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Recommendations emphasize technological competence

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‘These are issues we believe needed board attention sooner rather than later’

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A short report from one of the Vision 2016 commission’s committees at the Board of Governors’ March 27 meeting showed how much that commission may revolutionize the Bar and the practice of law.

John Stewart Within a few minutes, board member John Stewart, chair of Vision 2016’s Technology Committee, said that committee is:

* Recommending that the comment to the Bar rule on professional competence be changed to include competence with technology related to a lawyer’s areas of practice.

* Planning to recommend that the Bar’s CLE requirement be increased by 20 percent with the extra time being devoted to technology courses.

* Recommending that the Special Committee on Technology become a permanent standing Bar committee.

* Recommending that a new board-level technology committee be created. Stewart said it would be the first new board committee in years, perhaps decades.

* Planning to recommend that the Bar should look to getting in the business, perhaps with private company partners, of online lawyer referrals and the providing of online legal documents. Stewart said the goal would be helping lawyers find new business and providing legal services to the 60 percent of the public who do not qualify for legal aid and cannot afford traditional legal services.

The board approved in concept creating the two new committees and Stewart said more of the recommendations will come to the board at its May meeting.

“These are issues we believe needed board attention sooner rather than later,” Stewart said at the start of his presentation.

On technological competence and increasing the CLE requirement, Stewart noted the ABA three years ago added a comment to the model rules that lawyers should stay up on the benefits and risks of technology relevant to their practice areas. While 13 states have modified their rules to follow the ABA model, The Florida Bar has not, Stewart said, although there is a formal ethics opinion on the issue.

The committee is proposing, he continued, amending the comment to the Bar’s competence rule to say lawyers should have technological competence in their practice area and also understand issues relating to preserving the confidentiality of electronic communications.

“One thing you can expect our committee to recommend is you cannot practice law competently if you don’t have a basic level of technological competence in your practice area,” Stewart said.

That in turn led to a review of CLE requirements.

“Right now we have 30 hours of required CLE every three years. Our committee has recommended that be increased to 36 hours,” Stewart said. “It’s because we felt there needed to be a mandatory technology CLE component and we didn’t feel you could do that within 30 hours and still properly accomplish all your other CLE requirements.”

He added that the committee collected CLE information from 45 other states and found only one requires less than the 10-hour annual average that the Bar mandates, and five other states along with Florida have the 10-hour standard. Thirty-eight states require more.

Three of four neighboring states — Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina — require 36 hours and the fourth mandates 42 hours. Likewise, among other large state bars, New York requires 36 hours and Texas requires 45, he said.

Also, unlike many other states, Florida does not have a requirement that at least some CLE be obtained by in-person attendance at courses, and that will make it easier to comply with a higher standard.

“That ability to get CLE in Florida is very easy; it’s on demand online; it’s 24/7,” Stewart said.

The Vision 2016 Technology Committee recommended making the Special Committee on Technology a standing committee and creating the new board-level technology committee because of the continuing important role technology will play in the practice of law, Stewart said. That recommendation on the two committees was conceptually approved by the board’s Program Evaluation Committee the day before the board met.

The board committee will endeavour to implement Vision 2016 technology-related proposals, be a liaison to the Florida Courts Technology Commission that oversees the technological upgrade of the court system, and “do other things that frankly can only be done at the Board of Governors level,” Stewart said.

Bar President Greg Coleman said the two committees are important.

“When Vision 2016 ends, we can’t just put the report on a shelf. We need to keep technology at the board level. And the board needs to know what’s going on from a practice perspective and from a visionary, future perspective,” he said.

The plan is for both committees to meet at the Bar’s Fall and Winter meetings and the Annual Convention and work closely together, with the standing committee providing the “worker bee” functions, Coleman said.

The board unanimously approved that recommendation in concept. Details about the committees’ membership, mission, and interactions will now be drafted and returned to the PEC and board for final approval.

In regard to online referral services and legal document companies, Stewart said they are taking an ever-growing share of the legal marketplace, adding that President-elect Ramón Abadin has assembled extensive information on that subject.

“It’s an access-to-justice issue, but it’s also a lawyer employment issue,” Stewart said. “On the lawyer referral component, our committee will recommend that The Florida Bar get in that business in a meaningful way. The Florida Bar has a lawyer referral service. . . it was never intended to do what we are asking it to do. We’re going to suggest The Florida Bar get in that business, whether it be licensing with one of these companies or whether it be on our own.”

Likewise, he said the committee will propose that the Bar look at the document generation business. He noted companies are now offering a wide range of documents and even the court system’s portal for electronic filing will have the ability to generate some simplified documents for pro se litigants.

“We have to get in that marketplace for our young lawyers and our lawyers who feel [they can help]. It’s a big, big issue,” Stewart said. “Our committee is going to make aggressive recommendations, and we are going to ask this board to make decisions in their representative capacities.”

In response to a question from President Coleman, Stewart said he expects to have some of the committee’s proposals ready for board review at its May 22 meeting.

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