judges and members of Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs). The task force’s recommendations will also assist the governor in implementing F.S. 43.291(4): In making an appointment, the Governor shall seek to ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution, of the population within the territorial jurisdiction of the court for which nominations will be considered. The Governor shall also consider the adequacy of representation of each county within the judicial circuit. In May, The Florida Bar will be nominating slates of three candidates for two vacancies on each JNC, and sending those slates to Gov. Rick Scott for appointments. The Bar received 679 applications with approximately 45 percent falling into a category for diversity: women, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians.
Lawyer Referral Service rules amendments were approved by the board and will now be submitted to the Supreme Court. The lawyer referral service rule amendments are a multi-year effort that began with the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services. Among the changes are: requiring lawyers who belong to lawyer referral services to report their participation to the Bar; requiring that clients make the initial contact after being referred to a lawyer; and strictures against suggesting a referred client use other services provided by the referral service – such as medical treatment – unless the lawyer is satisfied that the referral is in the client’s best interest and the client gives written confirmation that he or she has been told about the potential conflict. Proposed new amendments to trust account rules were also approved for submission to the court.
A new policy regarding advertising filing fees was approved. Any change of any kind to an advertisement renders the ad a new ad with a new filing fee of $150 per timely filed ad and $250 per untimely filed ad. The only exception is a revision to an existing ad that is solely to comply with a bar opinion that the ad does not comply with the lawyer advertising rules, for which no additional fee will be charged. The Board of Governors also directed staff to monitor the cost of program administration compared with fees and report back whether a reduction in filing fees is warranted. The new fees will be effective July 1. More information will be posted on the Advertising Rules webpage.
The Communications Committee of the board received approval to expand the Bar’s social media use to include LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and Pinterest. In addition to posting timely announcements and the weekly tech tips, The Florida Bar’s current Facebook page – which now has almost 1,800 likes – will include a daily summary of news articles from around the state, section/division and voluntary bar information and court system, law school and national news. All Facebook posts will be tweeted. Communications also reported that a best practices manual for effective electronic communication is being developed to address e-etiquette issues. The Standing Committee on Professionalism is being asked to review all current professionalism guidelines and to amend them as necessary to include electronic communications.
The 2014-15 budget was approved with no fee increase for the 13th year in a row. Fees for active members will remain at $265 and for inactive members will stay at $175. Membership fees represent approximately 65 percent of the total revenues and continue to increase approximately two percent per year reflecting the increase in the number of members. Operating expenses are budgeted for approximately $41.7 million. The regulation of the practice of law accounts for 43 percent of expenses and administrative expenses continue to be under 10 percent. The budget, which now goes to the Supreme Court for approval, will be published in the April 15 issue of The Florida Bar News.
The board voted to oppose a petition by Bar members asking the Supreme Court to amend bar rules to allow for annual membership fees to be increased by up to $100 to fund legal aid for the poor to ameliorate the current funding crisis. Instead, the board committed to finding alternative and more cost effective ways of delivering legal services to the under-served. President Eugene Pettis said the effort will be broad-based, involving many interests including the courts, the Bar, the Florida Bar Foundation, court clerks who work with pro se litigants, the business community, legislators and others. Bar rules required that the petition be filed with the board before it is submitted to the court.
Special Appointments Schedule:
Please see the special appointments schedule on the website for more information, terms and the application for the following appointments to be made at the May 23 meeting. The deadline is April 11 to apply for: two lawyers to the ABA House of Delegates (includes under 35 delegates), five lawyers for the Florida Legal Services, Inc.’s board, three lawyers for Florida Lawyers Assistance Inc.’s board, one lawyer to the Medical Malpractice Joint Underwriting Association and one lawyer to the Supreme Court’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.