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Service to members
Service to the public
The Florida Bar’s charter of service to the lawyers and citizens of this state is enshrined in the first chapter of its governing document. The Florida Bar has been faithful to these ideals, with the result being a well-deserved reputation for leadership among state bar organizations and at the highest levels of our nation’s judiciary.
How did we set this standard of excellence? Through one basic, indispensable resource: our members.
The services provided and successes achieved by The Florida Bar are due to the dedicated service of many people, from the elected representatives on the Board of Governors to voluntary bar associations and individual lawyers. Participation by nonlawyers is essential as well.
Individual members have ample opportunity to contribute each year to the work of the Bar and the good of the profession. The activities of the Bar are accomplished by its boards, standing and special committees, and sections. Sections have open, voluntary memberships. Committees are appointive. Of these two, committees present the widest range of opportunities for direct involvement with and influence on Bar management and programs.
Because of this intense membership interest, The Florida Bar always has an extraordinary array of activities underway. This page will help you gain an understanding of the many Bar services available to members and to the public.
Service to members
The Florida Bar headquarters building and annex are located in Tallahassee on a five-acre site three blocks from Florida’s Capitol.
The 47,000-square-foot, three-story headquarters building is patterned after the architecture of Colonial Williamsburg. Its design is highlighted by Flemish bond brick work and six large columns at the front entrance. The nearby annex provides an additional 60,000 square feet of available space, in a four-story red brick facility complementing the architecture of the Bar headquarters.
The headquarters building includes offices for Bar administrative staff and support services; the annex houses the Legal Division, including one of the Bar’s five regional disciplinary offices, conference rooms and commercial tenants.
In 2015, The Florida Bar’s headquarters complex was named after longtime executive director John F. Harkness, Jr.
The Bar’s other branch offices are located in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and Tampa.
Governing body and officers
The governing body of The Florida Bar is its Board of Governors. The 52-member board consists of the president and president-elect, the president and president-elect of the Young Lawyers Division, representatives elected by members of the Bar from each of the state’s 20 judicial circuits, four out-of-state representatives elected by Florida Bar members who reside outside the state of Florida, and two public members appointed by the Supreme Court. All board members serve without pay, although the public members can be reimbursed for most of their travel expenses.
The Board of Governors has exclusive authority to formulate and adopt matters of policy concerning the activities of the Bar, subject only to limitations imposed by the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. The full Board of Governors meets every other month. Committees and sections or members of the Bar may submit topics to the president for inclusion on the agenda for board meetings.
The president of The Florida Bar conducts meetings and serves as the official spokesperson for the Bar and the Board of Governors. All committees are appointed by the incoming president and approved by the Board of Governors.
The executive director is selected by the Board of Governors and devotes full time to directing the overall administration of The Florida Bar. The executive director also performs the task of treasurer of The Florida Bar and publisher of The Florida Bar Journal and News.
Divisions, sections and committees
All Bar members are invited to become involved in activities of one or more of The Florida Bar’s divisions, sections or committees. These groups, along with the governing board, do much of the work of The Florida Bar.
The Florida Bar has 21 sections, plus the Young Lawyers Division and the Out-of-State Division. Section membership is voluntary, and membership fees are modest.
Through section and committee membership, lawyers can focus their involvement in an area of the law that interests them. Membership offers concentrated information and education as well as a forum for lawyers who share interests in a specific legal field. Nearly 32,000 of The Florida Bar’s more than 107,000 members belong to one or more of the Bar’s sections, while more than 26,000 belong to the Young Lawyers Division.
All sections/divisions produce specialized CLE seminars or publications in cooperation with The Florida Bar’s Continuing Legal Education Committee. From these efforts come many of the high-quality continuing legal education programs and publications that are essential to the advancement of professional growth of the Bar’s members. Section/division members also enjoy reduced fees for their section’s own CLE programs.
In addition to the Board of Governors committees, there are over 70 standing committees of the Bar on which more than 2,000 members serve. Special committees or commissions or task forces are appointed as necessary to study and make recommendations in response to issues of significance to the legal profession.
Voluntary bar liaison
Florida Bar members are encouraged to become active in their local and voluntary bar associations. The voluntary bar liaison program of The Florida Bar maintains officer listings of more than 280 Florida voluntary bar associations.
Community service projects and professional development programs are offered through voluntary bar associations. The Florida Bar assists in these efforts by providing materials for distribution, advising voluntary bar officers on program planning and implementation, and providing information on topics of interest to voluntary bars.
A complete list of voluntary bar associations is on the Bar’s website. Information regarding services provided by The Florida Bar to voluntary bar associations is available from the public information office at (850) 561-5834.
Bar staff organization and responsibilities
At The Florida Bar headquarters, departmental responsibilities are created to support programs and activities described elsewhere in this presentation. Each committee, section and program is assigned at least one staff liaison. An experienced staff of professionals provides strong support for Bar activities.
Department heads report to division directors. They in turn report to the executive director, who reports to the Board of Governors.
The Florida Bar’s amended operating budget was $44.1 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Membership fees accounted for 60.2 percent, or $26.2 million, of that amount.
The additional revenues come from nonfees sources, generated by various Bar programs and member services such as: continuing education fees; sale of ad space in The Florida Bar Journal and News; rental of exhibit space at Bar meetings; and prosecution costs paid by disciplined lawyers, as directed by order of the Florida Supreme Court.
In keeping with applicable law regarding certain uses of mandatory membership fees, the Bar’s legislative program is funded entirely from member fees. This amount — $5.72 of $265 in individual membership fees for the current fiscal year — is calculated based on the fiscal year legislative budget as published in Bar News divided by the estimated Bar membership as of July 1 (active and inactive members).
The Florida Bar was the first state bar to implement a cost allocation system for its various programs and activities, with all costs — other than General Administration; Board and Officers; and Research, Planning and Evaluation — being allocated to the end users based on the best available measure of usage. With a watchful eye toward expenditures and efficiency, Bar leadership and staff monitor program expenses carefully. Before final adoption by the Board of Governors, the proposed Florida Bar operating budget is printed in The Florida Bar News. In addition, members can comment on the proposed budget at statewide hearings scheduled by the Bar’s Budget Committee.
An audit of all Florida Bar finances is conducted at the end of each fiscal year by an independent accounting firm, under the supervision of the Audit Committee, and a report is published in The Florida Bar News.
One of the primary purposes of The Florida Bar is to ensure the highest standards of professionalism in the practice of law for the benefit of members and the public.
The Florida Bar as an organization has no control over attorney admissions. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is the Florida Supreme Court agency charged with ensuring that only qualified people will be admitted to the practice of law in this state. This board made up of lawyers and public members — together with its executive director and staff — investigates the character and fitness of applicants, develops and administers the bar examination for attorney candidates, and submits for Supreme Court approval the names of those qualified for admission to practice. Admission to The Florida Bar is finally accomplished by action of the Supreme Court.
For information on admission to the practice of law in Florida or administration of the bar exam, contact the Florida Board of Bar Examiners at 1891 Eider Court, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1750, call (850) 487-1292.
Ethics and lawyer advertising
The authority for establishing and maintaining The Florida Bar as a unified entity is based on the Florida Supreme Court’s constitutional authority to regulate the practice of law in Florida. The Rules of Professional Conduct, adopted by the court, provide lawyers with standards of professional practice.
The Bar disseminates the rules to its members and assists them in interpreting provisions by publishing reports of attorney discipline by the Supreme Court or Board of Governors, and featuring periodic ethics guidance in the Bar’s official publications and on its website.
The Bar also provides both informal and formal opinions on ethical questions posed by members.
A toll-free ethics hotline established in 1985 as an exclusive member service connects inquiring attorneys directly with ethics counsel at Bar headquarters. Informal advisory opinions on an attorney’s own proposed conduct are available at (800) 235-8619. Bar members may leave a message for an ethics attorney to return a call within one business day by calling (850) 561-5780. Lawyers also may obtain a written opinion by writing to the Ethics and Advertising Department at Bar headquarters, or email regarding proposed conduct. Lawyers may, but are not required to, use the ethics-request-form.
If a written staff opinion is denied or contested, advisory ethics opinions may be requested from the Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee. Proposed formal committee opinions are previewed in The Florida Bar News for lawyer comment and are subject to review by the Board of Governors.
Ethics opinions may be rescinded to reflect contemporary standards in the practice of law. The formal opinions are available on the Bar’s website.
The Ethics and Lawyer Advertising Department, as staff to the Standing Committee on Advertising, evaluates and provides advisory opinions on attorney advertisements and direct written communications mailed to prospective clients. The department responds to inquiries and general questions from the membership concerning Rule 4-7, governing attorney advertising and solicitation. “A Handbook on Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation” is published by the Standing Committee. The department also provides educational programs about attorney advertising.
Lawyer regulation and discipline
The processing and investigation of inquiries and complaints is a basic responsibility of The Florida Bar as mandated by the Supreme Court of Florida. A complaint of unprofessional conduct against a Bar member is a serious matter. It immediately puts the investigative processes of The Florida Bar into action.
All lawyers must meet the minimum standards of conduct set forth in the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, specifically the Rules of Professional Conduct, as adopted by the Supreme Court. Failure to meet these minimum standards can subject a lawyer to disciplinary action. Investigation into inquiries of members is conducted in the office of The Florida Bar in Tallahassee and, if needed, the branch disciplinary offices in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee and Tampa.
In addition to programs that resolve disciplinary problems, The Florida Bar conducts special activities aimed at preventing them. They include:
Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP)
The Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program is a tool for consumers and attorneys alike. This program is designed to field calls and written inquiries about an attorney’s conduct, and it can help both the attorney and the consumer resolve minor problems before a formal complaint is initiated.
This program serves as an “information clearinghouse” and directs these complaints to the proper agency, program or Bar department. The program’s mission includes:
- Giving the public a way to resolve differences with attorneys.
- Providing assistance to attorneys having difficulty with minor complaints.
- Improving the current disciplinary system by removing minor complaints.
- Saving the time and effort of attorneys in responding to minor complaints.
This program complements the disciplinary process, screening minor complaints that ordinarily would not be processed through the formalized process. By “diverting” calls and written inquiries toward other assistance resources within and outside the Bar, ACAP allows the discipline process to concentrate on the more serious complaints.
ACAP promotes good will with consumers who contact the Bar for help and other information. If you have any questions about ACAP, call toll-free at (866) 352-0707.
Educational and Advisory Programs
To supplement regular ethics columns in our member publications, Florida Bar CLE authors and lecturers are encouraged to stress ethical considerations by means of practical examples throughout all educational presentations.
The Florida Bar is proud of its regulatory and disciplinary system. Our officers and staff take part in an active public-speaking program, explaining the purposes and procedures of our grievance system to attorneys and the public. If you would like someone to speak to your bar association or other group on such topics, complete the online request form or call The Florida Bar Speakers Bureau in Tallahassee at (800) 342-8060, ext. 5773.
The Bar also has a program to educate attorneys about appropriate fiduciary practice and trust accounting procedures. That effort includes updated CLE presentations on trust account management for lawyers and their support staff, plus a coordinated educational program provided in Bar publications and extending into Florida law schools.
Working with ethics counsel in rendering ethics advice is a full-time CPA/auditor and a program available to assist Bar members with specific questions regarding trust accounting practices. Call the Ethics Hotline at (800) 235-8619 or (850) 561-5780.
Drug, Alcohol Abuse, and Mental Health Program
A separate nonprofit corporation, Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., administers a unique Bar-sanctioned program to assist attorneys who have drug, alcohol or mental-health problems. Lawyers who seek assistance through this service benefit from an experienced counselor and a team of fellow attorneys who are knowledgeable about alcohol and chemical dependency, mental health and stress management. By court rule, voluntary consultations and assistance from Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., are provided in confidence.
Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., also maintains a confidential hotline for immediate assistance to inquiring attorneys. Call toll-free at (800) 282-8981.
Certificates of good standing
There are times when members may need a certificate of good standing from The Florida Bar. The Florida Bar membership records offices can provide one within three or four business days without charge. Call (850) 561-5832.
Another responsibility of The Florida Bar is to assist its members in enhancing their professional skills. Toward this objective and the ultimate goal of more effective delivery of legal services, the Bar conducts several programs.
Basic skills course requirement
New lawyers are assisted in the transition from law school to law practice through courses offered by the Young Lawyers Division. Required programs include “Practicing with Professionalism” and specifically approved basic-level courses. Development of the educational programs is the responsibility of the YLD, and compliance is managed by the Board of Legal Specialization & Education.
Continuing legal education
Members of The Florida Bar are subject to a continuing legal education requirement, commonly referred to as mandatory CLE.
Each member is assigned a reporting date and must complete a minimum of 33 credit hours of approved continuing legal education activity every three years. Five of the credit hours must be in approved legal ethics, professionalism, bias elimination, substance abuse or mental illness awareness programs, and three credit hours must be in approved technology programs, which are included in, not in addition to, the regular 33 credit hour requirement. If a member completes more than 33 credit hours during any reporting cycle, the excess credits cannot be carried over to the next reporting cycle.
The Bar annually offers its members about 160 CLE programs, presented in multiple formats, providing more than 900 approved credit hours of continuing legal education. CLE courses approved for credit are available on the CLE website.
Members are notified of their CLE reporting requirements via email and can report compliance online. There are exemptions for out-of-state members who do not practice in Florida or render advice on matters of Florida law, members on active military service, members of the federal judiciary, inactive members and those claiming undue hardship. State court judges have a separate requirement under the Rules of Judicial Administration.
Live seminars and programs
CLE provides an ongoing series of educational courses at the basic, intermediate and advanced levels to keep members up-to-date with the law.
Course presentations are produced with the assistance of Bar member volunteers from throughout the state. A variety of programs are provided, ranging from one-hour or two-hour bite-sized courses to half-day seminars to multi-day theme institutes.
Live webcasts/virtual seminars. Bar members will see more seminars being delivered via live webcast. These programs are transmitted over the Internet in real time, simultaneously with the live program. A listing of live webcast programs is available on the Bar’s CLE website.
Audio CD/video DVD programs. Nearly all of The Florida Bar’s seminars and programs are recorded for subsequent sale to law firms and individual practitioners, in-state and out-of-state. A listing of available titles, format details, policies and prices is available from the CLE Registrations office (850-561-5831) or the Bar’s CLE website.
24/7 online programs. The Florida Bar CLE courses offered online are available any time through the online provider InReach.
Course materials. A limited number of printed course materials and speaker outlines produced for live and recorded CLE presentations are available for post-program purchase. Contact the CLE Registrations office about the availability and cost of these items.
CLE practice manuals. The Florida Bar publishes a series of practice manuals covering various areas of the law. These publications are useful in the day-to-day practice of law. Each manual is written by experienced practitioners; both legal and nonlegal staff members edit all of the material for substance and to ensure a quick reference in an easy-to-read style. Currently, about 30 of these how-to manuals, handbooks and practice systems are available for sale in conjunction with several titles published by LexisNexis. Updated price lists are published in the Bar News and at online. You can order manuals online or by calling (800) 533-1637.
Court rules booklets. The Florida Bar produces several booklets of the official court rules and procedures. The booklets focus on the various areas of practice. Booklets are available through (800) 533-1637 or online. For the convenience of practitioners, searchable full text of the rules is available on the Bar’s website at Florida Rules of Procedure.
Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism
The Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism is responsible for the development and implementation of programs, events and activities throughout the state. It provides resources and information on professionalism initiatives to members of the judiciary, the Bar, law schools, local bar associations and other state bars, and it also conducts training, seminars and presentations. It also has developed a curriculum for The Florida Bar’s Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy.
At the direction of the Standing Committee on Professionalism, the center serves as a clearinghouse for the collection and distribution of professionalism articles, resources and materials from circuit professionalism committees and annual reports from the law schools. The center publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Professional, that highlights professionalism initiatives from around the state and provides motivational articles and submissions relating to ethics, civility and professionalism in the practice of law.
To foster professionalism in Florida, the center has implemented three professionalism awards: the William M. Hoeveler Judicial Award, the Law Faculty/Administration Award and the Professionalism Group Award.
Increasing awareness about professionalism expectations is a critical mission and was one of the primary motivations in the creation of the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism
Over the years, The Florida Bar has developed a number of services of direct benefit to individual Bar members.
One of the first of its kind in the nation, and still one of only a handful in operation, the toll-free Ethics Hotline was established in 1984 to help guide lawyers through the minefields of conflict dilemmas, confidentiality questions, communication concerns, trust accounting problems, and other ethics difficulties unique to the profession. Hotline attorneys are authorized to respond to inquiries from members in good standing of The Florida Bar who are asking about their own future conduct. Members of The Florida Bar in good standing who wish to receive an oral advisory opinion may call (800) 235-8619 to reach an ethics attorney. To leave a message, call (850) 561-5780.
Advisory written ethics opinions are appealable to the Professional Ethics Committee and, ultimately, to the Bar’s Board of Governors according to The Florida Bar Procedures for Ruling on Questions of Ethics. To receive a written ethics opinion, members of The Florida Bar in good standing may make written inquiry to The Ethics Department, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300 or send an inquiry. Written advisory opinions take 3-5 weeks. Advisory ethics opinions are not binding, For more information, see the Ethics Hotline page.
LegalFuel – Practice Resource Center is a free service of The Florida Bar that provides practice management information and resources to Bar members. LegalFuel is a multifaceted program staffed by practice management advisers, and an administrative assistant, who are available to assist Bar members in all aspects of practice management, including financial management, client relations and communication, business planning, marketing, office technology, opening a practice, closing a practice, and office systems and procedures such as calendar and docketing systems. By improving management practices, LegalFuel seeks to improve the practice of law and the delivery of legal services to the state of Florida.
The LegalFuel website serves as a resource center and clearinghouse of law office information, forms, “how-to” guides, and tips on best practices available through links, articles, a knowledge base, videos, podcasts and more. These resources are available — for free — to assist Bar members in helping their law offices become more efficient and cost effective. CLEs regarding law office management, administrative matters, marketing and technology are available on demand via the LegalFuel website. LegalFuelhas arranged a discount for Florida Bar members with the American Bar Association Bookstore, including all the publications by the ABA’s Law Practice Division.
LegalFuel staff are available to assist Bar members and answer any questions via telephone, email or live chat through the LegalFuel website.
More information about LegalFuel may be obtained by calling The Florida Bar LegalFuel office toll free at (866) 730-2020, or by visiting the LegalFuel website.
Lawyers Advising Lawyers (formerly SCOPE)
In the Lawyers Advising Lawyers program, volunteer attorneys with at least five years of experience in designated areas of practice provide general advice to attorneys who might be unfamiliar with certain areas of the law.
Even a brief consultation can help attorneys make the critical professional determination of whether they are capable of undertaking a matter, and, if so, what might be the best approach for resolving the particular legal issues involved.
The Public Service Programs Department operates the Lawyers Advising Lawyers program, which is sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division.
A judicial feedback program for appellate and trial court judges provides judges with confidential written feedback from the attorneys who appear before them. Local bar associations may also independently administer their own polls. Contact the public information office at (850) 561-5669 for more details or, to participate in the feedback program, visit the program’s website.
During election years, trial court judicial candidates are invited to submit 10-page voluntary self-disclosure statements with information about their backgrounds as well as personal statements. These are posted online during the primary and general election seasons. The goal of this program, begun in 2010, is to assist the public in making educated decisions when voting for judicial candidates.
Member Benefits Program
The Member Benefits Program assists members in their professional and private lives via specialized group programs. The Member Benefits Committee seeks programs designed to offer products/services of a significant or unique benefit to lawyers or products/services available only to members of recognized groups. For more information, call (850) 561-5786.
Legislative program: Legislation significant to the administration of justice or the fundamental rights of the public is of interest to all Florida lawyers. Any member may attempt to have legislation introduced through a senator or representative of his or her own choosing. Lawyers also may seek to have legislation sponsored through The Florida Bar’s legislative program, coordinated by the Legislation Committee and the Governmental Affairs staff.
The Supreme Court of Florida, through the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, has established strict guidelines for legislative advocacy by the Bar. These guidelines and codified policy for addressing legislative matters are available in “How The Florida Bar May Advocate Issues” on the Bar’s website.
Sections and committees may draft proposed legislation and submit it to the Bar’s Legislation Committee for consideration and then to the Board of Governors for final action. Legislative concepts and recommended positions are considered in accordance with established policy. If such advocacy is recognized by the Board of Governors, it usually is the responsibility of the proponent group to secure the introduction and support passage of such legislation in its own name. However, The Florida Bar may separately sponsor legislation, giving a bill priority status in its overall program and assuming responsibility for its successful passage through the Florida Legislature.
Members are encouraged to take a personal interest in legislative matters. If you would like to see The Florida Bar take action on an issue or problem, contact a representative of the Bar’s Legislation Committee or call the Governmental Affairs staff at (850) 561-5662 or toll-free (800) 342-8060, ext. 5662. If you would like to actively participate in the Bar’s legislative program, you may apply to serve as a volunteer in the key contact program coordinated by Governmental Affairs staff.
During sessions of the Florida Legislature, members are kept apprised of pending bills affecting the legal profession via periodic notices published within The Florida Bar News and weekly legislative session updates on the Bar website. Other information on pending legislation of interest can be obtained by contacting the Governmental Affairs Office at the Bar headquarters, (850) 561-5662.
Florida Bar activities and programs are effective only when they are appreciated and supported by the individuals and groups they affect. Many methods of communications are used to promote maximum understanding and support.
The Florida Bar Journal
The Florida Bar Journal, with articles selected in a peer review process by the editorial board, is the premier source for scholarly, topical articles on Florida law. It is an essential resource in chronicling the history and current state of Florida law, with a goal to educate lawyers in order to increase their competence as practitioners. The publication is produced 10 times each year (July/August and September/October are combined) and is mailed to all active members and subscribers.
The Florida Bar Journal also provides opportunities for sections to heighten their visibility by publishing practice-specific articles. Section chairs may appoint a column editor to solicit and vet articles for publication in the magazine, thereby creating a prime opportunity for section service. Published authors can be awarded continuing legal education credit.
The Florida Bar Journal’s Digital Edition as well as a searchable index to The Florida Bar Journal is available on the website.
The Florida Bar News
The Florida Bar News is the primary means by which The Florida Bar communicates topical information to its members. Lauded by Bar members for its editorial independence, the paper has been acknowledged nationally as a model vehicle for information about the Bar’s activities.
This twice-monthly tabloid carries news about all levels of the organized Bar, other law-related organizations and current legal issues. In addition, The Florida Bar News publishes regular notices of CLE offerings, legislative information of interest to the legal profession, summaries of Board of Governors actions, Supreme Court official notices regarding proposed rule changes, registration forms for Bar meetings and a variety of member-related items. Issues of The Florida Bar News are sent to all members. The publication’s classified ads pages serve as a helpful placement service for the Florida legal market. The News is posted on the website.
The Florida Bar’s website is a major conduit for communications with members and the public. Florida Bar Online provides access to a wide range of information — including the Bar organization and services, ethics opinions, consumer topics, membership listings, legislative information, continuing legal education programs and free legal research for members. A key site feature is the Find a Lawyer link to current listings.
Social media, first used by The Florida Bar in 2013, has become a valuable tool to help the Bar communicate important news and announcements to its more than 104,000 members.
Social media efforts now span six platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+. Each platform is unique. Keep up with Bar News articles, voluntary bar events and legal happenings from around the state and country on our Facebook page. Get breaking news and live updates from meetings and seminars with our Twitter feed. Join legal discussions important to Florida Bar members on LinkedIn, and keep up with Florida voluntary bar and law school events at Google+. Watch Florida Bar videos, webinars and stay up on the president’s latest messages and initiatives at our YouTube page. And for keeping tabs on everything shared across the previous five platforms, we have an accompanying Pinterest board. A listing of all The Florida Bar’s social media channels — as well as those of our president, sections, committees and divisions — is available on our website.
As an added resource, most Florida Bar sections publish newsletters covering their areas of professional interest or concentration. Copies are provided to section members, and costs are covered by section dues.
Meetings and convention
The Florida Bar offers its members a full range of opportunities to meet annually with other lawyers. The Fall Meeting provides committees with an opportunity to meet and develop a plan of action for carrying out goals for the coming year. The Winter Meeting is held, as space permits, during the legislative season and offers committees and sections an opportunity to meet, as well as work toward accomplishing projects before the end of the fiscal year. Educational opportunities for Bar members are also offered during Winter Meeting. The Annual Convention is the largest Florida Bar meeting, held yearly in June. Sessions feature open forums, workshops and CLE seminars with many respected legal scholars, advocates and technical experts. The installation of incoming Bar officers takes place during the convention’s General Assembly. The Annual Convention also provides exhibits by law-related vendors, alumni gatherings and many other exceptional opportunities to share experiences and network with members of The Florida Bar.
Conference rooms in the Tampa branch office are available for Bar meetings and other law-related functions. To make reservations, call the meetings Department at (850) 561-5830 or send an email.
Bar leaders’ conferences
Two leadership conferences — one for voluntary bar association officers and staff, and one for those who head sections — along with a meeting at the Annual Convention for those who head standing committees help strengthen ties among some of The Florida Bar’s most important groups. These gatherings keep our volunteer leaders informed about Florida Bar activities and services, Bar staff and other officials, and they offer an opportunity for two-way communication about problems and concerns at all levels of the organization.
Service to the public
The concept of service at The Florida Bar extends beyond member services, encompassing the legal profession as a whole and all of society. Maximum service is the cornerstone of these programs, just as it is with member programs.
If you need a lawyer, you can take advantage of the Lawyer Referral Service. Local bar associations administer 11 referral services, operating in most of Florida’s major cities. The Florida Bar handles all other referrals; call (800) 342-8011.
Either the local or The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service will refer you to a lawyer experienced in handling the particular type of problem described.
Under The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service, lawyers charge clients $25 for the first half-hour office consultation (initial consultation fees in local programs may vary).
If the case referred is a fee-generating case, the rules of the service require the attorneys to remit 12 percent of the fees to the service. The fees are used to pay for operational expenses.
Members may join The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service for $125, after approval of appropriate application forms. Call The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service in Tallahassee toll-free (800-342-8060, ext. 5807), or send an email. Members also may join their local bar service, if one exists in their area.
Florida Free Legal Answers
The Bar launched the Florida Free Legal Answers online pro bono project May 1, 2017. This is a virtual legal advice clinic in which qualifying users post their civil legal questions. Attorney volunteers log in to the website, select questions to answer and provide legal information and advice. Users will then be emailed when their questions receive a response.
Low Cost Lawyer Referral Service Panels
The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service has established Elderly Referral, Low Fee and Disability law panels.
People who qualify for referral receive a free, 30-minute initial office consultation. If the legal problem is one that can be handled easily, fees for further legal work may be lower than the lawyer’s normal rate. Participating attorneys are encouraged to use a payment plan or another method of assisting the client in paying legal fees. Fee-generating cases, such as personal injury cases, are not included in these reduced-fee programs and are handled at the attorney’s regular rate.
For more information on these unique referral programs, call the Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service office at (800) 342-8060, ext. 5807, or send an email.
The purpose of investigating and prosecuting the unlicensed practice of law (UPL) is to protect the public. The Florida Bar, through the UPL program, investigates allegations of UPL and pursues orders issued by the Supreme Court of Florida to enjoin individuals and businesses from engaging in UPL.
Complaints alleging that an individual is practicing law without a license may be initiated by anyone. Complaints are investigated by one of the 31 local circuit committees. A 25-member statewide Standing Committee on UPL, 12 of whose members are nonlawyers, oversees the activities of the local circuit committees, sets policy and issues proposed formal advisory opinions that ultimately must be approved by the Supreme Court of Florida.
The UPL department also gives guidance to the public and members of the Bar regarding questions involving UPL.
The Florida Certification Plan is a resource to help the public identify lawyers who have met established standards in particular practice areas and who are committed to excellence and professionalism in the practice of law. Board-certified lawyers are also the only lawyers who can use the board certification slogan “evaluated for professionalism and tested for expertise.”
Lawyers achieve board certification as a visible way of demonstrating their commitment to quality and professionalism in the delivery of legal services.
Oversight of the program is the responsibility of the Board of Legal Specialization & Education. Certification committees review applicant qualifications and administer examinations. Certification standards exist in 24 practice fields: civil trial; tax; marital & family; wills, trusts & estates; criminal trial; criminal appellate; real estate; worker’s compensation; appellate practice; health; immigration & nationality; admiralty & maritime; aviation; business litigation; city, county & local government; elder; international; labor & employment; antitrust & trade regulation; construction; state and federal government and administrative practice; intellectual property; adoption; and education.
A lawyer who is a member in good standing of The Florida Bar and who meets Supreme Court prescribed standards may become board certified in one or more of the 24 certification fields. Minimum requirements for certification are listed below; each area of certification may contain higher or additional standards:
- A minimum of five years in law practice.
- Substantial involvement in the field of law for which certification is sought.
- A passing grade on the examination.
- Satisfactory peer review assessment of competence in the specialty field as well as character, ethics and professionalism in the practice of law.
- Satisfaction of the certification area’s continuing legal education requirements.
Board certification is valid for five years. During that time, the attorney must continue to practice law and attend Florida Bar-approved continuing legal education courses. Recertification requirements are similar to those for initial certification. Not all qualified lawyers are certified, but those who are board certified have taken the extra steps to have their competence and experience evaluated.
More than 4,600 members of The Florida Bar have achieved certification. They are listed on The Florida Bar’s website. Additional information about this program may be obtained from the Bar’s Legal Specialization & Education Department by calling (850) 561-5842.
The Florida Bar Grievance Mediation and Fee Arbitration Program empowers clients and attorneys to resolve disputes without a formal disciplinary process.
Mediation is a private, informal way to resolve a dispute. A mediator is a neutral third person who tries to help the disputing parties reach a mutually agreeable solution to their differences. The program has jurisdiction to mediate the issues in a disciplinary file referred to the program, if the public interest is satisfied by the resolution of the private rights of the parties involved. The program does not have jurisdiction to resolve the issues in a disciplinary file if any issue must remain for resolution within the disciplinary process. Both parties must consent to the mediation.
The Florida Bar provides an arbitration service to resolve disputes over legal fees. The arbitration process may be initiated by the client or the attorney, or by attorneys with an issue concerning the division of fees, and it may be used instead of a lawsuit to settle a fee dispute. The sole purpose of the arbitration hearing is to resolve disputes over a fee paid, charged or claimed for legal services rendered by a member of The Florida Bar. Both parties must consent to the arbitration; participation is voluntary.
If mediation or arbitration is not an option, the dispute may require resolution through the courts. There is no fee for utilizing The Florida Bar’s mediation or fee arbitration programs.
Inquiries into the conduct of an attorney may be initiated by a member of the public, the Bar or any other person who has information regarding alleged misconduct. Inquiries are screened by the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) and reviewed by Bar staff attorneys. If a possible violation warranting action is indicated, the inquiry is treated as a complaint.
Supreme Court rules require that complaints be in writing and signed under penalty of perjury. The Bar may proceed with a complaint in its own name without a sworn complaint. If the complaint cannot be proved or does not warrant discipline, Bar attorneys may dismiss the complaint.
The complaint may be referred to a local grievance committee composed of lawyers and nonlawyers located in the judicial circuit where the accused attorney practices or where the events occurred. The grievance committee is responsible for continuing the investigation. If the committee finds probable cause to believe unprofessional conduct has occurred and further proceedings are warranted, a formal complaint against the accused attorney is filed with the Supreme Court of Florida. The court then appoints a judge as a referee to hear the case.
The referee hears testimony and receives evidence. Bar attorneys act as prosecutors before the referee, and the accused attorney is entitled to participate in the trial and may be represented by counsel.
The referee’s report — including a recommendation for the appropriate discipline, if there is a finding of guilt — must be reviewed by the Board of Governors after being filed with the Supreme Court of Florida, to see if the recommendation should be appealed. The accused attorney also has the right to have the report more thoroughly reviewed by the Supreme Court. The court will ultimately issue an order regarding disciplinary sanctions that may include an admonishment, a public reprimand, suspension or disbarment.
In certain cases, a complaint can be removed from the disciplinary system and the lawyer placed in a skills enhancement program in lieu of a sanction. The resolution may involve attendance in or involvement with at least one of the following Practice and Professionalism Enhancement Programs: Ethics School, Florida Lawyers Assistance, Practice Resource Institute, and trust accounting, advertising, anger management or professionalism workshops.
Clients’ Security Fund
The Florida Supreme Court established the Florida Bar Clients’ Security Fund in 1967 as a public interest measure to help compensate clients who suffered financial losses because of misappropriation or embezzlement of funds by their attorney. The fund is financed by $25 of each Florida Bar member’s annual fees and each application to practice pro hac vice in Florida. Since its inception, the Clients’ Security Fund has paid out more than $36 million in relief to claimants.
Claims based on misappropriation are paid on a pro rata basis after the end of the Bar’s fiscal year from the funds set aside for Clients’ Security Fund payments, with no payment exceeding $250,000. Claims based on attorneys’ fees where no useful services are provided are paid on an as-approved basis throughout the year, with no payment exceeding $5,000.
Individuals seeking to apply for reimbursement from the Clients’ Security Fund should request a claim form from the Bar’s Clients’ Security Fund Department. Applications to the fund are thoroughly reviewed and investigated under established rules and procedures. Payments from the fund are at the discretion of the Board of Governors. For more information about the Clients’ Security Fund, call (850) 561-5812 or visit the web page. You can download a PDF of the claim form or inquire via email.
Legal services plans: Group legal services, prepaid legal plans, legal expense insurance — all are terms for a variety of mechanisms designed to help reduce the costs of legal services for the average person. Most plans in Florida require prepayment of a fee, although others simply offer services at reduced fees.
Most legal service plans are regulated by the Florida Department of Financial Services under the “Legal Expense Insurance Act,” Florida Statutes Chapter 642. Certain exempted group/prepaid legal service plans are regulated by The Florida Bar under Chapter 9 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Lists of the group/prepaid legal service plans approved by The Florida Bar are available by calling (850) 561-5631.
Attorneys interested in developing a Bar-approved group/prepaid legal service plan may obtain from the Bar a package of information containing regulations and an application.
The Public Information and Bar Services Department works with all segments of The Florida Bar and all groups served by the Bar and the legal profession.
The department has primary responsibility for working with the public, local and specialty bar associations, Bar members, the courts, the news media and related specific committees and groups. The department develops and distributes public education/information pamphlets, news releases and other promotional materials; creates publications such as the “Guide for Florida Voters”; produces public service announcements; and seeks to evaluate public perception of the Bar’s operations and policies.
The website is a major public information vehicle and resource for information about the Bar, its operations and the legal profession.
For more information, call the public information office at (850) 561-5834.
News media relations
The Bar serves as a resource to the statewide news media on law-related issues. As part of its effort to inform reporters about the legal system in this state, The Florida Bar provides an online Reporter’s Handbook. This handbook is a valuable resource for reporters who need a comprehensive reference to laws related to news gathering, open government and public records, defamation and privacy, cameras in the courtroom, access to juvenile records and other areas of the law.
The Media Resources area on the Bar’s website is designed for journalists, with news, feature stories and downloadable images for publication and airing.
The Bar’s Media Law Conference is attended by representatives of the news media, lawyers, judges and students. Topics addressed usually include access to courts, privacy concerns and libel.
The Bar also holds an annual Media Awards competition. Awards are presented to media individuals and organizations that have effectively highlighted the system of law and justice as it affects the people of Florida. The Bar also coordinates the annual Reporters’ Workshop for practicing journalists who report on the courts and the law, educating reporters to help them better serve the public.
For more information on the Bar’s media relations program, contact the public information office at (850) 561-5834.
Judicial merit retention polls
The legal profession’s Rules of Professional Conduct admonish lawyers to assume a special responsibility by using their unique qualifications to aid in the selection of the most worthy judges for our court system. In fulfilling that duty, The Florida Bar coordinates a merit retention poll of members when incumbent state appellate court judges periodically stand for retention votes on a statewide or district basis. Our state news media welcome the results of the survey, which are shared with all Florida voters.
The Bar’s Speakers Bureau is a major vehicle for educating the public about the legal profession and our system of justice. The program provides volunteer Bar speakers at no charge throughout Florida for community and civic organizations, school audiences, businesses and religious groups. To request a speaker, or to volunteer to serve on the Speakers Bureau, contact the public information office at (850) 561-5773.
Although The Florida Bar Foundation is an organization independent of The Florida Bar, much effort and cooperation have been given by Florida Bar leadership in the development of an effective foundation since its creation in 1956. The ultimate goal is to foster law-related public-interest programs throughout the state.
The foundation’s most prominent activity is its administration of Florida’s nationally acclaimed Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) program, which has generated millions of dollars in public-interest grants distributed in the name of Florida’s legal profession for legal aid to the poor, law student loans and scholarships, and improvements in the administration of justice. The IOTA program — the first of its kind in the United States — has been a model for similar programs across the country.
In 1991, the foundation established an endowment to expand support for law-related charitable endeavors by lawyers on a statewide basis. The endowment is also seen as a permanent funding source for IOTA’s charitable purposes.
In addition to its charitable activities, The Florida Bar Foundation awards its medal of honor to an attorney and a nonlawyer in recognition of outstanding contributions toward improving the administration of justice in Florida. The Medal of Honor is the highest award bestowed upon an attorney or layperson by the foundation. In addition, the foundation has established the Steven M. Goldstein Award for Excellence, awarded every other year to recognize a project of significant impact undertaken by a foundation legal assistance for the poor grantee.
The Florida Bar Foundation presents a unique opportunity for Bar members to broaden their involvement in law-related public service. Membership in the foundation is available via any attorney’s participation in the IOTA program, or by becoming a contributing member or fellow of The Florida Bar Foundation.
Support for the foundation’s charitable programs comes from members of The Florida Bar, through the fellows’ promotion of the foundation, major and planned gifts, charitable contributions from law firms and corporations, as well as from members of the general public with an interest in the foundation’s mission of greater access to justice.
For further information regarding joining the foundation and other giving opportunities, operation of the IOTA program or foundation grants, contact: The Florida Bar Foundation, 875 Concourse Parkway South, Suite 195, Maitland, FL, 32751; call (407) 960-7000 or (800) 541-2195.
Law-related education: Young people are our most precious resource. The Florida Bar’s Law Related Education Committee promotes “legal literacy” to encourage the teaching of our laws and legal system, and to produce an awareness of our rights and responsibilities as citizens.
Currently, all of Florida’s 67 school districts report having some form of law education in their schools — either as separate courses of study or integrated into the existing curriculum. At least 50 of these districts report attorney involvement. The Florida Bar Law Related Education Committee advocates the inclusion of quality LRE programs in grades K-12 and provides assistance to local bar associations and attorneys in implementing or expanding involvement in law education statewide.
#Just Adulting Legal Survival Guide: Each spring, the Law Related Education Committee updates the “#Just Adulting Legal Survival Guide” for high-school seniors. The guide is offered through a mobile website and mobile app and is available on both the Apple and Android platforms. Attorneys help update the guide to reflect the most current law on issues new adults face, including contracts, the court system, voting rights, environmental responsibility, military service and texting while driving.
Updated May 3, 2017