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Professionalism review panel to present recommendations in March

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'Professionalism needs to be front and center at all times, because we know it defines who we are as lawyers'

Gary Lesser

Gary Lesser

The Special Committee for the Review of Professionalism in Florida expects to deliver its final recommendations in March, President-elect Gary Lesser told the Board of Governors.

Lesser, who serves as co-chair, told the board at a December 3 meeting that the committee has decided on a final game plan for implementing one of President Michael Tanner’s top priorities.

“One thing President Tanner has emphasized is swing for the bleachers….and that’s what we intend to do,” Lesser said.

Lesser was joined in his presentation by Co-Chair Elizabeth Hunter and Bar staff liaison Alan Pascal, a chief disciplinary branch counsel.

Lesser said three subcommittees are focusing on the main components of the mission — enhancing the definition, education, and enforcement of professionalism.

Lesser stressed that the committee’s recommendations will be impactful — and include proposed administrative orders for the Supreme Court to consider.

“The word is deliverables,” Lesser said. “Professionalism needs to be front and center at all times, because we know it defines who we are as lawyers.”

Hunter, who is overseeing the education component, said the committee has been reviewing all aspects of a legal career, from the law school admission process to continuing legal education requirements.

The committee is considering a Florida Bar-produced video that law professors could present to their students, Hunter said.

“It would give the opportunity for a question-and-answer session with the professors, and also provide written materials for any follow up discussions,” she said.

Another proposal would require law schools to file annual reports with the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism, Hunter said.

“So that there’s some kind of expectation that annually the law schools will be reporting to the center their professionalism programs and any issues that they’ve encountered with professionalism issues and infractions with their conduct code,” Hunter said.

The committee may recommend a Bar-produced professionalism CLE that could be accessed remotely, but demand more of participants than watching a video, Hunter said.

“Not a ballroom,” Hunter said. “But a live virtual forum where you actually have to sit there and be engaged, and answer questions.”

Pascal told the board that the enforcement committee has focused on local professionalism panels established by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The panels are voluntary and lack authority to discipline an attorney, but can be effective at early intervention, supporters say.

“We wanted out of the box to conduct fact finding and determine whether the local professionalism panels, which were mandated by the Supreme Court, were working or not,” he said.

Initial results were discouraging, Pascal said. Some panels function well, but others have gone inactive for lack of referrals.

Locating all of the chairs proved to be daunting, Pascal said.

“I think it’s fair to say that it was contemplated that the subcommittee recommendation might even include completely doing away with local professionalism panels if they weren’t working,” he said.

But the subcommittee’s perspective changed after conducting a meeting of the panel chairs, Pascal said.

“This process proved tremendously informative and instrumental for the subcommittee,” he said. “The consensus among the subcommittee completely changed after that meeting.”

The committee is likely to propose an administrative order that would make the panels more “robust, active, accountable, and most importantly, more uniform, and also uniform on how they’re structured,” he said.

Confidentiality remains a chief concern, Pascal said. The committee would also like to see more rigorous data collection to measure performance, he said.

Lesser said the standards subcommittee he oversees found a wealth of professionalism-related resource materials, but much of it was scattered across different platforms.

“What we quickly discovered is that you can’t even find some of this information quickly, even if you’re looking for it,” Lesser said. “And that’s not acceptable.”

The subcommittee is considering creating a website to make the material more easily accessible.

Tanner reminded the board members that their constituents are eager to see results.

“If you recall, the survey that we did of our members in January, we asked, ‘What was the single greatest challenge in the legal profession today?’” Tanner said. “And the number one response? Lack of ethics and professionalism.”

Bar members listed the same answer when asked about the biggest challenge to their individual practice, Tanner said.

“Our members want this, and as Gary said, the judges want this,” Tanner said. “It will make a difference.”