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Lawyers stepping up to assist recent law graduates

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Gavel SmallPresident Dori Foster-Morales is urging Bar members to follow her lead and hire one or more of the 3,000 law students whose lives have been upended by repeated delays of the bar exam.

A University of Florida law school alumnus, Foster-Morales made the plea at an August 21 meeting of the Criminal Law Section’s executive council.

“I have reached out to UF to get me a law student,” Foster-Morales said. “I would encourage you to bring these law students into your firms.”

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners oversees the exams and admissions process, Foster-Morales said, but Bar members should consider helping law students “who are in purgatory through no fault of their own.”

Foster-Morales addressed executive council members two days after Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a video-taped apology for administrative failures to adapt the admissions process to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The chief justice said that while he could not guarantee a flawless effort, “one way or another, there will be an October administration of the bar exam.”

The FBBE, the Supreme Court, and The Florida Bar have been working together to develop a supervised practice program that would allow applicants/recent law school graduates to work temporarily under the supervision of a lawyer.

Justice Canady acknowledged that the solution was a “stopgap,” but the Dade County Bar Association is seizing on an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

“We have begun a pilot program to provide that supervision, help you learn the practice of law, and earn a living: The DCBA Low-Bono Supervised Practice Pilot Program,” DCBA President Jane Muir said in a letter to applicants.

The program will serve low-income Floridians who earn too much to qualify for Dade Legal Aid assistance, but can’t afford a lawyer to help with family law matters, Muir said.

Details of the program are still being worked out, Muir said, but Lawyer Referral Service Committee Chair Adrian Acosta will train program participants with webinars and offer them “hands-on assistance.”

“Family law matters are able to be taken to trial virtually (via Zoom), so it will likely be possible for you to handle every step of a matter,” Muir said in the letter.

The day before the Criminal Law Section’s executive council meeting, more than 50 Bar members and applicants filed In Re: Petition for an Emergency Rule for a Supervised Practice and Pathway to Admission to The Florida Bar Without Examination with the Supreme Court.

Miami attorney Brian Tannebaum, a past president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and one of the authors of the petition, told CLS members that the proposal would allow applicants to work for six months under the supervision of an attorney, similar to a certified legal intern program.

“This is just basically a continuation of the CLI program, that’s just what it is,” Tannebaum said. “Let’s allow them to earn a living, supervised by lawyers, and let the Bar Examiners figure out the exam.”

Timing is critical, Tannebaum said, because law school graduates are facing student loan repayments and can’t begin work in their chosen field without the examination. Some are already in a financial crisis, he said.

“It’s just one heartbreaking story after another,” Tannebaum said.

Justice Canady deserves praise for a pandemic response that has kept the courts functioning during the pandemic, Tannebaum said. But he said Florida needs a rule for the admissions process that anticipates natural disasters.

“There is no governing rule for what’s going on right now,” he said. “This is about any significant emergency that Florida may have.”

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