Advertisement
  1. Business

Florida Bar under fire for hiring public relations firm for nearly $100,000

Florida Bar president Ram?n Abadin 
says he didn’t take a stance on reciprocity but wanted to open talks.
Florida Bar president Ram?n Abadin 
says he didn’t take a stance on reciprocity but wanted to open talks.
Published Sep. 1, 2015

The Florida Bar has touched off a new brouhaha among the state's lawyers, this time by hiring a Miami public relations firm for $96,000 a year to advance "positive campaign messages."

Critics fear that the main message the firm will try to advance is a controversial proposal to let out-of-state lawyers practice in Florida without taking the Florida Bar exam.

"I'm flabbergasted," Miami lawyer Robert Allen said Monday upon learning that the Bar had hired Schwartz Media Strategies. "It seems to me that they hired a firm to push an agenda that neither the (Bar's) board of governors nor the vast majority of members of the Florida Bar supports. It's disturbing."

Lawyer Lloyd Schwed, who has led the fight against admitting out-of-state lawyers, called the hiring "simply outrageous."

"It is difficult to understand how the Florida Bar leadership thinks it is an appropriate use of money to retain a PR firm at a cost of (nearly) $100,000 a year when there are so many legal aid organizations in the state in desperate need of funds," said Schwed of Palm Beach Gardens.

"Can you imagine how helpful that $100,000 could be to legal aid organizations trying to help someone losing their home or a battered wife who needs protection?"

Francine Walker, the Bar's director of public information, said the organization has hired several public relations firms over the years to raise awareness of issues it considers important.

"The Bar retained Schwartz Media Strategies to do just that, which includes fostering dialogue about the many changes taking place in the legal profession, nationally and internationally," she said.

Since July, the Bar's 101,000 members have been in an uproar over "reciprocity" — a policy that allows lawyers to practice in states other than their home state without taking the local bar exam. The Bar has received hundreds of emails from members concerned that Florida would be flooded with lawyers from cold-weather states at a time when many Florida lawyers are struggling.

Among those opposing reciprocity are the Clearwater and Broward County Bar Associations, as well as the entire Palm Beach County delegation to the Bar's governing board.

After a Bar subcommittee recommended reciprocity, the Bar's new president, Miami lawyer Ramón Abadin, seemed to go along with the idea in a speech in which he said it would benefit Florida lawyers who want to practice in other states.

Abadin, while stressing that lawyers need to adapt to a more mobile world, later insisted he had not taken a position on reciprocity but only wanted to start a discussion. The ultimate decision rests with the Florida Supreme Court.

Walker said she initially contacted the Miami firm about doing "media training" for Abadin. Bar presidents are frequently called on to speak to reporters.

After Abadin met with the firm, it submitted a proposal to do public relations work on several possible Bar rule changes, including those that now ban reciprocity. In the first draft of the proposal, the word "reciprocity" did not appear, although the firm said it would work to solidify the Bar's "forward-looking agenda" under Abadin's leadership.

To that end, the firm said it would pitch story ideas to news organizations. Among the suggested topics: the recent decline in law school enrollments and "the impact this may have on the profession."

Critics of reciprocity say one reason to keep out lawyers from other states is that Florida's 12 laws schools — five of which have opened since 2000 — have been enrolling so many students that there aren't enough jobs for all of them.

The final draft of the Miami firm's proposal kept the story ideas but deleted references to Abadin and the "forward-looking agenda." Renee Thompson, who chairs the communications committee of the Bar's governing board, said the proposal was changed to make it clear that the board, not Abadin, had hired the firm. As for the phrase "forward-looking agenda,'' she said it was removed because "we didn't know what that meant."

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

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Michael Higgins, DO [Vince Vanni]
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point Star Award Volunteers, from left: Rev. Fred Houck, Barbara Weber and Steve Johnson. [Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point]
    News and notes on Pasco County businesses
  3. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? [CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS]
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  4. Service dog Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies at Tampa International Airport as her human family was waiting near gate F81 to board a flight to Philadelphia in May 2018. The airport is getting ready to add pet-relief areas at its airsides for service dogs. (EMILY NIPPS | Tampa International Airport) [Tampa International Airport]
    Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.
  5. Developers of a proposed apartment complex near St. Petersburg's Mirror Lake area want to tear down this bungalow and replace it with a ramp to the parking garage. [Susan Taylor Martin]
    The only access would be via a narrow court lined with vintage houses.
  6. Cooling canals, with Turkey Point nuclear power plant in the background. [Miami Herald]
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday announced that it had signed off on Florida Power and Light’s latest application for a 20-year extension.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Wages rose a solid 3.1% in November compared with a year earlier.
  8. Noah Shaffer of Confidant Asset Management says the restaurant sector in the Tampa Bay area has done well in 2019 and to expect more openings in the coming months. Chick-fil-A Brandon South opened earlier this year.
    So far, the economy appears robust enough to support further expansion, says a local industry professional.
  9. A new retail center and health club are proposed for the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon. Preliminary plans show the fitness club near the most eastern edge of the lagoon. [SCOTT KEELER  |   Times]
    Ryan Companies proposes grocery, retail stores and health club at neighborhood’s entrance
  10. Jamie Harden of Creative Sign Designs and Maryann Ferenc of Mise en Place discuss priorities for the Tampa Bay Chamber for the coming year. Harden is the outgoing chairman of the chamber. Ferenc is the incoming chairwoman. [RICHARD DANIELSON | Times]
    Leadership of the organization, formerly the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, also says it could have handled its recent name change better.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement