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Board meets in person for the first time in a over a year

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Dori Foster-Morales

Dori Foster-Morales

The Board of Governors approved a proposed Bar budget, received a final report from a pandemic recovery task force, and weighed various rule amendments during its first in-person meeting in more than a year.

In a May 21 “hybrid” meeting from Duck Key that was also live streamed, Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson appeared briefly to mark the occasion of President Dori Foster-Morales’ first in-person meeting as president and the last meeting of her tenure.

“Thank you, Dori, for your exceptional leadership during this very difficult time,” Justice Lawson said. “It is greatly appreciated by the entire court.”

A short while later, the board voted unanimously to approve a proposed budget for FY 2021-2022 that continues a long trend of no membership fee increases.

The budget contemplates $44.2 million in spending with an ending general fund balance of $27.5 million. The board voted unanimously to approve the proposal, which goes next to the Supreme Court for final approval.

Budget Committee Chair-elect Jeremy Branning said previously that the Bar remains financially strong, largely because of fee revenue remaining stronger than anticipated, and spending reductions and efficiencies, included eliminating some vacant positions.

At the urging of Budget Committee Chair Melissa VanSickle, the board unanimously approved a $95,000 fund transfer to cover the costs of an emergency repair to a freight elevator at Bar headquarters.

Pandemic Recovery Task Force

In other business, the board received a presentation on the final recommendations of the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force from board member Amy Farrior, a task force member and the report’s chief author.

Created by President Dori Foster-Morales and chaired by President-elect Michael Tanner, the task force held the first of 15 meetings on August 5, 2020. That total does not include numerous subcommittee meetings.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard this year; they were regular and very productive meetings,” Farrior said.

The taskforce acted as the Bar’s central clearing house for COVID-related information and issues, and the creation of the COVID-19 Information and Resources webpage was vital to that effort, Farrior said.

Task force projects ranged from membership fee waivers and the addition of financial services to the Member Benefits Program to help lawyers cope with the economic fallout, to others designed to help members adapt to the court system’s rapid pivot to remote technology. The latter included CLE, webinars, and printed material designed to familiarize members with technical aspects of remote platforms, and a comprehensive Board Technology Committee project, the “Florida Bar Recommended Best Practices Guide for Remote Court Proceedings.”

Because the taskforce issued 16 detailed progress reports, the final report focuses on the future, Farrior said.

“The purpose of our final report is not to regurgitate the minutes,” Farrior said. “President-elect Tanner wanted our final report to focus on the lessons that we learned during the pandemic.”

One of the biggest was the value of having such a diverse panel, Farrior said.

“Age, race, gender, geographic location, practice area, you name it, it really helped us to improve our ability to understand the broad and varied effect the pandemic had on our members,” she said.

Another was the importance of a having a central location, such as the COVID-19 Information and Resources website, to effectively communicate the latest information, she said.

The task force also benefitted, Farrior said, from reviewing member comments President Dori Foster-Morales received during her 20-circuit, virtual town hall meetings.

Many members reported struggling to maintain their practices and care for children while working from home, she said. The task force promoted services to help members fill the need, she said.

“If we address qualify of life issues and the professional environment, we can really accomplish anything,” she said.

In the future, Farrior said, the Supreme Court should consider creating a standing committee that represents a broad range of stakeholders.

“If there was a standing committee, we would have really been able to get ahead faster than we did,” she said.

The courts adapted rapidly to remote technology, Farrior said, but the pandemic has shown the need to constantly evolve.

“Why do we need to wait for a crisis to change, to adapt?”  she said. “We addressed the crisis with technology, but the next crisis may challenge that.”

The full report may be found here.

Task Force Survey

Board member Jorge Piedra described his task force subcommittee survey of 3,800 Bar members regarding the continued use of remote technology after the pandemic recedes.

The survey generated a 34% response rate, which was robust, Piedra told the board.

“It was a great cross section of the Bar, by age, practice area,” he said.

Most Bar members like the convenience of remote proceedings for routine, non-evidentiary matters, he said, adding the opposite is true for more complex proceedings.

Tech Support Helpline

Board Technology Committee Chair Jay Kim delivered encouraging news about another pandemic-inspired project, The Florida Bar Tech Support Helpline.

The committee is more than half-way through a three-month “beta test” to determine whether Bar members would use a non-emergency, IT tech support service offered as a Member Benefit.

The program is being marketed primarily to solo and small firm users, and the committee has reached out to voluntary bars across the state to help promote it, Kim said.

Since April, Law Tech Partners has responded to 68 requests for service, with the Bar receiving glowing testimonials from lawyers who have received help, Kim said.

“The reviews that we got so far have been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

Law Tech Partners is compiling data on such things as response times, a demographic breakdown of users, and “all sorts of data that will be very useful for us to analyze,” when the beta test concludes next month, Kim said.

Certification

In other business, the board reviewed on first reading proposed amendments to Bar Rules 6-8.4 (Criminal Trial Recertification).

The proposal, by the Board of Legal Specialization and Education, would give the Criminal Law Certification Committee the ability to consider “for good cause, involvement in protracted litigation as defined elsewhere in this subchapter” as a substitute for the minimum number of trials required for recertification.

The language is in the current rule, but the board agreed December 4, 2020, to remove the language should the Supreme Court adopt amendments that the board proposed to Rules 6-3.5 and 6-3.6, the main rules regarding certification and recertification. On February 4, the Bar filed In Re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar — Rules 6-3.5, 6-3.6, & 6-10.3, Case No. SC21.

The board also reviewed, on first reading, another BLSE proposal to amend Bar Rule 6-13.4 (Recertification) for appellate practice.

The proposed amendments would reduce from five to three the number of oral arguments required for an initial recertification. The number would drop to two for subsequent recertification cycles. (Applicants, however, would still be required to meet the five-oral argument requirement to become board certified.)

Proponents of the change note that appellate courts in general are granting fewer oral arguments as their workload increases. They also contend the change is necessary because the Bar’s proposed amendments in the February case would remove the practice committee’s ability to consider exceptions.

In other action, the board:

  • Agreed with a Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics recommendation regarding a law firm’s TV advertisements that feature the slogan “Better off with Boohoff.” The board approval reverses Standing Committee on Advertisement findings on four of five ads, to deem them permissible.
  • Agreed with another BRC proposal to approve proposed amendments to Rules 4-7.13, 4-17.14, 4-7.16, and 4-7.19 that would slightly ease some advertising restrictions, including eliminating the need for some disclaimers when using reenactments, and the need to review advertisements merely because they feature social media icons.
  • Approved updates to the bylaws of the International Law, Health Law, and Public Interest Law sections.
  • Received an update from board member and Annual Convention Committee Chair Robin Bresky that the committee is still accepting sponsorships for the June event and promoting it with social media blasts.

 

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