Out Of State Lawyer Proposal Not Likely To Fly In Florida

September 29, 2015

A proposal that would let out-of-state lawyers get licensed in Florida without taking the state’s Bar exam is likely dead, but that didn’t stop opponents from piling on during a Florida Bar meeting.

Reaction to the “admission by motion” proposal at the forum echoed the overwhelmingly negative response to the recommendation since it was first floated by the Bar’s Multi-jurisdictional Practice-State Focus Committee earlier this summer.

Also known as “reciprocity,” the proposal has spawned fear among lawyers in small or individual practices and divided the legal community. Not a single legal association in the state has supported it.

The plan is “ill-conceived and little more than an attempt to allow large firms to flood wherever they wish with lawyers,” said Charles Morehead, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and president-elect of the Broward County Bar Association.

Several lawyers also complained about the $96,000 the Bar paid a public relations firm this summer, accusing the Bar of spending lawyers’ dues to push an agenda many don’t agree with.

Jay Cohen, a member of the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors who also opposes admission by motion, sat alone on a daisĀ  as the Bar’s designee for the forum. More than two dozen lawyers, nearly all of them opposed, railed against the plan.

About a dozen Bar governors sat in the audience, but missing from the session was Florida Bar President Ray Abadin. Abadin has remained publicly neutral on the plan but who has been pilloried by some for even pushing forward a debate on the issue, which arose as part of the Bar’s “Vision 2016″ program launched three years ago.

“I do wish Mr. Abadin was here,” Morehead told Cohen. “I’m sorry you have to take the bullet for him.”

About 40 other states allow some sort of entrance for lawyers without taking the exam, and to Abadin, reciprocity could be a way to modernize the legal profession in an increasingly mobile age.

“It’s clearly unnerving a lot of lawyers because it is now creating a dialogue over what we do and where we fit in the social scheme. As lawyers we have had the luxury of being the only game in town for a long time,” Abadin told The News Service of Florida in an interview. “Technology and modernization of knowledge management has changed that paradigm.”

Palm Beach Gardens lawyer Lloyd Schwed launched the campaign against the proposal and sent dozens of emails to thousands of lawyers urging them to speak out against it.

“I’m not the greatest lawyer in the world, but I find it very powerful that a man who has spent 43 years practicing law here, Florida Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis, just last week was asked about this and he said, ‘I think it’s absolutely he worst thing that could happen to the citizens of Florida,’” Schwed said.

Under the criteria suggested by the Bar committee, out-of-state lawyers who have been practicing for at least five of the past seven years before they apply would be eligible. Also, admission by motion would only be available to lawyers who are from states that allow Florida Bar members to practice without a written or oral exam.

In addition, admission by motion would only be available to lawyers who haven’t failed the Florida Bar exam within five years of applying. Applicants would have to have a law degree from law schools approved by the American Bar Association at the time they graduated.

The proposal created such an uproar that the Bar set up a special email account to take input on the issue, and Abadin last month issued a public statement trying to quell fears that the matter had already been decided.

About 500 lawyers showed up at a Hillsborough County Bar Association meeting this week to hear from Abadin on the issue.

Cohen predicted that the Board of Governors would vote next month to reject moving forward on the proposal.

“The many, many Board of Governor members that have talked with me because of my open opposition to this have confirmed that, in their own circuits, their constituents have been as vocal and have reflected as much opposition as we are hearing generally … and for that reason alone I don’t believe that I’ve heard any strong support for reciprocity,” Cohen said after the meeting.

Thomas Bopp, who represents the Hillsborough region, joined the Board of Governors in June. He said he has been inundated with emails objecting to reciprocity, and also predicted the board would reject it at a mid-October meeting.

“I have not seen any marginal support even for this motion. From what I’ve seen, the majority of my board of governors feel the same way,” Bopp said. “Whatever that member feels personally is one thing. But it’s not what I feel. If you listen to your constituents … if I’ve gotten seven or eight hundred emails, I think I’ve gotten one or two in favor.”

Charles Tiffany, a Kissimmee lawyer, made the sole pitch in favor of the plan.

Tiffany argued that making it easier for out-of-state lawyers to practice in Florida would “enlarge freedom,” but acknowledged lawyers’ concern about increasing competition.

“It’s this fear, this fear that’s just running over the profession that something is wrong,” Tiffany said. “We have to accept the fact that the law business is not as lucrative as it used to be and you’re not guaranteed a ticket to the upper-middle class when you graduate from law school.”

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Comments

3 Responses to “Out Of State Lawyer Proposal Not Likely To Fly In Florida”

  1. MB on September 29th, 2015 10:47 am

    Where is the free market? Capitalism?

  2. BT on September 29th, 2015 10:15 am

    Yeah…if I had to take a position on allowing people to compete with my business, I would probably be against it, too.

  3. mick on September 29th, 2015 8:19 am

    Got enough of them already both reputable and unscrupulous…





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