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Open hearing will explore reciprocity

Managing Editor Regular News

The Florida Bar will host an open hearing for Bar members on Friday, September 18 at 1 p.m., at the Tampa Airport Marriott, with the goal of providing an opportunity for member feedback on admission by motion and reciprocity

This forum will coincide with The Florida Bar Fall Meeting of Rules & Other Select Committees, September 16-19, and is part of the broader effort to discuss Vision 2016, a comprehensive study addressing the future practice of law across four key areas: Legal Education, Technology, Bar Admissions, and Access to Legal Services.

A draft preliminary report from the Bar Admissions Committee recommends that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners consider an admission by motion rule based on reciprocity that would allow a lawyer in good standing from another jurisdiction who has practiced five out of the last seven years to apply to become a member of The Florida Bar without examination if all other requirements are met, including a character and fitness review.

Ramon Abadin “Change in the legal profession is inevitable. As lawyers, it is our nature to analyze important topics, engage in meaningful dialogue and determine the right path forward — and that’s exactly what we hope to achieve during this open forum,” said Florida Bar President Ramón Abadin. “Florida is one of the fastest-growing states in the country and a center for international business, so if anyone should be taking the lead in these discussions, it’s us.”

Abadin adds that, while the issue of admission by motion/reciprocity has garnered widespread attention in recent weeks, it is only one of many important topics being studied as part of the Vision 2016 process. The other topics include addressing legal education within the state; supporting Florida’s struggling young attorneys; and identifying the issues presented by “do-it-yourself” nonlawyer legal services through emerging technologies.

The rule change would also provide full protection of the public by bringing out-of-state lawyers admitted by motion under the Supreme Court of Florida’s regulatory authority.

“In this fast-changing environment, Florida and its lawyers, cannot afford to become any more isolated on these issues,” according to the Admissions Committee’s draft preliminary report.

The committee’s suggestions come with several restrictions, including:

* Applicants must have a J.D. or LL.B. degree from an accredited law school.

* Applicants must be admitted in another jurisdiction which requires passing a bar exam as a condition of admission.

* Applicants must have actively practiced for five of the previous seven years.

* Applicants must not have failed the Florida bar exam within the previous five years.

* Applicants must be in good standing in all of the jurisdictions where they are licensed.

* Applicants must not have any pending grievance actions in any jurisdiction.

* Applicants must pass the Florida Board of Bar Examiners’ character and fitness review.

The draft preliminary report said it was clear that Florida is an outlier on this issue and committee members were forced to consider whether Florida’s barrier to admission by motion or other forms of more lenient cross-border practice were truly needed to protect the public or whether the barriers were “a relic of the past,” primarily designed to protect Florida Bar members from increased competition.

“The issue became one of whether increased mobility of all lawyers — both Florida Bar members and out-of-state lawyers — was a laudable goal and whether it could be accomplished while providing adequate protection to the public,” the draft preliminary report said. “In its final analysis, the committee determined that erecting barriers to cross-border practice was no longer practical in today’s mobile society and that increased competition was not a principled reason for continuing such barriers.”

The committee also determined that “our own members need and deserve the ability to serve their clients in other states, or to move to other states without having to retake a bar examination if it benefits them personally or professionally.”

The committee concluded these rules that permit cross-border practice and mobility could be designed for maximum consumer protection and, under a well-designed approach, public protection would not suffer.

An admission by motion rule would allow clients to use counsel of their choice; would allow members of The Florida Bar to serve clients who may have legal issues in other states; and would enable members of The Florida Bar to have increased mobility and be able to more easily practice law in other jurisdictions, the report said.

One of the most common flashpoints when analyzing whether Florida should adopt admission by motion is the perceived competitive disadvantage that will be experienced by Florida lawyers due to increased competition from out-of-state lawyers, the committee’s preliminary report said.

“Although the committee does not take this perception lightly, its analysis of trends in other states that have adopted admission by motion has not uncovered any empirical data that ‘local’ lawyers are unduly disadvantaged by admission by motion,” the draft preliminary report said. “This is particularly so when balanced against the fact that the profession’s first priority should be to serve clients rather than perpetuate protectionist concerns of the bar.”

The committee “intentionally left blank” the mechanics and administration of an admission by motion rule so they can be determined by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.

Eugene Pettis, the 2013-14 Florida Bar president and an architect of Vision 2016, said it is “absolutely critical” that all members of the Bar engage in these conversations so the Bar can “get this right.”

“The Florida Bar has never, and will never, make any unilateral decisions without following a rigorous and transparent process or without ample input from its membership and a majority vote from its Board of Governors,” Pettis said. “But if we shut down the conversation before it even begins, we not only do a disservice to the many voices within our community, but we also risk becoming obsolete as a profession.”

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