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Waltzing into the millennium: the Jacksonville Bar Association.

February marks the 103rd anniversary of The Jackonville Bar Association and President Christopher Hazelip plans to celebrate its second century with a Millennium Ball. The JBA is the second oldest bar association in Florida, with the Hillsborough County Bar preceding it by one year.

No one knows why founding President Duncan U. Fletcher called the first meeting of 16 attorneys to order in an 1897 circuit courtroom. A 1901 fire that destroyed 146 blocks burned the records of much of their original business. But, having grown to 1,700 members strong, Jacksonville attorneys are looking at the association's past to better their legal community. The recent debut of a mentoring program is reminiscent of days when attorneys went through an apprenticeship-type training, paring younger lawyers with more experienced lawyers. This organized effort by JBA leadership to personally support and counsel is the culmination of an initiative designed to proactively promote professionalism. Hazelip credits Donald R. Moran, Chief Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, with helping the program get off to a running start.

"Judge Moran sent letters to lawyers promoting the mentor program and has continued to update the Jacksonville area attorneys on the progress of their professionalism effort," said Hazelip of the program which won The Florida Bar's 1999 Professionalism Award.

The second part of the JBA professionalism initiative is the Professionalism Review Committee which addresses complaints regarding a lack of professionalism or civility by lawyers practicing in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. This committee was also assisted by Chief Judge Moran, who issued an administrative order which formally implemented the Hillsborough County Standards of Professional Courtesy and endorses The Florida Bar Trial Lawyers Section's Guidelines for Professional Conduct. Serious about compliance, the JBA's annual judicial poll added a category as to whether a particular judge enforces those guidelines.

How does the system work? Any conduct complaints filed with The Jacksonville Bar offices are forwarded to a member of the Professional Review Committee on a rotating basis. Three attorneys of the five-member committee, each representing a different sector of the law, are convened to review the complaint. This review committee then determines the manner in which to resolve the complaint so that the attorney becomes familiar with "acceptable professional conduct and practice."

When Jacksonville's area legal aid office became financially strapped, it also looked to history and turned to the association from which the legal aid office evolved. Recalling the spirit of a JBA committee that organized local attorneys to provide legal services to victims of the depression in 1931, JBA members, led by then president Marc Mayo, were able to convince the Jacksonville City Council to appropriate funds from the city's budget to meet the financial shortfall. Florida's Supreme Court recognized the bar with the court's 1995 Pro Bono Service Award for this effort.

Today, members may join any of 20 substantive law sections or attend CLE courses in newly acquired conference room space. The JBA offers members a variety of live CLE seminars. Two very successful annual CLE programs are a family law update and a two-day trial advocacy retreat.

The Bulletin, the JBA monthly publication, disseminates news of interest as well as enlisting support for community projects. An active young lawyers section coordinates 14 projects a year, according to YLD Chair Alan Pickett. Among these are the Law School for Laymen (during Law Week); Teen Court (a peer censure program for juveniles through the state attorney's office); and Holidays in January (a gift program for 200 foster children). The JBA also coordinates the delivery of gift items to Jacksonville's elderly population through a holiday project in association with Meals on Wheels and sponsors a Law and the Disabled Conference, a citywide seminar for those with physical and/or mental disabilities, their families, providers, and members of the media.

Monthly membership luncheons are covered in the $125 annual membership dues, says Executive Director Diane Gill. Gill oversees an office which employs two other full-time staff members and operates a lawyer referral service with three additional part-time employees.

The association clearly faces a bright future built on a long-standing tradition of professionalism and service. When Chris Hazelip steps on the dance floor this month at the Millennium Ball, hopefully he will ask members to join him in a little waltz to commemorate the past. Maybe they'll even play some Hungarian gypsy music in tribute to the band that played at the association's first banquet on a February night in the splendor of the Windsor Hotel ballroom.

Pat Stephens is voluntary bar liaison in the Bar's Public Information and Bar Services Department.
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Title Annotation:Florida
Author:Stephens, Pat
Publication:Florida Bar Journal
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Feb 1, 2000
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