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Board takes up advertising, member benefits, and tech support helpline issues

Senior Editor Top Stories
Michael Tanner

Mike Tanner

At a July 23 meeting on Miami Beach, the Board of Governors, among other things, learned that negotiations are underway for a permanent tech support helpline, approved new member benefits, and decided that Bar advertising rules shouldn’t grant celebrity status to UF mascots “Albert” and “Alberta” alligator.

President Michael Tanner began the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the June 24 Surfside condominium tower collapse, then introduced Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. A veteran Florida Bar member and social worker, Levine Cava vowed to find the cause of the disaster.

“We all need to know and want to know what went wrong, to make sure it never happens again,” she said.

She praised Tanner and the board for launching a professionalism initiative, something she said the city’s 28,000 workers demonstrated in their widely praised disaster response.

“We all have the power to make a difference, and I know that’s why you serve The Florida Bar,” she said.

Florida Supreme Court Justice John Couriel also delivered brief remarks, before swearing in several board members who were unable to attend a June ceremony.

Tech Support Helpline

Paige Greenlee

Paige Greenlee

Later in the meeting, Board Technology Committee Chair Paige Greenlee reported that a recent three-month “beta” test of a Florida Bar Tech Support Helpline was an unqualified success.

Surveys showed that Bar members who called for help with their mostly routine IT problems were more than satisfied, Greenlee said.

“Overwhelmingly, this project is something that our members really, really appreciated,” she said. “Members begged for it in the comments to the survey.”

The Board Technology Committee began researching the concept last year while it was working with the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force on a variety of projects to help members cope with the health crisis.

In January, the board voted unanimously to award a contract to Law Tech Partners for a three-month test. In May, then Board Technology Committee Chair Jay Kim reported that Law Tech Partners had received nearly 80 calls for service less than half-way through the trial period.

During the pandemic, President Dori Foster-Morales noted that technology was among the top three challenges that members cited in a series of virtual town halls she conducted in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits.

However, a Bar survey appeared to contradict those results. It asked how likely respondents would be to use a “remote computer/repair tech support initially for free, followed by a reduced fee,” if it were offered as a Bar member benefit. Only 8% responded “very likely,” 14% responded “somewhat likely,” and 59% responded “unlikely.” Another 19% indicated they were unsure.

The service was promoted primarily to the solo and small firm members who typically can’t afford a full-time IT staff. Law Tech Partners owner Adriana Linares, a legal technology consultant and trainer, offers a similar service as a member benefit to the San Diego County Bar Association.

Greenlee said the committee voted the day before to “explore options” to adding the service to the Member Benefits Program.

Lawyer Advertising

Wayne LaRue Smith

Wayne LaRue Smith

In other business, Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics Chair Wayne Smith said his panel had voted 9-0 to reverse a Standing Committee on Advertising decision that found a law firm’s use of UF mascots in a series of TV ads impermissible.

At issue is Bar Rule 4-7.15 (c), which prohibits lawyers from using advertisements that feature celebrity images or voices.

The ads, submitted for review by Meldon Law, show the firm’s founders walking across the UF football field with the mascots, who in some scenes wave “Meldon Law” signs. One ad features the mascots and lawyers exchanging UF and Meldon Law jerseys.

The firm argued, among other things, that the rule “only applies to individuals” and that “Albert” and “Alberta” alligators are make-believe.

Smith said the committee was persuaded by the firm’s argument after reviewing the comment to the rule, which refers to a celebrity as either an “individual” or a “person.”

“We concluded that in the comments to the rule, the prohibition that a celebrity is an individual…typically doesn’t apply to a stuffed animal,” Smith said.

With board member Brian Burgoon abstaining, the board voted to approve the committee recommendation, with no discussion.

Member Benefits

In other business, the board also approved adding two services to the Member Benefits Program.

Coaxis Hosting Solutions, which maintains a data center in Tallahassee, offers “a secure, remote connection to your hosted data,” the company boasts on its website. “We provide fully managed hosting, IaaS, hybrid cloud, back up, file sync and share, and encrypted/compliant communications.”

The company would offer Bar members discounts based on the type of service. For example, for QuickBooks Hosting, Coaxis would offer a monthly, recurring discount equal to 2.5% of the monthly retail price of $49 per user, per month.

The Florida Bar would receive royalties based on the types of services Bar members purchase. For example, for QuickBooks Hosting, Coaxis would pay The Florida Bar a monthly recurring royalty equal to 2.5% of the member’s monthly gross service fees that have been paid to Coaxis.

The other proposed member benefit, “Hire an Esquire,” bills itself as a “resource for law firms and in-house legal departments to find on-demand contract talent.”

“Hire an Esquire has over 13,000 vetted attorneys, paralegals, and associates available to assist with cases at a moment’s notice,” according to company literature. “All their participating attorneys are screened and go through a psychological assessment to ensure they are a good cultural fit for the job.”

The company would offer Florida Bar members $150 off their first project via “a unique link or code.” The Florida Bar would receive 1% of gross profits generated by members that sign up with Hire an Esquire for a period of two years post signup.

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