Special Committee on Mentoring New Lawyers updates board on its work
'We’re creating guided worksheets to facilitate dialogue, and turning dialogue into action. In addition to those activities, we are going to be requiring the mentee to go out there and get some practical experience'
Convening virtually after Hurricane Ian postponed a September meeting, the Board of Governors received an update on a mentoring program for beginning lawyers and approved a handful of proposed rule amendments.
President Gary Lesser began the October 24 meeting expressing sorrow for storm victims and praising the many Bar members who rushed to their aid. The Young Lawyers Division deserves special praise, Lesser said, for raising donations, delivering relief supplies, and organizing and staffing legal hotlines.
“It’s going to take a long time to rebuild, so our thoughts are with our members and everyone who lives in that area,” Lesser said. “There have been significant boots on the ground. Please join me in a round of applause for YLD’s great efforts.”
Later in the morning, Lesser asked Clearwater attorney Zack Zuroweste, a former YLD president, to give a progress report on the Special Committee on Mentoring New Lawyers that he co-chairs. Lesser appointed the committee in June and directed it to create a program for lawyers with three or less years of experience and who work in firms of three or fewer attorneys.
Co-Chair Katherine Hurst Miller of New Smyrna Beach is also a former YLD president. The committee includes several board members and Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller, a former First District Court of Appeal judge whose public service career includes time as associate deputy attorney general and Florida’s chief technology officer.
Zuroweste said the committee reviewed mentoring programs from across the country and found many of them wanting. Some use paper records and rely on bar staff and volunteers to match mentees with mentors, he said.
“Fortune 500 companies leverage technology and data,” he said. “They put people together who have enough in common to facilitate a successful program.”
The committee has chosen a vendor that offers app-based mentoring for Fortune 500 companies, Zuroweste said. Meanwhile, the committee is designing a curriculum that will guide participants through “milestones,” such as career planning, lawyer/client relationships, lawyer advertising, and local civic and charitable service.
“We’re creating guided worksheets to facilitate dialogue, and turning dialogue into action,” he said. “In addition to those activities, we are going to be requiring the mentee to go out there and get some practical experience.”
Zuroweste said he and Miller will offer more details when the board meets in December on Amelia Island. The goal is to improve professionalism and reduce lawyer discipline, Zuroweste said.
“You probably heard [Lesser] say that we are going to create the best mentoring program in the nation,” Zuroweste said. “We are going to take the charge seriously.”
Lesser said that the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of job opportunities has forced many recent law school graduates to team up with classmates or open a solo practices with little or no courtroom experience and without the guidance of more experienced lawyers.
“A program like this is going to be impactful,” Lesser said.
In other business, the board voted to uphold a staff opinion that a North Florida law firm’s TV ads, which feature child actors portraying insurance agents, are not permissible under Bar rules.
The ads depict the agents being intimidated by the law firm’s tough reputation, and feature a firm lawyer stating, “remember the name that they don’t want to hear: [the name of the firm].”
Bar staff determined the ads are “inherently deceptive or misleading and impermissible under Bar Rule 4-7.13(a), and a comparison of a lawyer’s services that “could not be objectively verified” in violation of Rule 4-7.13(b)(3).
The Standing Committee on Advertising voted 6-0 to overturn the staff determination after the advertising firm agreed to remove a line of dialogue in which an agent says — “let’s do our best to settle.”
The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics later determined that the Standing Committee on Advertising decision conflicted with a Board of Governors’ decision in a previous advertising case.
YLD President Iris Elijah also urged Bar members to continue contributing to hurricane relief efforts.
“We have not only raised funds to buy supplies for people impacted by Hurricane Ian, but every other week, we are personally delivering supplies,” she said. “We need help for the legal assistance hotline.”
Lawyers are especially needed to help answer landlord/tenant questions, Elijah said.
“We have people needing our help, and we’re not answering the call,” she said.
Those willing to volunteer their time and legal experience may visit The Florida Bar YLD’s website for more information and to register for the legal assistance hotline.
In other business, the board voted to accept the following:
- A Civil Procedure Rules Committee proposal to amend Rule 1.110 (General Rules of Pleading). The proposed amendment would “require pleadings with affirmative defenses to contain a short and plain statement of the ultimate facts supporting the affirmative defense,” according to a staff analysis.
- A Family Law Rules Committee proposal to amend Form 12.975 (a) (Petition for Grandparent Visitation with Minor Children), Form 12.975 (b) (Petition for Grandparent Visitation with Minor Children When One Parent Has Been Found Criminally or Civilly Liable for the Death of the Other Parent), and Form 12.975(c) (Order on Grandparent Petition for Visitation with Minor Children). The proposed amendments were prompted by recent legislation.