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Rules will allow credit card fees to be passed to clients

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Bar members may pass along banking fees and other related expenses when accepting credit card payments from clients. That’s one of several Bar rule amendments, effective March 5, recently approved by the Supreme Court.

The court adopted most of the rule amendments proposed by the Bar, although it rejected one that would have given the Bar the discretion on whether to report a member’s felony to the court.

Another change allows the Bar and its various subdivisions to engage in electronic meetings.

The court acted on the Bar’s 2018 biennial rules package in a January 4 ruling.

On the credit card charge, the court approved adding language to Rule 4-1.5(h), which prohibits charging clients a higher fee for using a credit card. The new verbiage says, “Lawyers may charge clients the actual charge the credit plan imposes on the lawyer for the client’s transaction.”

Tampa lawyer Griffin Klema, who first requested that the Board of Governors revisit the credit card fee issue, praised the decision.

“I am pleased that Floridians now have greater freedoms to arrange their legal and business affairs according to market norms,” Klema said. “While the rule change expressly allows for lawyers to pass along credit card fees to clients, the spirit of my request was to pave the way for non-client individuals and businesses to satisfy judgments or settlement obligations with their preferred form of payment — thereby enhancing dispute resolution.”

The court did not accept all of the Bar’s recommendations on Rule 3-7.2. It did approve amendments clarifying that attorneys must report criminal charges and any judgment to the Bar. However, the court rejected a provision on the Bar reporting felonies to the court — which triggers an automatic interim suspension — which the Bar proposed so that it would have discretion not to report if the finding of guilt did not show intent on the lawyer’s part.

“[W]e find that the seriousness of having been found guilty of a felony offense militates in favor of this Court retaining the ability to review the circumstances surrounding the finding of guilt,” justices said in the unanimous per curiam opinion. “. . . . We note, however, that any concern that a sanction resulting from having been found guilty of a felony offense that requires no intent will be too severe is addressed by the procedures already present in the rule; subdivision (h) provides that the matter will be referred to a referee who can make a recommendation to the Court as to the appropriate sanction for the attorney’s conduct, which the Court considers in imposing the final discipline.”

The court accepted the Bar’s recommended amendments to Rules 2-3.11, 2-9.2, and 2-9.6 on electronic meetings. “Specifically, Bar Rule 2-3.11 is renamed to ‘Electronic Meetings’ and is rewritten to explicitly allow the Bar and divisions thereof to conduct electronic meetings,” the court said. The other two rules amendments were written to address governing rules and parliamentary procedures for these and other Bar meetings.

Other amendments approved by the court include:

• Changing Rule 20-3.1 to create a new subdivision to allow lawyers licensed and in good standing in other states to register as a Florida Registered Paralegal without having to meet the minimum paralegal work experience requirement.

• Attorneys seeking reinstatement after long suspensions, which require them to retake all or part of the bar exam, must show evidence they have taken and passed the exam before applying for reinstatement.

• Requiring, in Rule 1-3.7, retired or annual fee or CLE delinquent lawyers seeking to return to active status to take 11 instead of 10 CLE credits for each year, or part of the year they were retired or delinquent. This comports with the recent increase in active Bar members CLE requirement from 30 to 33 hours every three years.

• Requiring in the certification rule (Chapter 6) that one of the five credits that must be devoted every three years to ethics, professionalism, bias elimination, substance abuse, or mental illness awareness must address professionalism.

The court acted in In re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar — Biennial Petition, Case No. SC18-1683.