Florida attorneys will have to brush up on their technical knowledge to remain active in the Florida Bar.
The Florida Supreme Court adopted two amendments to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar Sept. 29 that highlight the legal profession’s commitment to staying current with technological advancements that relate to the practice of law.
An amendment to Rule 6-10.3 (Minimum Continuing Legal Education Standards) now requires attorneys to complete 33 hours of CLE over a three-year period, with three hours in an approved technology program.
An amendment to Rule 4-1.1 (Competence) says that competent representation may involve a lawyer’s association with or retention of a non-lawyer advisor with established technological competence. The amendment also states that a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education in the area of technology, “Including an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.”
The changes to Rule 4-1.1 essentially adopt the “duty of technological competence” that has been added to the rule rosters of 24 other Bars. However, Florida is the first state to make a technology Continuing Legal Education course mandatory.
Changes Took Three Years.
John M. Stewart, of Rossway Swan in Vero Beach, Fla., talked to Bloomberg BNA Oct. 5 about the amendments. Stewart chaired the Florida Bar’s Technology Subcommittee, which promoted the amendments.
“Early on, our subcommittee realized we needed to amend the comment to our rule on competence to include similar language to that recommended by the American Bar Association,” Stewart said. “That comment essentially said that competence for a lawyer includes understanding the benefits and risks associated with technologies in his or her practice area.
Stewart said the subcommittee felt that if it were going to tell lawyers that to be competent they needed to understand certain legal technologies, then they should assure the lawyers get the proper education to meet those competencies.
“Since the Board of Governors first required mandatory CLE about 31 years ago there had not been a change in the number of hours—it was always set at 30,” Stewart said. “In the end our recommendation was to add three hours to the requirement, and that the three additional hours are in mandatory technology related CLE … It’s a monumental change to be candid.”
Stewart noted that the subcommittee’s discussions suggested adding as many as 10 hours to the CLE requirements, but ultimately felt that adding three was meaningful.
“We fully expect that lawyers will take more than the required three hours when they see how it will positively benefit their practices and their clients,” Stewart said.
Symbolic Changes With a Purpose.
Bill Hamilton, executive director of University of Florida’s Levin College of Law’s E-Discovery Project had a slightly different perspective.
He told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 6 that the changes were welcome, but not a “magic bullet” that would bring lawyers up to speed when faced with contemporary realities.
“Three hours isn’t enough to turn someone into a technologist,” Hamilton said, “The changes are more symbolic than anything.”
Hamilton said that technology is part of the modern attorney’s toolkit, and attorneys need to be are of the related issues.
Like Stewart, Hamilton hopes the three mandatory hours will get attorneys’ “juices going.”
“The hours aren’t a burden, they are a form of liberation,” Hamilton said. “This education will make attorneys’ practices better, and will make them more ethically competent.”
Stewart said the state already has over 30 hours of free technology CLE courses available through The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute.
The changes will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.