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Legal lab, paralegal duties addressed by special committee

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InnovationTinkering with its proposed legal lab for testing innovative legal services and approving in concept supporting a pilot to allow supervised paralegals to provide more help to clients occupied the Special Committee to Improve the Delivery of Legal Services at its May 25 meeting.

The committee is working to complete its final report, due to the Supreme Court and the Bar Board of Governors by July 1.

The panel is charged by the Supreme Court with studying “whether and how the rules governing the practice of law in Florida may be revised to improve the delivery of legal services to Florida’s consumers and to assure Florida lawyers play a proper and prominent role in the provision of these services.”

The committee has approved in concept setting up a “legal lab” under the court for testing innovative programs. Such labs have recently been set up in Utah and Arizona and one has been in operation for several years in Great Britain. California is also considering a lab.

Committee member Josias Dewey, chair of the subcommittee working on the lab, said the panel wanted to make clear that just because an idea had been presented to the committee and not included in the final report, it would not automatically be rejected as a test project in the lab.

The lab is intended to be an experimental area where participants can seek waivers from Bar rules upon showing there will still be strong consumer protections and with oversight and data collection to show their programs are effective and helping clients.

“One of the concerns we talked about in our last subcommittee meeting was making clear in whatever report we produce that the fact that we may not have recommended changes should not be viewed as any type of restriction on the types of business models that can participate in our lab,” Dewey said.

Other committee members agreed with that position, and the committee is continuing to refine the legal lab proposal.

On the advanced paralegal program, committee member Sarah Sullivan, who chairs the subcommittee on paralegals, said the subcommittee has approved a concept that would allow Florida Registered Paralegals, working under an attorney’s supervision, to perform an expanded scope of work for clients.

Sullivan said the subcommittee has prepared an outline — not a rule change. The pilot could be part of the legal lab or run separately from it, she added.

“This is a recommendation for a potential pilot program,” Sullivan said. “The special committee doesn’t have any particular idea on who would apply to be part of this, so this potential pilot could be a clerk’s office or a law office or some other organization that might want to put it into the lab to see how it works….

“It authorizes paraprofessionals to do more work for people who wouldn’t normally have the benefit of an attorney. These are not what we would call the regular or normal clients of the firm,” she said. “…. The report would make it clear it’s approved [by the committee] in concept. It is not a rule change and it would be up to the court to decide whether to implement it, how to implement it — is it a pilot, is it a pilot within the lab?”

The special committee voted unanimously to approve that concept.

The committee also heard a report from Santo DiGangi about amendments to the advertising rules that were recently approved by the board and amendments that will soon be considered by the board. DiGangi reminded the committee members that the changes to the advertising rules they approved are in concept only an example of how the rules could be condensed without changing the underlying intent and the protection for the public from false or deceptive ads.

Lori Holcomb, consultant for the committee, said the text will be in an appendix, not the main part of the report along with a note that the proposal has not gone through the regular process for amending Bar rules.

The special committee is scheduled to meet again on June 10, June 17, and June 24 as it wraps up its report.

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