The processing and investigation of inquiries and complaints is a basic responsibility of The Florida Bar as mandated by the Supreme Court of Florida. Here’s what you should know about The Florida Bar and lawyer regulation.
1. The Florida Bar Regulates the Practice of Law in Florida
The Florida Bar is charged by the Florida Supreme Court with lawyer regulation as its core function to protect the public and the integrity of the judicial system. The Florida Supreme Court has the constitutional authority and responsibility to regulate the practice of law and oversee the lawyer discipline system. The Florida Supreme Court adopts all Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and imposes discipline. The grievance system applies many perspectives and involves nonlawyers in key phases of investigation. Those perspectives include:
- the person who is complaining;
- the lawyer who is the subject of the complaint;
- professional bar regulatory staff;
- volunteer members of local communities and the legal profession who serve on 80 Bar grievance committees that are composed of at least one-third nonlawyers and two-thirds lawyers;
- volunteer members of the legal profession on The Florida Bar Board of Governors, which also has two nonlawyer members; and
- members of the judiciary who serve as referees and make recommendations for discipline to the Florida Supreme Court.
2. The Florida Bar Regulates Individual Lawyers, Not Law Firms
The Florida Bar is responsible for regulating individual lawyers, not law firms, which may make it seem like solo practitioners are disciplined more often than lawyers who work for law firms. In fact, the bar has prosecuted hundreds of cases involving multiple lawyers at the same firm and has taken swift action for the emergency suspension of high-profile lawyers in large firms who have misused client funds or engaged in other serious misconduct.
3. The Florida Bar Does Not Regulate Judges or Elected Officials
The Florida Bar regulates lawyers practicing within the state and Florida licensed lawyers practicing in another state or country.
4. The Florida Bar Regulatory Process is an Open System
The Florida Bar has one of the most open systems in the country and among regulated professions in Florida. Files pending investigation at the staff or grievance committee levels are confidential. The Florida Bar will respond to specific inquiries concerning matters that are in the public domain, but otherwise confidential under the rules, by acknowledging the status of the proceedings. All files are public record after closure or after a grievance committee finds probable cause of a rule violation.
In cases where discipline is imposed, the discipline remains on the attorney’s record throughout the attorney’s life. The Bar’s website lists a 10-year discipline history for lawyers and publishes disciplinary actions each month. Files which are closed without the imposition of discipline are retained for one year. You may request discipline records via email.
5. The Bar Takes a Proactive Approach to Preventing Bad Behavior
The Bar has developed resources to help its members abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct (Chapter 4, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar).
All new members must complete a basic skills course requirement within the first year of practice that emphasizes professionalism and ethics. In addition, the bar’s Ethics Hotline provides guidance for lawyers regarding dilemmas unique to the profession; lawyers may also request written advisory ethics opinions.
Recognizing that many practicing lawyers lack fundamental training in business and practice management principles, LegalFuel, The Florida Bar Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar, provides advice, assistance, and support through a variety of services.
6. The Bar Works To Resolve Disputes Before a Complaint is Filed
The bar’s Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) provides assistance through a toll-free hotline to resolve client-lawyer issues; in many cases, issues are resolved before a complaint is filed. In a typical year, ACAP handles about 16,500 requests for assistance; approximately 25% of inquiries result in the opening of a disciplinary file.
7. Complaints Don’t Always Lead to Open Cases or Discipline
Certain areas of the law tend to generate more complaints against lawyers. For example, family and criminal law cases can be very emotional and often result in complaints, but not all of those complaints result in discipline. When evaluating a lawyer, it is important to consider not only the number of complaints filed against a lawyer, but also a lawyer’s disciplinary history and the facts of any discipline cases.
8. The Severity of Discipline Ranges from Probation to Disbarment
In the five years from 2018-2019 to 2022-22, more than 1,000 lawyers have been disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court including 178 disbarments, 497 suspensions, and 149 reprimands. The severity of the discipline is based on the seriousness of the misconduct. Other disciplinary actions include admonishments and probations.
|Total Orders Issued by the Supreme Court with Discipline Imposed||235||262||224||236||108|
|Total Supreme Court Discipline Cases||393||414||318||388||271|
See Lawyer Discipline Statistics for more detail.
9. Discipline is Just One of Lawyer Regulation’s Ways to Protect the Public
The Florida Bar moves quickly to petition for emergency suspension of lawyers in the discipline process who misuse client funds or who have been convicted of a felony.
Even in cases in which the bar does not pursue discipline, lawyers can be ordered to complete remedial programs to improve their practices. These programs include ethics school, professionalism workshops, advertising rule workshops, trust accounting workshops, stress management courses, law office management consultation services, and continuing legal education courses in specific areas of practice.
The bar may require that a lawyer be referred for treatment regarding alcohol or chemical dependency or mental health counseling.
10. Division of Lawyer Regulation Staff Have a Wide Range of Experience
Most of the members of the lawyer regulation staff have private practice experience as well as court, state agency, legal aid, and military service totaling hundreds of years. For cases that require further inquiry, staff perspectives are balanced with the involvement of practicing lawyers who serve on grievance committees.