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Florida Bar Board Rejects Plan To Loosen Firm Ownership Rules

Nov. 12, 2021, 8:01 PM

The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors unanimously rejected proposals to let non-attorneys own law firms and share in legal fees.

The Nov. 8 votes rejected recommendations made in late June by a special committee created by the Florida Supreme Court.

The vote bucked the trend of states such as Arizona, Utah and California that have moved forward with proposals designed to make legal systems less costly and more accessible to consumers.

The board also debated whether to allow not-for-profit law firms, designed like some legal aid offices, to operate before deciding to table the idea, according to the bar. The board opposed recommendations to simplify legal industry advertising rules and to end mandatory review of certain lawyer ads before they air or are published.

The board may have left the door open to reform, however, by delaying a vote on a proposed Law Practice Innovation Laboratory. The laboratory would operate similar to regulatory “sandboxes"—experiments to collect data on new types of legal operations—in Utah and possibly soon in California.

The final decision on the bar’s recommendations will be up to the Florida Supreme Court.

Hundreds of Florida lawyers recently made it clear that they oppose reforms that include non-lawyer co-ownership of legal operations.

An Oct. 28 letter to the Board from Brent Steinberg, a partner with the Tampa, Florida firm Swope, Rodante, P.A.—on behalf of 326 additional Florida attorneys—argued that the committee’s recommendations are “horribly misguided.”

Non-lawyer ownership would undercut professionalism by promoting commoditization, the lawyers said. "(I)f the Committee’s recommendations are implemented, they will likely cause irreparable harm to clients, lawyers, and the legal profession as a whole,” they said.

But the Florida Bar board vote also spurred criticism.

“Let’s not ho-hum this,” Daniel Rodriguez, a professor and former dean at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, tweeted on Thursday, adding that the choice was between reforming legal services or protecting self interests. “We the People are watching.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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