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Serving the public.

The concept of service at The Florida Bar extends beyond membership services. The bar is active in many areas which jointly affect our membership, the legal profession as a whole, and the society in which we live. These programs are premised upon one or more of the purposes stated at the beginning of this presentation. Just as with our membership programs, maximum service is the cornerstone of their existence. Among them are...

Fee Arbitration--Most complaints specifically regarding attorney's fees are addressed by the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar--Chapter 14 (Fee Arbitration Rule). When a complainant indicates that a dispute involves an illegal or clearly excessive fee, the Bar may pursue that claim through its regulatory system. Otherwise, the client should contact the fee arbitration administrator in an attempt to resolve the dispute. The statewide Fee Arbitration Program is voluntary and depends on both the client and lawyer agreeing to have their fee dispute settled by a sole arbitrator or a panel composed of lawyer and citizen members. The fee arbitration program also addresses fee disputes between attorneys. Upon proper filing of a request for arbitration, the matter is referred by the circuit arbitration committee chairperson to: 1) a sole arbitrator when the amount in controversy is $2,500 or less, or 2) a panel of three, consisting of at least one lawyer and at least one nonlawyer, when the amount exceeds $2,500. If arbitration is not an option, a fee dispute may require resolution through the courts.

Grievance Procedure--Inquiries into the conduct of an attorney may be initiated by a member of the public, the Bar, or any other person who has information regarding alleged misconduct. Inquiries are reviewed by Bar staff attorneys and if a possible violation is indicated, the inquiry is treated as a complaint.

Supreme Court rules require that complaints be in writing and signed under penalty of perjury. The Bar may proceed with a complaint in its own name without a sworn complaint. If the complaint cannot be proved or does not warrant discipline, Bar attorneys may dismiss the complaint. The complaint may be referred to a local grievance committee composed of lawyers and nonlawyers located in the area where the attorney practices or the events occurred.

The grievance committee is responsible for continuing the investigation of possible lawyer misconduct. If the committee finds probable cause to believe unprofessional conduct has occurred and that further proceedings are warranted, a formal complaint against the accused attorney is filed with the Supreme Court of Florida. The court then appoints a judge as a referee to hear the case.

The referee hears testimony and receives evidence. Bar attorneys act as prosecutors before the referee and the attorney involved is entitled to participate in the trial and may be represented by counsel.

The referee makes a report regarding the findings of fact and guilt or innocence, and recommends the disciplinary sanction to be imposed on the attorney. This report is filed with the Supreme Court of Florida. The report may be reviewed by the Board of Governors to decide whether the Bar will appeal. The court will ultimately issue an order regarding disciplinary sanctions which may include diversion, an admonishment, a public reprimand, suspension, disbarment, or accept a disciplinary resignation.

Alternative Resolutions of Complaints-ACAP: A program designed to screen complaints and assist in resolving minor problems that do not rise to the level of an ethical complaint. ACAP serves as an information clearinghouse to direct such complaints to the proper agency, program, or Bar committee. See page 26.

Diversion: The removal of a disciplinary matter from the disciplinary system and placement of the matter into a skills enhancement program in lieu of a disciplinary sanction. This program involves attendance at an ethics school and possible referral to such programs as Florida Lawyers Assistance, Law Office Management Assistance Service, trust accounting, or lawyer advertising workshops.

Mediation: Referral of disputes between clients and attorneys to a mediator for resolution without involvement of formal disciplinary processes. A successful mediation of such disputes allows for the closure of complaint file without the entry of a sanction.

Fee Arbitration: In those matters where the disciplinary rules do not provide for jurisdiction over a fee dispute, such matters can be arbitrated upon consent of both parties.

Unlicensed Practice of Law-The purpose of investigating and prosecuting the unlicensed practice of law (UPL) is to protect the public. The Florida Bar, through the UPL department, functions as an investigatory and prosecutorial agency with orders enjoining an individual from engaging in UPL issued by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Complaints alleging that an individual is practicing law without a license may be initiated by anyone with information in this regard. Complaints are investigated by one of the 32 local circuit committees. A statewide Standing Committee on UPL, half of which are nonlawyers, oversees the activities of the local circuit committees and sets policy.

In addition to investigating and prosecuting the unlicensed practice of law, the UPL department gives guidance to the public and members of the Bar regarding questions involving UPL and issues proposed formal advisory opinions that must ultimately be approved by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Clients' Security Fund--Florida Bar members created a Clients' Security Fund in 1967 as a public interest measure to compensate people who had suffered financial losses due to misappropriation of funds by errant Florida Bar members. The Fund is financed solely up to $25 of each Florida Bar member's annual fees. The Clients' Security Fund has paid out over $13.5 million in client reparations since its inception.

A wronged client may receive up to $50,000 from the Fund for actual losses or up to $2,500 for fees when no useful services were rendered. Individuals seeking reimbursement from the Clients' Security Fund should request application forms from the Bar's Public Service Programs Department. Requests for Fund payouts are thoroughly reviewed and investigated under established procedures. Payments from the Fund are at the Bar's discretion. More information about the Fund may be obtained by calling (850)561-5812 of via the Bar's Web site at www.flabar.org. The application is available for downloading in PDF format from this site.

The Lawyer Referral Service--Members may join The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service for $125, after approval of appropriate application forms. Local bar associations administer 11 referral services, operating in most of Florida's major cities. The Florida Bar handles all other referrals that come from areas without a local service. Citizens in need of a lawyer may call the Lawyer Referral Service number listed in the telephone book Yellow Pages. That service--either a local or The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service--will refer the caller to a lawyer experienced in handling the particular type of problem described.

Under The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service, lawyers charge clients $25 (local programs may vary) for the first half-hour office consultation. If the case referred is a fee-generating case, the rules of the Service require the attorneys to remit 12% of the fees to the Service. The fees are utilized to pay for operational expenses. Members interested in participating in Bar-sponsored lawyer referral programs may join their local bar service, if one exists in their area. Otherwise, they may contact The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service in Tallahassee by calling toll-free (800) 342-8060, ext. 5810 or (850) 561-5810 or contact Karen Kelly, Director, Public Service Programs at kkelly@flabar.org.

Specialty Lawyer Referral Service Panels--The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service has established an Elderly Referral Panel, a Low Fee Panel, a Disability Law Panel, and an AIDS Law Panel.

Those who qualify for referral receive a free, initial 30-minute office consultation. If the legal problem is one that can be handled easily, fees for further legal work may be lower than the lawyer's normal rate. Participating attorneys are encouraged to use a payment plan or another method of assisting the client in paying legal fees. Fee-generating cases, such as personal injury cases, are not included in this reduced fee program and are handled at the attorney's regular rate.

Persons with legal problems related to a mental, physical, or developmental disability may qualify for help on the Disability Law Panel. The AIDS Law Panel is designed to provide pro bono or reduced-fee legal services to persons with AIDS-related legal problems. The Disability Law and AIDS Law Panels operate statewide.

For more information on these unique referral programs, please call the Bar's Lawyer Referral Service office at (800) 342-8060, ext. 5810, or (850) 561-5810 or contact Karen Kelly, Director, Public Service Programs, at kkelly@flabar.org.

Continuing Legal Education Requirement--Members of the Florida Bar are subject to a continuing legal education requirement (CLER) which is commonly referred to as mandatory CLE. There are exemptions for out-of-state members who do not practice in Florida or render advice on matters of Florida law, members on active military service, members of the federal judiciary, inactive members, and those claiming undue hardship. State court judges have a separate requirement under the Rules of Judicial Administration. Each member is assigned a reporting date and required to attend 30 hours of approved continuing legal education every three years. At least five of the 30 hours must be in the areas of legal ethics, professionalism, mental illness awareness, or substance abuse. In addition to live seminars, credit is permitted for approved audio, videotape, and online programs.

Certification--The Florida Certification Plan is administered by the Board of Legal Specialization and Education. Presently, such certification is available in the fields of appellate practice; tax; civil trial law; marital and family law; wills, trusts, and estates; criminal law; real estate law; workers' compensation; admiralty ad maritime law; aviation law; business litigation; city, county and local government law; health law; immigration and nationality law; elder law; labor and employment law; international law; and antitrust and trade regulation.

A lawyer seeking to be certified must have practiced law for at least five years; show substantial involvement in the specific area of law during three of the last five years; show satisfactory continuing legal education; and pass an appropriate certification examination. Each applicant is also evaluated as to character, ethics, and reputation for professionalism. Only certified attorneys may identify themselves as "Florida Bar Board Certified" or as a "Specialist."

In approving the plan, the Florida Supreme Court acknowledged its responsibility to ensure that the state's legal system is responsive to public needs and that Florida lawyers have available to them a method for improving their proficiency. The court's enabling opinion noted: "We believe that the public is entitled to know which lawyers have demonstrated special skills and possess technical competency in specific legal areas, and we have concluded that the framework of the proposals submitted by The Florida Bar is the proper means to accomplish this objective.... It is, in our view, a step forward in improving the system of justice in this state."

The Florida Certification Plan recognizes more than 3,900 certified attorneys. They are listed in a special section of this directory and on The Florida Bar's Web site, www.FLABAR.org. Additional information may be obtained from the Bar's Legal Specialization and Education Office by calling (850) 561-5842.

Legislative Program--Legislation significant to the administration of justice or the fundamental rights of the public is of interest to all Florida lawyers. Any member may seek to have legislation introduced through a senator or representative from his or her own legislative delegation. Lawyers also may seek to have legislation sponsored through The Florida Bar's legislative program, coordinated by the Legislation Committee and the Governmental Affairs Staff.

The Supreme Court of Florida, through the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, has established strict guidelines for legislative advocacy by the Bar. These guidelines and Board of Governor' codified policy for the specific procedures of addressing legislative matters are available on the Bar's Web site, www.FLABAR.org.

Sections and committees may draft proposed legislation and submit it to the Bar's Legislation Committee for consideration and then to the Board of Governors for final action. Legislative concepts and recommended positions are considered in accordance with the established policy. If such advocacy is recognized by the Board of Governors, it usually is the responsibility of the proponent section or committee in its own name to introduce and support passage of such legislation. The Florida Bar may separately sponsor legislation, giving a bill priority status in its overall program and assuming responsibility for its successful passage through the Florida Legislature.

Members are encouraged to take a personal interest in legislative matters. If you would like to see The Florida Bar take action on an issue or problem, contact a representative of the Bar's Legislation Committee listed in this directory. If you would like to actively participate in the Bar's legislative program, you may apply to serve as a volunteer in the key contact program coordinated by Governmental Affairs staff.

During sessions of the Florida Legislature, members are kept apprised of pending bills affecting the legal profession via periodic notices published within The Florida Bar News and on the Bar Web site. More current status reports on pending legislation of interest can be obtained by contacting the Governmental Affairs Office at the Bar headquarters, (850) 561-5662.

Law Related Education--Our state's young people are our most precious resource. The Florida Bar's Law Related Education Committee promotes "legal literacy" to encourage the teaching of our laws and legal system, and to produce an awareness of our rights and responsibilities as citizens in society.

Currently each of Florida's 67 school districts report having some form of law education in their schools--either separate courses of study or integrated into the existing curriculum. At least 50 of these districts report attorney involvement,. The Florida Bar Law Related Education Committee advocates the inclusion of quality LRE programs in grades K-12 and provides assistance to local bar associations and attorneys in implementing or expanding involvement in law education statewide. In addition, the committee works with the Florida Law Related Education Associated to assist attorneys in the classroom.

Attorneys can become involved in law education in a variety of ways including classroom presentations on specific law-related topics; coordinating mock trial competitions; designing a unit of study; assisting with teacher training workshops; and others. Through involvement with law education programs, attorneys stimulate students to take part in, support, and improve our justice system. For more information, please contact The Florida Bar Public Information Office at (850) 561-5767 or e-mail Gail Grimes at ggrimes@flabar.org, or The Florida Law Related Education Association, Inc. (850)386-8223.

Legal Services Plans--Group legal services, prepaid legal plans, legal expense insurance - all are terms for a variety of mechanisms designed to help reduce the costs of legal services for the average person. Most plans in Florida require prepayment of a fee, although others simply offer services at reduced fees.

Most legal service plans are regulated by the Florida Department of Financial Services under the "Legal Expense Insurance Act," F.S. Ch. 642. Certain exempted group/prepaid legal service plans are regulated by The Florida Bar under Chapter 9 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Lists of the group/prepaid legal service plans approved by The Florida Bar and lists of all corporations licensed by the Department of Financial Services are available from the Public Service Programs Department.

Attorneys interested in developing a Bar-approved group/prepaid legal service plan may obtain from the Bar a package of information containing regulations and an application. A public information pamphlet explaining the concept of legal services plans in Florida is also available.

The Florida Lawyers' Legal Insurance Corporation (FLLIC) is a prepaid open panel plan underwritten by ARAG Insurance Company (licensed by the Florida Department of Insurance) and administered by ARAG Group (R) Inc. FLLIC was organized by The Florida Bar and is available to interested lawyers for participation an inquiring groups desiring such coverage.

Lawyers interested in information concerning the Florida Lawyers' Legal Insurance Corporation or other legal services plans should call Maritza McGill at (800) 342-8060, ext. 5808.

Public Information--The Public Information and Bar Services Department works with virtually all segments of The Florida Bar and all groups served by the Bar and the legal profession.

The department has primary responsibility for working with the public, with local and specialty bar associations, Bar members, the courts, the news media, and related specific committees and groups. It develops and distributes public education/information pamphlets, news release, and other promotional materials; produces public service announcements for TV and radio; and seeks to evaluate public perception of the Bar's operations and policies.

FLABAR ONLINE (www.FLABAR.org). The Florida Bar's Internet Web site, is a major public information vehicle and resource for information about the Bar, its operations, and the legal profession.

For more information on any aspect of this function of Bar operations, please call the Public Information and Bar Services Department, (850) 561-5834.

News Media Relations--The Bar serves as a resource to the statewide news media on low-related issues. As part of its effort to inform reporters about the legal system in this state. The Florida Bar provides an online Reporter's Handbook. Anyone can access the handbook at www.FLABAR.org and select Online Media Center. This handbook is a valuable resource for reporters who need a comprehensive reference to laws related to newsgathering, open government and public records, defamation and privacy, cameras in the courtroom, access to juvenile records, and other areas of the law. In addition to the Reporter's Handbook, the Online Media Center provides news releases, disciplinary releases, a Bar resource guide, and the Bar's legislative positions.

The Bar's Media-Law Conference is attended by representatives of the news media, lawyers, judges, and students. Topics addressed usually include access to courts, privacy concerns, and libel. The Bar also holds an Annual Media Awards competition. Awards are presented to media organizations that have effectively highlighted the system of law and justice as it affects the people of Florida. The Bar also coordinates the annual Reporter's Workshop for practicing journalists reporting on the courts and the law.

For more information on the Bar's media relations program, call the Public Information and Bar Services Department, (850) 561-5834.

Judicial Polls--The legal profession's Rules of Professional Conduct admonish lawyers to use their unique qualifications and to assume their special responsibility to aid in the selection of the most worthy judges for our court system. In fulfilling that duty, The Florida Bar administers a merit retention preference poll for state appellate court judges when incumbents periodically stand for retention votes on a statewide or district basis. The results of the survey are welcomed by our state news media and shared with all Florida voters.

An evaluation program for appellate and trial court judges has been adopted for statewide use. It provides judges confidential written feedback from the attorneys who appear before them. Local bar associations may also independently administer their own polls or they may use the Bar's Model Judicial Poll, which has recently been updated by the Judicial Evaluation Committee.

Voluntary Bar Liaison--Florida Bar members are encouraged to become active in their local and voluntary bar associations. The voluntary bar liaison program of The Florida Bar maintains officer listings of more than 180 Florida voluntary bar associations.

Community service projects and professional development programs are offered through voluntary bar associations. The Florida Bar assists in these efforts by providing materials for distribution, advising voluntary bar officers on program planning and implementation, and by providing speakers on topics of interest to voluntary bars.

A complete list of voluntary bar associations is included in this directory and on the Bar's Web site, www FLABAR.org. Information regarding services provided by The Florida Bar to voluntary bar associations is available through the Public Information and Bar Services Department in Tallahassee, (850) 561-5764.

The Florida Bar Foundation--Although The Florida Bar Foundation is an organization independent of The Florida Bar, much effort and cooperation have been given by Florida Bar leadership in the development of an effective Foundation since its creation in 1956. The ultimate goal is to foster law-related public interest programs throughout the state, such as providing greater legal aid to the poor, funding student loan and scholarship programs, and improving the administration of justice.

The Foundation's most prominent activity is its administration of Florida's nationally acclaimed Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) program, which has generated millions in public interest grants distributed in the name of Florida's legal profession for legal aid to the poor, law student loans and scholarships, and improvements in the administration of justice. The IOTA program--the first of its kind in the United States--has been a model for similar programs now in operation across the country.

In 1993, the Foundation established an Endowment Trust to expand beyond the three IOTA grant categories the law-related charitable endeavors by lawyers on a statewide basis. The endowment is also seen as a permanent funding source for all of the Foundation's charitable programs. Support for the endowment is coming from members of The Florida Bar as Fellows of the Foundation as well as from members of the general public with an interest in public interest programs.

In addition to its educational and charitable activities, The Florida Bar Foundation periodically awards its medal of honor to an attorney and a nonlawyer citizen in recognition of outstanding contributions toward improving the administration of justice in Florida. The medal of honor is the highest award that can be bestowed upon an attorney or layperson by the legal profession in Florida. In addition, the Foundation has established the Steven M. Goldstein Award for Excellence, awarded semiannually to recognize a project of significant impact undertaken by an IOTA Legal Assistance for the Poor grantee.

The Florida Bar Foundation presents a unique opportunity for Bar members to broaden their involvement in law-related public service. Membership in the Foundation is available via any attorney's participation in the IOTA program, or by becoming a contributing member or Fellow of the The Florida Bar Foundation. For further information regarding joining the Foundation and about IOTA grants contact: The Florida Bar Foundation, Inc., Suite 405, 109 East Church Street, Orlando, Florida 32801-3440, telephone (407) 843-0045 or (800) 541-2195, www.flabarfndn.org.
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Title Annotation:Florida State Bar
Publication:Florida Bar Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2003
Words:3693
Previous Article:Membership services.
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