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Presidential Perspectives: Rutledge R. Liles 1988-89

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Rutledge R. Liles

Rutledge R. Liles

As part of a project to document the history of The Florida Bar, the former presidents were asked to comment on the same three questions. In this series, the News will share their answers, some of which were edited or condensed.

Q: How would you like to be remembered as a lawyer and a former Bar president?

Rutledge Liles: As a lawyer — Hard working, professional, and ethical.

As a former Bar president — My focus was on professionalism. About four months before assuming office, I formed a commission to study the state of the practice of law in Florida and focus attention on how our professionalism could be improved. It has been [31] years since I left office, and I am sure there may be more; however, I can not recall the various things we accomplished during my year. I do recall that during my presidency I initiated the publishing of our Oath of Attorney in The Florida Bar Journal on a monthly basis with the hope that lawyers might read it on occasion.

Q: How do you think the legal profession has changed over the years?

Liles: During my year as president, our Bar had about 40,000 lawyers. It has now grown to more than 100,000. When I graduated from law school in 1966, Florida Statutes consisted of three volumes, with one being the index. There are now six volumes, one of which is the index. Obviously, law has become far more complex, and the practice of law much more specialized. There is no longer such a thing as a “general practitioner.” When I started, I did about everything — not so today. In my first job, my hourly rate was $20 per hour. Today, hourly rates for lawyers are astronomical. Only a few can afford to hire a lawyer.

In my opinion, advertising has had a terrible influence on the way the public views lawyers. We are constantly bombarded with television ads to sue at the drop of a hat.  I, as well as other presidents, were outspoken in our opposition to advertising, all to no avail. We have become an extraordinarily litigious society, and that is not good. It has taken on the semblance of a lottery: “Does not necessarily matter if you have a legitimate lawsuit, go ahead and file, and you might win something.”

Q: What suggestions do you have for improving the profession or for young lawyers?

Liles: I am often asked by parents or grandparents whether a child or grandchild should pursue a earner in law. My advice, given the fact that there are simply not enough jobs to go around, is to pursue a joint JD/MBA degree. With that in hand, the oppo1tunities for employment are enhanced.

As regards young lawyers, a large number who are unable to find placement, open an office on their own. There is no mentorship, no “sage advice” from a more senior lawyer, and problems with ethics come about because they simply don’t know better.

I don’t know if there are any easy solutions, but we do have some serious problems.

(Editor’s Note: President Liles, who practices in Jacksonville, provided the answers to these questions in May 2018)

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