Recently the Florida Bar and its President, Ramon Abadin, announced that they are considering allowing reciprocity and non-lawyer law firm ownership in an attempt to “catch up” with the rest of the country in providing legal services. This new initiative is more closely spelled out in the Florida Bar’s “Vision 2016” Commission report. Reciprocity would allow lawyers from out of state to practice law in Florida by simply passing a multi-state exam. Non-lawyer law firm ownership would allow corporations to own law firms (essentially kicking to the curb solo practitioners or smaller firms).
These are both TERRIBLE ideas for the Florida Bar to consider. Florida is different from other states around the country that allow reciprocity. Florida already has over 100,000 licensed lawyers to provide adequate legal representation for the citizens of this state. Allowing out-of-state lawyers to practice here would flood the market with attorneys who do not know the laws of Florida. Florida is a destination state. Retiring attorneys from other states could simply move to Florida and practice out of their homes.
Non-lawyer law firm ownership would corporatize the practice of law. There is a reason that it is currently an ethics violation to share attorney’s fees with non-lawyers. Allowing for fees and ownership splitting with non-lawyers takes attorneys’ ability to use their own legal opinion and the best interest of the client out of their hands and decisions are made on a corporate/business level. Interestingly, one of the purported purposes of “Vision 2016” is to provide more legal services for the citizens of this state by having more lawyers. However, it has been recently disclosed that the Florida Bar paid over $100,000 to a marketing firm to promote “Vision 2016” while that money could have been spent on services such as Legal Aid (a service that helps indigent Florida citizens receive free legal representation).
Attorneys from around the state have vehemently opposed this initiative. Locally, our Palm Beach County Bar Association has circulated a survey to all its members asking if they are opposed to “Vision 2016” in order to let the Florida Bar know how attorneys in Palm Beach County feel.