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Board rejects admission by motion

Senior Editor Regular News

Board rejects admission by motion

The vote prohibits any further Vision 2016 study of reciprocity

Senior Editor

Admission by motion in Florida with or without reciprocity has been unanimously rejected by the Bar Board of Governors.

The rejection came at the board’s October 16 meeting at Atlantic Beach and after the Vision 2016 committee, which had recommended admission by motion in its preliminary report, changed its position and recommended not adopting admission by motion in its final report.

The board also approved a motion that future recommendations from Vision 2016 and any other commissions must be reviewed by its committees before the full Board of Governors takes a vote. But it tabled another motion to reject consideration of allowing supervised practice for out-of-state lawyers in Florida waiting to take the bar exam and for out-of-state lawyers to be allowed to set up temporary offices in Florida to service their clients after a natural disaster in their states — also known at the “Katrina rule.”

The board’s vote on admission by motion prohibits any further study on the issue by Vison 2016.

Bar President Ramón Abadin apologized to board members for the ruckus that erupted over admission by motion and reciprocity that saw 1,173 lawyers contact the Bar, some more than once, to express their opposition to admission by motion. Only 185 Bar members supported it. Numerous voluntary bar associations, as well as the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and some Bar sections and committees, also went on record against the idea, which first came in the preliminary report from the Multijurisdictional Practice – State Focus Committee of the Vision 2016 Bar Admissions Subgroup.

Abadin told the board that in a 2013 memo on creating Vision 2016, admission by motion and reciprocity were one of the many issues mentioned that the commission would address in its broad review of technological, legal access, legal education, and bar admission changes rushing at the profession.

“Certainly I had no idea. . . or had any prediction which issue of the many issues we’re going to study this year would take off and turn into a hot potato like reciprocity did,” Abadin told the board. “Certainly I could have done some things differently. We could have approached things differently.”

He noted he attended several meetings at local bars to try to keep Bar membership informed.

“If anything I have done or failed to do has caused any of you stress, please accept my apology. We are really trying, in a difficult time of change, to address some very important issues. We have to deal with these issues,” Abadin said. “As your president, I accept responsibility for all of the bad things, and you accept responsibility for all of the good things.”

After a prolonged ovation from the board, Abadin said, “I would like to entertain a motion to address the [admission by motion] recommendation.”

Board member Jay Cohen, who is the administrator for Vision 2016 and who went on record opposing the admission by motion proposal, then addressed the board and said while he disagreed with the president on this issue, he found Abadin always willing to listen to Bar members and those with dissenting views.

“There has been unfair criticism of you throughout this process,” Cohen said. “I don’t doubt one bit Ray Abadin’s legitimate. . . intent to do what is best for The Florida Bar and its members.. . . He is truly dedicated to what he believes is bettering the Bar.”

Despite the uproar and resulting bad feelings, Cohen said the issue helped engage Bar members in the board’s activities, demonstrated that the board is responsive to members’ needs, and showed that — like the membership — the board is composed of diverse lawyers in large, small, and solo firms in a variety of practice areas.

“The whole concept of Vision [2016] was to study and tackle the present and the future, the impact of changes, and it’s done just that,” he added, noting that both board members and Vision 2016 members volunteer their time because they care about improving the legal system.

Cohen moved to reject “any consideration or recommendation of admission by motion and reciprocity.” Board member Michael Higer seconded the motion.

Board member Jack Hickey asked to add three other issues to be rejected along with admission by motion. Those were:

• Rejecting the “Katrina rule” which would allow non-Florida licensed lawyers to set up practices in Florida to represent their out-of-state clients following a natural disaster in their home states. Those lawyers would be prohibited from practicing Florida law or taking on Florida clients.

• Rejecting allowing supervised “practice pending admission” for lawyers licensed in other jurisdictions who have applied to take the Florida bar exam.

• Rejecting a recommendation to have further evaluation and study of admission by motion and reciprocity at a later time.

But Cohen declined to accept the amendment to his motion, saying, “I want a strong message coming out from the Board of Governors, on what I think has been the hottest button item, which is admission by motion and reciprocity, and I don’t want there to be any confusion.”

The board then, by a unanimous voice vote, approved his motion.

After the vote Hickey renewed his request as a separate motion, but the board ultimately tabled the request.

Board member Lanse Scriven, who chairs the Vision 2016 Bar Admission Subgroup, said the practice pending admission proposal had already been rejected by the MJP—State Focus Committee, and was not part of the final report before the board. He said the Katrina rule was being considered in an additional report, along with a proposal to allow limited-term practice privileges for lawyer spouses of military personnel stationed in Florida. That report was being worked on in light of comments, which were due October 1, from Bar members.

Board member John Stewart, who chairs the Vision 2016 Technology Subgroup, said the current board cannot bind the actions of a future board.

Board member Bill Davis questioned the way the admission by motion had reached the board, coming directly from the preliminary report of the MJP—State Focus Committee. He said Bar rules stipulate that only sections, Bar committees, and Bar members — and not commissions such as Vision 2016 — can recommend the board act to amend Bar rules, although he conceded that attorney members of commissions would be able to present amendments.

“We haven’t followed that with respect to these proposed rules,” Davis said. He said Bar Rule 1-12.1 specifies proposed rule amendments shall be referred to the appropriate board committee for substantive review and then another committee to ensure consistency with Bar rules and policies before they reach the board for approval.

Davis then moved: “Any proposals from any commission or otherwise be submitted to the appropriate committee of the Board of Governors.”

That motion also passed unanimously.

In its preliminary report, the MJP—State Focus committee advocated for admission by motion, saying it was needed because of a rapidly changing legal landscape and the ability for lawyers, even in small and solo firms, to represent clients’ interest across state lines. It also noted that admission by motion, with or without reciprocity, is now allowed in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Even before the preliminary recommendations were presented to the board, opposition was building around the state. At a September 18 public hearing, those testifying overwhelmingly opposed the idea, saying it would hurt the public by bringing lawyers unfamiliar with Florida law to the state and hurt Bar members already struggling for business.

Abadin acknowledged the members of the Multijurisdictional Practice-State Focus Committee and thanked them and Scriven for their hard work. The board responded with an extended round of applause.

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