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Special Committee for the Review of Professionalism is preparing recommendations

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Gary Lesser

Gary Lesser

A special committee of Bar leaders is big step closer to completing a comprehensive review of professionalism in the practice of law, and how to strengthen it, said President-elect Gary Lesser.

“We’re going to be presenting a status report of where we’re at,” Lesser said. “It won’t be like previous reports, it will be a more detailed road map.”

Lesser, a veteran West Palm Beach attorney, co-chairs the Special Committee for the Review of Professionalism in Florida. He intends to describe the final stages of the committee’s work to the Board of Governors when it meets December 3 on Amelia Island.

When he announced the committee at his swearing-in ceremony in June, President Mike Tanner charged it with recommending ways to improve the definition, training and enforcement of professionalism.

Anticipating an effort that would require Supreme Court approval, and extend beyond his tenure, Tanner appointed Lesser, his successor, as co-chair.

Three subcommittees are preparing recommendations, and the committee intends to present a final report that encompasses them for board approval in March, Lesser said.

The 20-member panel is co-chaired by Stuart attorney Elizabeth Hunter, who also chairs the standing Committee on Professionalism.  The committee includes a former Florida Bar ethics counsel, a veteran appellate judge, legal scholars, and others.

The Florida Supreme Court described the integrated standards for professionalism in In Re Code for Resolving Professionalism Complaints, Case No. SC 13-688.

The justices defined them as:

  • The Florida Bar Professionalism Expectations.
  • The Florida Bar Oath of Professionalism.
  • The Florida Bar Creed of Professionalism.
  • The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.
  • The decisions of the Florida Supreme Court.

Lesser said the committee is considering ways to better promote the standards and make them more easily accessible, possibly through a dedicated webpage.

When it comes to professionalism education, the committee is studying ways to provide “meaningful professionalism education in the everyday practice of law,” Lesser said.

“There has been preliminary contact with the law schools, which are very interested,” Lesser said. “It’s better to start these discussions and thought processes with law school students, than later on in their career.”

In terms of continuing education requirements, the committee is considering developing “Florida Bar-directed professionalism videos on a variety of topics that would be a way to satisfy professionalism CLE requirements.”

When it comes to enforcement, Lesser is convinced that local professionalism panels that exist in each circuit, are key. An enforcement subcommittee recently convened a meeting of the chairs of every local professionalism panel, or their designees.

The committee is studying ways to give the panels more uniform procedures, and make more Bar members aware they exist, Lesser said.

Lesser chaired a pioneering local professionalism panel in the 15th Circuit in 1990s, before the Supreme Court established them in 2015.

The panels lack disciplinary authority but have proven to be valuable tools for correcting errant behavior before it rises to the level of formal complaint, Lesser said.

“I saw many occasions where these lawyers felt bad, and actually ended becoming friends with the lawyer that they had a problem with, because there was a forum to get these issues resolved without the full weight of discipline,” he said.

 

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