‘To inculcate in its members the principles of duty and service to the public, to improve the administration of justice, and to advance the science of jurisprudence.’
– From the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar
The history of the term “bar” as representing a legal organization dates from the early 1300s. The word originated when King Edward II established a system of courts throughout his kingdom to settle disputes among the people. Judges moved from village to village to hear and settle disagreements in the surrounding communities.
The people of this early era derived most of their entertainment and education in public gathering places. Hearing the plights and disputes of fellow villagers was a great diversion for them. As the courts grew in number, more people began attending these sessions as a social gathering. Consequently, the court sessions had to be held in fields or commons to accommodate the crowds.
It soon became necessary to set up boundaries to separate the spectators from the proceedings. This was accomplished by surrounding the court with a square of logs. Only those persons who were part of the court or party to the argument were allowed within the square of logs or “bars.” Thus, the terminology, “admission to the bar,” became synonymous with practicing law. The term “bar” since has come to mean an organized group practicing law in a given locality.
These events laid the foundation for the establishment of the Boston Bar Association almost 400 years later, in 1761. This bar is the oldest reported legal association in the United States. It originally drew together some of the first lawyers in the colonies.
Recorded history of the bar in Florida dates from 1889. It consisted of a small voluntary group of lawyers when the state’s population was less than 400,000. Out of this grew the Florida State Bar Association in 1907. Still a voluntary organization, it concentrated its attention on publishing a legal journal, drafting court procedures, and presenting occasional educational courses for lawyers. It helped provide legislative reform relating to the courts and the legal profession. Membership in this voluntary association never exceeded 2,500 lawyers.
Shortly after the close of World War I, beginning around 1920, there was a sharp growth in the number of lawyers in Florida. But they still had no cohesive organization and fewer than two-thirds of them belonged to the voluntary state bar association.
In the 1930s it was proposed for the first time that lawyers, upon admission to practice, be required to be members of the Florida State Bar Association. Many felt that if all lawyers were members of the Bar, communication would improve and disciplining unethical lawyers would be simplified. Such bar associations with mandatory membership for regulatory purposes are called “unified” or “integrated” bars.
The Supreme Court of Florida, which had (and still has) jurisdiction over lawyers, rejected this initial proposal. Then in 1947 Bar leaders again proposed compulsory membership, providing the court results of a poll indicating that most Florida lawyers agreed that a change in Bar structure was needed. These bar leaders argued that only through a unified organization could all Florida lawyers receive uniform education on changes in the law and legal procedures. An integrated Bar organization would also pave the way for a uniform discipline system, capable of weeding out unethical lawyers and assuring the public that only those with high standards would be allowed to practice.
In the summer of 1949 the Supreme Court of Florida told state Bar officials to proceed in forming a unified bar. As a result, the Florida State Bar Association met for the last time in April 1950. Members shortened the name of their organization to “The Florida Bar,” the state’s 3,758 lawyers automatically became members of The Florida Bar that same year.
By the early 1960s, the Bar had grown to 7,000 members. The Florida Bar membership has steadily grown to 12,000 in 1970, nearly 30,000 in 1980, and 45,000 in 1990. Currently membership stands at over 108,000. Monthly membership totals are available on the FAQ page.
The rapid growth in Bar membership brought the need for an expanded staff of full-time professionals to administer the varied programs of the Florida legal profession. From the original one-member staff located in the Supreme Court Building, The Florida Bar expanded until it became necessary to seek additional office space.
In 1958, the Bar leased space for its operation in the Petroleum Building in Tallahassee. It became apparent, with the continuing increase in Bar membership and staff growth, that the Bar needed its own, permanent headquarters. A statewide fund-raising campaign to build and equip a building for The Florida Bar began in 1964. Florida lawyers and judges responded enthusiastically with volunteer contributions.
The Florida Bar’s new headquarters was dedicated on October 8, 1966. The Florida Bar Center, on the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Franklin Boulevard, is a three-story, red brick building patterned after the architecture of Colonial Williamsburg. Its colonial design is highlighted by its Flemish bond brick work and six large pillars at the front entrance.
Bar programs and activities grew at such a rate that in the early 1970s an addition to the existing Bar Center became imperative. Again, the membership responded with funding and in October 1976 the new addition was dedicated. Facilities include office space for nearly 200 staff members and various meeting rooms.
In 1989, The Florida Bar added nearly three acres to its existing two-acre headquarters complex. A four-story Bar Center Annex — extensively remodeled in 1991 to be compatible with the distinctive architecture of the headquarters building — houses selected Bar functions and commercial tenants. The Florida Bar also maintains branch offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee.
The Story of The Florida Bar (The Florida Bar Journal – April 2000)