Florida lawyers should offer to donate 20 hours of services annually, the state Supreme Court said Thursday, noting that only 20 percent of the legal needs of Florida's poor are met.
"It is the lawyers who bring cases before a court and advocate issues which assure the integrity of the Constitution and protect individual rights in our society," Justice Ben Overton wrote in the majority opinion.
"The availability of lawyers to challenge government conduct that interferes with constitutional rights is essential to assure that those rights are protected."
Talbot D'Alemberte, a Florida lawyer who was one of several dozen lawyers to bring up the issue, said his reaction was "one of great glee that the court has now set forth a standard for us."
"It tends to call the roll of Florida lawyers," said D'Alemberte, president of the American Bar Association.
Besides suggesting that each lawyer volunteer at least 20 hours of services or give $350 to legal services, the court told a special commission of the Florida Bar to come back to the court by September with recommended implementing rules.
Two justices fully endorsed Overton's opinion. Two others supported it except for a provision to set up a reporting system.