The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Committing to Foundational Principles: An Update on Our Progress

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F. Scott Westheimer

Scott Westheimer

As I write this column, I am just past the midpoint of my term and want to provide an update on our progress. This Bar year my board and I have been focused on our commitment to foundational principles: directing our energies toward empowering our vast community of lawyers. Our primary objective is to enhance our members’ everyday legal pursuits, ethical obligations, and daily practice of law with concrete assistance and resources.

By offering extensive education on ethical obligations and furnishing concrete tools, we want to maintain and facilitate adherence to Bar standards. Our ultimate goal remains resolute — to uphold the judiciary as a coequal branch of government, while safeguarding the interests of the public we are sworn to serve.

One primary objective this year is to proactively assist our members in avoiding entanglements with the discipline system. A crucial aspect of achieving this goal involves streamlining fiscal management for lawyers. Given that trust account violations consistently rank high among the reasons lawyers end up facing grievances, it became imperative for us to introduce a financial platform tailored to assist lawyers in managing trust accounts and adhering to accounting requirements.

We are working hard to achieve this objective. Florida lawyers now enjoy complimentary access to Nota — a completely free trust financial platform specifically designed to support small law firms and solo practitioners in effectively managing trust accounts and meeting accounting standards while integrating with their own individual banks or as a standalone product. Nota has been integrated into The Florida Bar’s Member Benefits lineup, addressing the pressing need for a simplified, cohesive, and efficient trust accounting platform. Through Nota, our members can access the latest trust accounting technology, that complies with the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, at no cost, along with the guidance of a provider dedicated to helping them concentrate on the growth and sustained success of their legal practice.

In just a few months, approximately 419 Nota law firm accounts have been created, with each enrolled firm typically comprising two to two and a half lawyers, totaling an estimated 800 to 900 legal professionals. Additionally, 1,593 Florida Bar members have completed the Nota trust accounting software interest form. The Nota team continues to onboard new lawyers weekly, to ensure our users are comfortable with the software maintaining a steady pace consistent with our projections. Our aim is to achieve at least 1,000 law firm accounts by the June Annual Convention and sustain growth throughout the next fiscal year. Following our lead, other state bars and lawyer groups have also expressed interest in adopting Nota as a benefit, and we have facilitated introductions to the appropriate contacts at Nota for further exploration.

The Florida Bar remains a leader in providing ethical guidance for new technology. In what is the first of its kind, the Bar recently published Ethics Opinion 24-1, offering guidance for lawyers who incorporate generative artificial intelligence (AI) into their practice. After approval by the board in January, the published opinion addresses how generative AI implicates Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct, including competent representation, confidentiality of client information, reasonable fees and costs, and candor to the court. Ethics Opinion 24-1 was developed by the Board of Governors with input from the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics, the Special Committee on AI Tools and Resources, and Florida Bar members. I thank Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics Chair Brian Burgoon; Special AI Committee Co-Chairs Gordon Glover and Duffy Myrtetus; and Bar Ethics Counsel Jonathan Grabb for their hard work in getting this accomplished.

The Bar also filed a petition January 5 to amend commentary to Bar Rules 4-1.1 (Competence), 4-1.6 (Confidentiality), and 4-5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants) to specifically address generative AI and education for our members.

In addition, the Professional Ethics Committee is considering updates to Ethics Opinion 00-4 and Ethics Opinion 10-2, which discuss how to ethically provide legal services via the internet, and a lawyer’s obligations when disposing of electronically stored information, respectively. The committee’s proposed amendments to Ethics Opinion 00-4 recognize changes in online security standards while amendments to Ethics Opinion 10-2, as recommended by the Cybersecurity and Privacy Law Committee, address when and how a lawyer should “sanitize” electronically stored information. The Cybersecurity and Privacy Law Committee is also hard at work with the Technology Committee for other resources for our members and is contemplating requesting additional Ethics Opinions to further educate our members on ethical implications concerning inadequate cybersecurity.

This year, we enhanced The Florida Bar’s discipline and grievance system, already a national benchmark. Our primary focus has been refining training methods for Bar counsel and paralegals. This emphasis ensures they remain abreast of the latest legal developments, refines their professional skills, and cultivates ethical practice, thereby bolstering the integrity of the legal profession. Additional training is planned this spring for designated reviewers.

The Bar’s hiring of a “utility attorney” to cover cases when a Bar counsel vacancy occurs has made a significant difference in decreasing backlogs.

Please don’t forget about LegalFuel, the Bar’s comprehensive law office management department. It equips members with resources to efficiently manage the business aspects of their law practices and their ethical obligations, offering guidance on technology, trust accounting, internal firm operations, podcasts, and free CLEs. LegalFuel serves as the ultimate destination for learning how to launch a new law firm or streamline an existing one. Need insights on specific topics like technology, trust accounting, or marketing? LegalFuel has you covered. Moreover, it presents a curated library of free webinars, podcasts, and more. The center currently offers 184 complimentary programs online that provide 203 hours of general CLE credit.

I remain deeply humbled and profoundly honored to lead the Bar during these transformative times. I’m looking forward to working with the Board of Governors and the exceptional lawyers of Florida to better serve their communities and our great state.