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Florida Bar's governing board rejects plan to embrace out-of-state lawyers

Bar president Ramon Abadin was seen as a plan backer.

Bar president Ramon Abadin was seen as a plan backer.

The Florida Bar's governing board on Friday killed a controversial proposal that would have allowed out-of-state lawyers to practice in Florida without taking the Florida Bar exam.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Governors rejected the plan that critics claimed would flood the market with outside lawyers at a time when many Florida lawyers are struggling and recent law school graduates have a hard time finding legal work.

The vote was a blow to the Bar's new president, Miami lawyer Ramon Abadin, who was widely seen as in favor of the idea, although he insisted he only wanted to spark a discussion.

"Let's hope the Florida Bar president will now spend the rest of his term advocating for policies that protect the 103,000 members of the Florida Bar — not policies that damage them and the citizens of Florida," said Lloyd Schwed, the Palm Beach Gardens lawyer who led the fight against the proposal.

Tampa lawyer William Schifino, the Bar's president-elect, did not have a vote at Friday's board meeting. He said, though, that he "whole-heartedly" concurred with the 48-0 decision.

"After analyzing the issue … it was my opinion that the (proposal) was not in the best interest of our membership and the citizens of Florida,'' he said.

Abadin also did not vote Friday, and he didn't say which way he would have gone. In a statement, however, he said the Bar would continue to address "critical topics."

"We must work together to ensure legal professionals can stay competitive in today's fast-changing landscape," the statement said.

In a report issued last year on challenges facing lawyers in a more mobile, technologically advanced society, a Bar committee recommended that Florida join the 25 states that allow so-called "admission by motion with reciprocity." That enables lawyers to practice in different jurisdictions without taking the local Bar exam.

But the idea gained little notice until Abadin seemed to support it in a speech he gave in June.

"Imagine if Florida lawyers could work with a client in any state. They can't at the moment," he said then. "Imagine if the Bar rules of reciprocity … were changed. Florida lawyers could work there, anywhere, at any time, in any place."

Admission by motion appeared dead even before Friday's vote, with numerous local bar associations opposing it, more than 1,300 lawyers emailing the Bar to complain and dozens of others speaking against it at town hall meetings the Bar held around the state.

Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times that he thought the proposal was "absolutely the worst thing that could happen to the citizens of Florida."

The Bar said board members would continue to study other recommendations in the Vision 2016 report, including those involving legal education and access to legal services.

At some point, a very limited form of admission by motion could be adopted to allow outside lawyers to practice without taking the Florida Bar exam in event of a disaster or if their military spouses were temporarily transferred to Florida.

"I personally raised those issues in some of my town hall meetings, and I received a very different response than I did when I spoke about admission by motion," said Schifino, the Bar's president-elect. But as for admission by motion in general, he quickly added, "I think this issue is unequivocally behind us."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

Florida Bar's governing board rejects plan to embrace out-of-state lawyers 10/16/15 [Last modified: Friday, October 16, 2015 8:28pm]
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