Member services expanded since last Bar fee increase

first_imgMember services expanded since last Bar fee increase Member services expanded since last Bar fee increaseWith a desire to improve programs supported by and benefiting Bar members — and citing declining reserves — the Board of Governors is now considering increasing annual membership fees.The Bar Budget Committee has recommended fees for active members be increased from $190 to $265, and for inactive members from $140 to $175 annually. (See story in November 1 News.)It has been 11 years since the Bar’s last fee increase and a number of major programs have been added — and existing programs expanded — to improve the Bar’s effectiveness, efficiency and member services. Among those improvements have been the creation of an Ethics School for errant lawyers, a grievance mediation program, more aggressive prosecution of the unlicensed practice of law, the opening of the Center for Professionalism and the expansion of the Law Office Management Assistance Service. Lawyer RegulationWhen the last Bar annual membership fee increase was approved, the Bar’s grievance operation basically performed three functions, according to Tony Boggs, director of the Legal Division. “We could investigate, discipline or dismiss cases,” he said.A lot has changed.“Now we’ve got a lot of tools in the tool belt,” Boggs said. “We’ve got mediation tools, we’ve got probation tools, we’ve got remediation tools, and we’ve got restitution tools.”Ethics SchoolOne notable change came at the behest of 1991-92 Bar President Ben Hill, who steered the Ethics Schools through the board. There lawyers facing minor grievance charges can get the cases dismissed in exchange for attending classes aimed at helping them avoid future problems.Boggs said on average around 150 lawyers a year attend the Ethics School and most have praised its lessons and benefits.The grievance program also took over the running of the Bar’s fee arbitration program, which led to better coordination between that operation and the grievance process.Grievance MediationIn 1997-98, then Bar President Edward Blumberg inaugurated the grievance mediation program. That is frequently used, commonly for communication-related problems, to resolve disputes, Boggs said, and has proven to be a success.Just started is the Attorney-Client Assistance Program (ACAP), which seeks to screen grievance complaints to determine which can be settled cooperatively between clients and attorneys. A trial program run in the Tampa branch office won high praise from both attorneys and consumers.But with all those new programs, the Bar grievance operation has continued its basic function — investigating complaints and when justified seeking sanctions against errant lawyers. It continues to be acknowledged as one of the best such operations in the country.For the period 1990 through 1999, the number of disciplinary orders and opinions from the Supreme Court ranged from 326 to 595, an average 458 for that period.UPLIn response to member requests, the Bar’s Unlicensed Practice of Law Department has grown tremendously since 1990, when it had two attorneys.In May 1991, the Board of Governors voted to turn prosecuting operations over to state attorneys and a year or so later added a third lawyer to help on investigations in South Florida. In 1993, the board decided to have the Bar again begin prosecutions, faced with increasing public harm from legal technicians and other self-proclaimed nonlawyer legal experts.Then 1994-95 Bar President Bill Blews wanted more to be done. At his urging, the Board of Governors approved a dramatic expansion of UPL operations, adding branch offices in Tampa, Orlando and Miami, in addition to the existing one in Ft. Lauderdale. The department, which a few years earlier had two attorneys, now has six-and-a-half attorney positions.The results, according to Bar UPL Counsel Lori Holcomb, have been dramatic. Instead of relying on volunteers to prosecute cases, staff counsel work directly with the UPL circuit committees. And where circuit committees rarely saw a Bar UPL counsel, now one attends virtually every meeting, either in person or by phone. That has speeded up the investigation and handling of about 700 complaints received by the Bar each year.“It’s enabled us to do our job more efficiently and effectively,” Holcomb said. “Because we have the attorneys and the attorneys staff the committees, the committees meet more regularly and they’re able to move the cases through the system.”ProfessionalismIn 1990, professionalism was a much studied issue with The Florida Bar, but little more. Now it’s a full-fledged program, working with a Supreme Court commission to encourage lawyers to be their best.The genesis came from 1995-96 Bar President John DeVault and 1996-97 President John Frost, both of whom made improving lawyer professionalism a top priority.DeVault appointed Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead to chair the Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism, which recommended setting up the Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism and creating the Center for Professionalism at the Bar. At a retreat held at Frost’s first Board of Governors’ meeting and devoted to professionalism, then Chief Justice Gerald Kogan signed an administrative order creating the commission and the center.Since then, there has been no holding back the committee, the commission and the center.“It’s helped in identifying the problems that have frustrated lawyers who labor in the system,” said Paul Remillard, director of the Center for Professionalism. “It’s formulated solutions and developed methods to improve professional behavior, leadership and enhanced the trust of those we serve.“It has also provided a means for much more accessible and meaningful ethics training.”Summarizing the accomplishments of the center, commission and committee in the past four years isn’t easy. But here’s one telling statistic: Since opening, the center has conducted 150 professionalism seminars, reaching 17,000 students and awarding more than 50,000 CLE credits.Besides CLE, there has been a resource library set up and a website and newsletter created. A subcommittee works with law schools recognizing faculty for teaching professionalism, a handbook has been developed for law students, and another subcommittee works on diversity issues. There’s a historical video series featuring leading lawyers and judges, an annual master’s seminar, a professionalism award, student essay contests and a mentoring program.The work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Bar’s Young Lawyers Division received the 2000 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award for its Practicing with Professionalism seminar that each new Bar member is required to take. The Center for Professionalism, which provides instructors for one day of those two-day courses, submitted the application on behalf of the YLD. The Bar’s Center for Professionalism’s efforts were also recognized by the ABA with the Gambrell award for 1999.LOMASProviding a broad range of practice management information services to members of the Bar, the Law Office Management Assistance Service also has expanded greatly since the last fee increase.“Many practicing lawyers lack the preparatory foundation needed to manage or market their law practices effectively,” said J.R. Phelps, LOMAS’ director. “For the most part, law schools do not teach practice management principles such as trust accounting compliance, docket control, prevention of client conflict of interest, malpractice-avoidance principles, cost-effective marketing and the integration of high-tech equipment into the law practice, all of which serve to reduce malpractice incidences through sound business procedures.”Phelps said LOMAS exists to provide Florida attorneys with those types of assistance.“In a time when information is overwhelming, LOMAS provides probably the highest quality filter to information for Florida lawyers on practice management in the country,” said Charlie Robinson, who sat on the committee which created the LOMAS concept.Robinson said the 19 other states which now have practice management programs “look at Florida and J.R. as the granddaddy of the whole concept.”LOMAS fields more than 10,000 calls from Bar members each year on topics such as establishing and maintaining a conflict-of-interest system; maintaining a trust account; effective client communication techniques; effective docket control and calendaring procedures; as well as basic information on how to establish and operate a solo practice. When LOMAS began operations in 1980, it focused on conducting educational programs and on-site law office consultations. Phelps said LOMAS now promotes effective management techniques for both lawyers and support staff in a manner flexible enough to respond to the immediate demands of today’s ever-changing law office environment. LOMAS also has been asked to take a more active role in the Bar’s grievance process by rehabilitating attorneys experiencing law office management-related problems. Phelps said LOMAS has developed a number of special preventative programs aimed at attorneys whose practices place them in a high-risk group for grievances.Because of the many exposures LOMAS has received from appearing on Bar programs, the LOMAS staff now averages 35 calls each day for assistance by members on a broad range of practice management topics.“With the addition of e-mail the telephone calls have diminished, but e-mails are increasing in number every day,” Phelps said.LOMAS also realized that members needed a state-specific resource for computer software information, and the Board of Governors approved the addition of a LOMAS staff analyst to conduct reviews of software products. LOMAS now consists of three full-time practice management advisors and one full-time administrative secretary.To fill the need for law office personnel education regarding the handling of trust funds, LOMAS produced a videotape titled “How to Maintain a TRUSTworthy Trust Account,” which annually sells more copies than any other videotape offered by the department. This past year LOMAS revised the videotape and now sells a second edition of the tape.With more and more Bar members going directly from law school into the practice, LOMAS now offers an entire package of materials directed at helping these members establish a practice in an ethical and professional way. During the past year a new videotape titled “Starting Anew” was added to address the unique needs of members with more experience who may decide for whatever reason to transition their practice in a different direction by starting their own firm.In the early 1990s, as the Internet became a new communication vehicle, LOMAS worked to educate the Board of Governors of the potential and to create the initial impetus for www.FLABAR.org. November 15, 2000 Regular Newslast_img

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