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Board approves budget, works to enhance certification program

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Board of GovernorsMeeting for the last time in the Bar year, the Board of Governors on Friday approved a revised, $43.2 million budget proposal, a raft of proposed rule amendments, and recommendations for enhancing Florida’s board certification program.

Addressing fellow board members in a Key West conference room, Budget Committee Chair-elect Jeffrey Rynor noted that the FY 2024-25 spending plan, contrary to the only member objection, maintains a 23-year trend of no new member fees.

The member “is of the opinion that we should raise Bar dues,” Rynor said. “No modification has been made for this objection.”

The proposed spending plan was revised twice after being publicly noticed in March. It projects $43.2 million in revenues, $48.4 million expenses, and an operating loss of $5.2 million.

Those figures reflect a 1.5% revenue increase from FY 2023-24, and a 6.6% increase in expenses over the same period.

The Bar typically runs a slight budget deficit, and Rynor has assured the board that the Bar’s finances are sound. The deficit is typically offset by investment income from the Long-Term Fund, which contained $71.3 million on March 31.

The Bar’s executive director filed two objections as a procedural move, giving budget writers an opportunity to reflect $108,000 in CLE revenues, and a $2,106 Elder Law Section management fee, that were inadvertently omitted in previous drafts.

The member who objected expressed a concern about the size of the deficit.

“What is the real cost of $265 after 23 years of inflation?” the member wrote. “Then look at the value added by the many activities taken on in the past 23 years.”

In addition to the general fund budget, the board also approved the Certification Fund, the Client Security Fund, Litigation Fund, Fixed Asset Fund, and Bar Section Funds.

The proposed budgets will be forwarded for Supreme Court consideration.

In other action, the board approved recommendations that were generated by a joint Program Evaluation Committee/Certification Plan Appeals Committee review of board certification area exams and pass rates.

Co-Chaired by veteran board members Laird Lile and Greg Weiss, the subcommittee’s five recommendations included increasing the Board of Legal Specialization and Education’s outreach to potential candidates.

“This was quite an undertaking within our subcommittee and involved a lot of discussion with (BLSE) Chair (David) Willis, who has three board certifications,” noted PEC Chair Melissa VanSickle.

The panel also recommended that the BLSE work with each certification area committee to develop review courses that “provide direct, specific, and focused guidance for board certification exam takers without revealing any specific exam questions.”

Another recommendation calls for the BLSE and its consultants to review certification areas with historically low pass rates and identify potential contributing factors to see if the pass rates can be improved.

A PEC/CPAC draft report noted that a 2016 Program Evaluation Committee review of board certification coincided with a BLSE exam consultant’s review.

More than 28 recommendations were implemented, strengthening the overall program, according to the report.

“It is clear from the data that as the recommendations have been implemented and the procedures have been standardized to widely accepted industry standards, the certification program has improved, and the certification process has become better equipped to identify well qualified candidates for board certification.”

More potential applicants qualified to take exams, and the number of grade review petitions fell from 41.8% to 26.1%, the report notes.

The report warns that too few candidates take certification exams to make a pass-fail analysis “statistically relevant.”

Only two other large states besides Florida, Texas and California, offer direct, state-bar sponsored certification programs, the report found.

Texas and Florida offer board certification in 27 practice areas, California 11.

Texas, with 6,900 board-certified attorneys, slightly leads Florida, with 5,288. All states experienced a slight reduction in the number of board certified attorneys after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.

In other action, the board approved a proposed amendment to Bar Rule 3-7.18 (Disposition of Inquires or Complaints Referred to the Bar by Members of the Judiciary).

The proposed amendments would make it clear that inquiries referred to the Bar by members of the judiciary should be “information obtained during the course of the member of the judiciary’s official duties as a judicial officer.”

The revisions would also make it clear that a judicial referral “does not include allegations of violations of canons, rules, or laws relating to judicial elections.”

“The Bar has received complaints from judges regarding opponents in judicial elections and referrals from judges regarding conduct relating to the judge’s life as a private citizen,” according to a staff analysis. “In neither of those instances are the reasons judicial referrals are treated differently present.”

The Disciplinary Procedure Committee approved the proposed amendments 9-0 in November 2023. The amendments appeared on first reading on the board’s March agenda. The proposed revisions go next to the Supreme Court for final consideration.

In other action – and in hopes of eliminating member confusion – the board approved a proposal to no longer charge a prorated fee to new members who join the Bar in the final quarter of the fiscal year.

Most new Florida Bar members join either in the first quarter of the fiscal year, or the final quarter, Bar records show.

Some members who join in the final quarter are going delinquent in the next fiscal year because they recently paid a prorated fee and didn’t realize it was not for the following full year, according to a staff analysis.

Bar staff also determined that the fiscal impact of not collecting the pro-rated amount for the final quarter of the fiscal year will not negatively impact net income, due to the administrative savings of having to communicate with delinquent members and then subsequently executing the manual process for reinstatement that resulted from the initial fees confusion.

The proposal is contained in proposed amendments to Bar Rule 1-7.3 (Membership Fees) that would eliminate a subsection (b) “Prorated Fees.”

A new subsection (b) “Membership Fees for New Members” would require new members admitted on or after July 1 of each year through March 31 of the following year to pay full annual membership fees within 60 days of admission.

A second sentence would state “New members admitted between April 1 and June 30 of each year pay no fees until July 1 beginning their first full year of membership.”

The proposed revisions go to the Supreme Court for final consideration.

In other business, the board approved a proposed amendment to Rule 4-7.20 (Exemptions from the Filing and Review Requirement), as directed by the Supreme Court.

The revisions would make it clear that legal aid organizations are not required to file their advertisements and other communications for Bar review.

The proposed amendment would add a subdivision (h) “advertisements and other communications regarding legal services made by or on behalf of a legal aid organization, which is a not-for-profit business entity as defined elsewhere in these rules.”

The Supreme Court requested the revision in an August 1, 2023, letter after reviewing recommendations from the Bar’s “Special Committee on Greater Public Access to Legal Services.”

In other action, the board elected Phillip Bonamo, Hilary Creary, and Tad Yates to the Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee is composed of the president, the president-elect, the Budget Committee chair, Legislation Committee chair, Communications Committee chair, Disciplinary Review Committee chair, the Program Evaluation Committee chair, the Young Lawyers Division president, two board members selected by the president, and three board members selected by the board.

Unless otherwise limited by rule, the Executive Committee has full power and authority to exercise the function of the board to the extent authorized by the board on any specific matter that necessarily must be determined between board meetings.

The Executive Committee notifies the board at the next meeting of all actions taken by the committee during the interim period. Unless modified by the board, actions by the Executive Committee are final.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved a Program Evaluation Committee review of The Florida Bar News that recommended adding an “opt-out” feature on the Bar Member Portal that would give members the ability to halt mail delivery of monthly print editions of the News. The board also approved a recommendation to halt mail delivery of the News to inactive members.
  • Approved a Program Evaluation Committee recommendation to sunset the Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee. Reviewers determined that the committee’s mission to advise the JNCs is no longer relevant because the governor’s office has assumed the responsibility.

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