The Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation will pay exam fees for some Florida attorneys seeking board certification in juvenile law as a means to improve legal representation in proceedings involving abused and neglected children.
The foundation’s September 27 announcement follows the first class of Florida attorneys to become board certified in juvenile law, as 94 did in August.
Considered The Florida Bar’s highest level of achievement, board certification requires a rigorous evaluation of an attorney’s skills, professionalism, ethics, and expertise. Just 7 percent of eligible Bar members are certified in the 26 areas of the law approved for certification by the Florida Supreme Court.
“I believe all stakeholders in dependency court benefit when we increase expertise in juvenile court, and ultimately this will improve outcomes for children,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who is board certified in city, county, and local government law.
GAL Executive Director Alan Abramowitz said the program has approximately 170 lawyers representing over 25,000 children in dependency proceedings using a team model that includes 10,000 volunteers. Noting that 10 percent of the first class of attorneys certified in juvenile law are employed by the GAL Program, Abramowitz said, “Having a highly skilled lawyer practicing in dependency court is crucial to furthering the best interests of children.”
Because certification in juvenile law is relatively new and the process lengthy and demanding, Abramowitz asked the GAL Foundation to create an incentive to encourage attorneys to apply. The Foundation will pay the $250 application fee for two attorneys each from the GAL Program, the Department of Children and Families, the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, which represents parents in dependency court, and from among attorneys accepting appointments for dependent children with special needs under section 39.01305.
Attorney Steve Rubin of Boca Raton, who chairs the Bar’s Board of Legal Specialization and Education, said expanding the number of attorneys certified in juvenile law “will help clients and the courts in choosing quality representation” in dependency courts statewide.
Florida GAL Foundation President Lori Duarte-Roberts said the best interests of abused and abandoned children are furthered when lawyers in their cases are working at the highest level. “The foundation’s initiative is important,” she said. “It sends the message that excellence in this field is valued, that we appreciate people who dedicate their careers to advocating for abused children and their families, and that we should all be striving to improve because these kids deserve our best.”
Learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program and its foundation at www.guardianadlitem.org or www.flgal.org. To learn more about becoming board certified in juvenile law, visit https://www.floridabar.org/about/cert/cert-jl.