A message from the president of The Florida Bar
Dear Fellow Florida Bar Members:
In the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, all of our lives, personally and professionally, have been impacted. However, we at The Florida Bar want to make sure that you have the latest information on what our Bar is doing and where you can find important information during this stressful time.
Here is a recap of information Florida Bar members need to know about what the Bar and Florida’s courts are doing regarding COVID-19, as well as a summary of today’s Board of Governors actions.
COVID-19 Information and Resources Page
As a central source of up-to-date information for Florida Bar members, the COVID-19 web page available at www.floridabar.org/covid19 is being constantly updated with lists and links to Supreme Court orders and announcements, and links to a list of trial courts’ emergency orders and directives, including closures and all district court notices. This page should also meet the goal of reducing the volume of email for members while increasing the ease of finding and receiving local information.
Florida Bar announcements are posted, as are resources for practice management assistance, ethics guidance, mental health and wellness tips, free trials and expanded member benefits, and state and federal assistance and information programs.
When the immediate crisis starts to subside, we will send additional communications regarding government assistance programs and Florida Bar member benefits to assist your law firm and staff in getting through the financial, logistical, and emotional challenges the pandemic has caused.
Pandemic Coordination with the Florida Supreme Court, Office of State Courts Administrator, and Clerks of Court
Daily communications with the Supreme Court, the state courts administrator and clerks have been ongoing since the pandemic began so that we are able to post timely information from the courts as it is released on The Florida Bar’s COVID-19 page, social media and on the online Bar News & Journal. We have also provided all of the court public information officers and the 67 clerks access to members’ emails in their circuits and counties so members can receive timely local information while the Bar continues to disseminate information of statewide importance.
Florida Supreme Court Administrative Orders & Announcements
AOSC20-15, issued March 17, details what constitutes “essential” and “critical” court proceedings and directs the state courts to give them priority over other cases. It also requires that proceedings be conducted in a way that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 exposure. It also orders the rescheduling, postponement, or cancellation of nonessential and noncritical court proceedings unless they can be effectively conducted using remote technology.
Chief Justice Charles Canady plans to release new emergency orders over the next days to further extend legal deadlines and to make other changes to court rules necessary to meet the crisis. All emergency orders previously issued will be extended for at least another three weeks. Read the March 20 Florida Bar News article.
This morning, the Supreme Court issued an order governing regulation of the state’s legal profession that suspends the filing and evaluation requirements for lawyer advertisements and addresses all time periods and deadlines in lawyer discipline and unlicensed practice of law cases.
All of the orders, appellate and state court announcements, and links to additional information are posted on The Florida Bar’s COVID-19 page.
Florida Bar Essential Operations Continue
Many Florida Bar staff members are working remotely to carry out essential functions while Bar offices are temporarily closed to reduce exposure to COVID-19. I ask your patience if you experience any understandable delays in responses from our staff and if some services that you are seeking are suspended at this time.
Update on Florida Courts E-filing Portal
Although Florida’s court system operations have been appropriately cut back because of the pandemic, the Florida Courts E-Filing Portal is open and available to anyone who needs to file documents, and the Portal Help Desk remains available during regularly scheduled business hours. The Portal will be down for routine maintenance on March 21.
CLE Reporting Deadlines Extended; Online CLE Still Available
The deadlines for members scheduled to report their three-year cycle CLE reporting in February, March, April, and May, have been extended to August 31, 2020. The 24/7 OnDemand CLE catalog is active, but many upcoming in-person CLE programs have been canceled, and processing orders and shipping CLE CDs and CLE DVDs are suspended.
Board of Governors Virtual March Meeting Summary
The scheduled Board of Governors meeting this month was canceled, and instead the Executive Committee met this morning by teleconference and took these major actions:
- The deadlines for members scheduled to report their three-year cycle CLE reporting in February, March, April, and May, have been extended to August 31, 2020.
- A mental health helpline for members was approved as part of a continuing effort to address the well-being of Florida lawyers. The helpline is expected to be available July 1, 2020.
- Two new member benefits were approved. Smith.ai, a virtual receptionist service for live calls and web chat, primarily serving solo and small-firm attorneys, and Indexed I/O which provides a scalable, cost-effective eDiscovery solution that fits every case size. These benefits will be added to the more than 70 free or discounted products and services — financial services, shipping, practice management resources and legal research — offered to Florida Bar members.
- The Legislation Committee reported that the Florida House and Senate finalized a $92 billion FY 2020-2021 budget that includes $21 million in initial spending for a long-sought Second District Court of Appeal courthouse and more than $3.4 million to fund the certification of 10 new trial judges. Additional details are in this March 19 Florida Bar News article.
- The Bar’s proposed 2020-21 budget was approved without a fee increase. It will be posted online and published in the April 30/May 2020 print edition of The Florida Bar News. The Board will consider member comments and revise the budget at its May 15 meeting before submitting it to the Supreme Court for the last approval.
In closing, while our families, businesses and communities have all been dramatically impacted by COVID-19, it is our top priority to support our judiciary and justice system partners, do what we can to help our members and staff, and continue our essential services so that our collective recovery can occur as quickly as possible.
Thank you for your service to the justice system, legal community and the citizens of Florida. We can all take pride in our profession’s continued dedication to access to justice and the rule of law during this difficult time. We at The Florida Bar are working to help you as we all move forward.
We recognize the myriad of serious challenges this crisis creates for our members. We are here to assist in any way we can. If you have any questions or concerns or believe there is anything we can be doing better, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Please stay safe.
John M. Stewart