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The Florida Bar Journal
May, 2017 Volume 91, No. 5
How Can We Help You?

by William J. Schifino, Jr.

Page 4

The question isn’t what is The Florida Bar going to do to me, but rather what can it do for me?

Certainly, we are a self-regulated profession, and we should be grateful for that. But The Florida Bar is much more than a regulatory body. We are very proud of the fact that over these many years we have continued to enhance and improve upon our member benefits, while at the same time we have not raised our annual fees, which are some of the lowest in the country, in 15 years.

We have recognized, as annunciated on June 7, 1949, by the Supreme Court in the case of Petition of Florida State Bar Association et al., 40 So. 2d 902 (Fla. 1949), that The Florida Bar’s mission is certainly to serve the best interest of the public, but also our members.

We take that charge to heart. This year, one of your Bar’s four primary focuses has been the enhancement and delivery of member benefits —particularly when it comes to doing what we can for our small and solo firm practitioners. There are too many member benefits to address in one column, but there are four that I would like to highlight.

1) Trust Accounting Software
In March, the Board of Governors approved a brand new, six-month pilot project, set to begin around August 1, aimed at automatically bringing participating lawyers into compliance with Bar trust accounting rules.

Board of Governors parliamentarian Andy Sasso said the Bar is looking for a dozen or so law firms, each with funds of multiple clients in the firms’ trust accounts, to participate. The program is expected to be free for Bar members and have an added bonus of substantially boosting IOTA income for The Florida Bar Foundation. You will not have to do reconciliation for any trust accounting work; as long as you put in the correct information, all accounting work will be done automatically.

Currently, there are more than 33,000 trust accounts in Florida scattered among 200-plus banks totaling $5 billion, with interest at about 10 basis points. The proposal will create one large “omnibus” trust account that pools the trust accounts of participating lawyers. Because competitive rates will be sought from insured banks around the country, the IOTA interest rate would go from about 10 to 90 basis points.

FIS, the Jacksonville-based financial services company working with the Bar, would get 20 percent to pay expenses and costs of the omnibus account, and the Foundation would get 80 percent. If all lawyer IOTA accounts were in the program — and Sasso concedes it probably wouldn’t happen with a voluntary program — the Foundation’s income would go from approximately $5-$6 million annually to around $36 million. You can read a more detailed account of this project in the April 15 Bar News. I call it a potential home run.

2) Practice Resource Institute
PRI, where the motto is “Promoting Excellence in the Profession,” was launched in January 2015, as a resource for all Bar members to help better organize and operate their law practices. A team of four stands ready by telephone, email, or live chat to confidentially help you with your questions about the business aspects of setting up, managing, merging, or closing a professional law practice. PRI has 33 complimentary education programs on its website that account for 51 hours of CLE credit, including 31 hours of technology credit. PRI also publishes news articles available on the PRI website:

No one will visit your law office for an on-site consultation (but if that’s what you really need, PRI can recommend for-profit services), and PRI is not part of the lawyer discipline system. As PRI Director Jonathon Israel said: “Now that we’re removed from the discipline side, we truly are a complimentary member benefit of the Bar. We are here for the members. We’re all about: ‘How can we help you?’”

3) Lawyers Advising Lawyers
I think of it as creating a “virtual hallway.” When I began my career 30 years ago, it was easy for me to walk down the hall and sit in someone’s office to kick around ideas on cases. But such collaboration can be tough for many lawyers today, especially because 30 percent of our members operate a solo practice. If you confront an issue in an area of the law or procedure unfamiliar to you, the LAL program, launched in January as a partnership between the Bar and its Young Lawyers Division, provides quick access to an attorney advisor who likely has the experience to help. A brief consultation with a LAL attorney advisor should assist you in deciding the best approach for resolving the legal issue you confront. The program is designed to supplement, rather than act as a substitute, for the exercise of independent judgment by the attorney seeking assistance. Currently, 300 advising attorneys are available to answer questions in 50 areas of law/procedure, and they receive CLE credits for doing so. We are always seeking to add more advising attorneys. Go to the website for details on how it works:

4) Member Benefits Program
From searching caselaw to refinancing student loans to buying car insurance, the Bar’s Member Benefits Program is ready to save you money. Tap into more than 60 free or discounted choices — more than is offered by any other state bar. Current offerings include free access to Fastcase and Fastcase7, legal research that usually costs $995 a year; a 20 percent discount from data-driven research from Ravel Law; savings programs with UPS and FedEx; student loan refinancing with SoFi; 10 percent off Logikcull, which promises to “make discovery less complicated and more affordable;” Expedia Travel discounts; insurance discounts; rental car discounts; and the list goes on.

These programs were all designed to help you as you juggle your busy law practices and full personal lives. Please take advantage of how your Florida Bar stands ready to help.

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[Revised: 06-26-2017]