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January 15, 2016
Two panels dealing with for-profit referral services

Two Bar committees are working hard to write rules dealing with for-profit lawyer referral services to comply with a Supreme Court mandate.

Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics Chair Carl Schwait said his committee and the board’s Technology Committee are meeting every other week to craft a response to the court’s recent order to submit a lawyer referral service rule that prohibits lawyers from belonging to for-profit services unless those services are owned or managed by an attorney.

The committee is also working on amendments to Bar rules to follow a federal judge’s ruling that the Bar cannot prohibit non-certified lawyers from saying they are experts or specialize in areas where there is no Bar certification if those claims are objectively verifiable.

On the referral issues, “The Bar’s nonprofit Lawyer Referral Service may play a much bigger role than we ever expected,” Schwait said. The board’s Technology Committee is simultaneously working to expand access through the Bar’s nonprofit Lawyer Referral Service.

He said the issue goes beyond just referral services and includes work by the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and The Florida Bar Foundation to expand the availability of legal services.

Schwait said the committees are trying to follow the court’s order and also “determine how we get lawyers more work and how do we get the public in Florida more access to lawyers.”

On the advertising issue, Schwait said the committee is working on amendments to comply with the judge’s ruling but hit a snag.

“The federal court said that lawyers can now say they are specialists if they can objectively verify those claims,” he said. “We’re hung up on what wording to use for a potential disclaimer when in fact someone is a specialist in a subcategory in an area where there is board certification or where the board does not have a certification in a practice area.”

Schwait said he hopes the committee has a proposal ready for the board’s January meeting.

[Revised: 07-19-2018]