The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

An Exploratory Voyage Across the Seas of Change

President's Page

Photo of John M. StewartOver the past seven years, and perhaps even longer, Bar presidents have made statements I could still make today. While reading Journal columns by my predecessors, it becomes clear that certain issues centered around technology have been unequivocally pertinent to the practice of law. The rapidly changing legal marketplace, that has impacted the profession greatly, has been at the forefront of our minds as leaders, so much so, similar concerns have repeatedly come up in our messages year after year:

“The reality is that the delivery of legal services in the 21st century is already undergoing dramatic change. The challenge is to pay attention, make adjustments to thrive (or do nothing and wither), and tap into expertise at The Florida Bar to make the transformation easier.” — Gwynne A. Young, May 2013

“We are at the crossroads of major evolutionary changes in our profession. We must acknowledge a changing world, driven largely by technological advancements, and be willing to adapt.” — Eugene K. Pettis, June 2014

“We all must realize technology is driving drastic changes in the traditional practice of law.” — Gregory W. Coleman, April 2015

“The goal is to adapt to the new legal marketplace, so you can deliver better legal services to your clients, the consumers, while still making a good living as an attorney.” — Ramón A. Abadin, June 2016

“One question we must ask as we navigate through these challenging times is how we can embrace technology and utilize it as a tool to assist us in our practice and to help us find new and improved ways to serve our clients, the citizens of our state.  We lawyers have the responsibility to lead the noblest of professions. For we are the guardians of justice and the rule of law.” — William J. Schifino, Jr., January 2017

“My agenda as president falls in line with the Bar’s overall strategic plan: Use technology to better connect our resources with the public and members who need it.” — Michael J. Higer, July 2017

After all this time identifying issues and exchanging ideas while making steady progress exploring the waters, the moment has arrived to embark on a more detailed, exploratory voyage — to take a deeper dive into the mysterious and complex seas of change. The Bar will soon set sail to carefully survey the environment in which legal services are provided. Any results and decisions will be assessed to see whether they are appropriate for Florida lawyers and the public. By request of the Florida Supreme Court, the Bar is to conduct a study beginning in January with a final report due in July 2021. The high court would like the Bar to study lawyer advertising, referral fees, and fee splitting; entity regulation; regulation of online service providers; and regulation of nonlawyer providers of limited legal services. The court also provided that additional topics consistent with the subject of the study may also be addressed.

The study has no predetermined outcomes, as Florida is unique, and it is incumbent upon us to define what should change, if anything, in this state before change is dictated by other states on a national scale. We intend to follow the specific direction the court has set, and we will meet its request thoughtfully.

Efforts have been made in other states — including Utah, Arizona, and California — to study the potential regulation of online service providers. The Bar has made great strides along the same lines by proposing a new chapter of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, the “Registered Online Service Provider Program,” that allows for the voluntary registration of qualified online legal service providers to assure greater access to legal services as well as greater protection of the public. The proposal is pending before the Supreme Court.

But it is a new year, and we will begin a new decade by applying a magnifying glass to topics that have concerned us for so long and that will benefit the public and our members. We need to adapt and modernize, while also safeguarding our core values and traditions as lawyers. The journey across these uncharted, mysterious waters will be worth the challenge because the future begins now. We will no longer wait to respond to the issues pertaining to technology in the legal landscape because The Florida Bar is a national leader, and always has been. We are ready to uphold our historical reputation as pioneers who chart a course beyond the horizon in search of a better future.

There is much work to be done.