Regina Keenan

Currently, Rule 1-7.3, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, sets Florida Bar membership fees at $265 per year. On June 16, 2014, a Petition was filed with the Florida Supreme Court, Case SC14-1165, to amend Rule 1-7.3 to provide authority to The Florida Bar to increase the membership fee cap by $100 per year earmarked specifically for The Florida Bar Foundation, an entirely separate 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity. This Petition was filed by former Florida Supreme Court Justice, Raoul G. Cantero, on behalf of 522 Florida Bar members.

The Petition is based on the assertion that civil legal aid to the poor has dropped to unsustainable levels due, in part, to decreased revenue to The Florida Bar Foundation from interest on attorney trust accounts. The Petition cites a Florida Supreme Court opinion that stated that Florida attorneys are ethically bound to provide legal services to the poor. Amendments to Rule 4-6.1 of the Rules Regulating The Fla. Bar-Pro Bono Pub. Serv., 696 So. 2d 734, 735 (Fla. 1997). However, Rule 4-6.1, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, which creates specific guidelines for that professional responsibility, is aspirational rather than mandatory.

On August 13, 2014, The Florida Bar filed Comments in opposition to the Petition. It objects to requiring attorneys to pay for a societal issue without addressing the global and state issue of how to provide and improve legal services to the poor. The Florida Bar is also not comfortable with mandating its members to make a non-voluntary contribution to a specific legal aid organization.

The Florida Bar further opposes the amendment because it does not recognize the members’ voluntary donation of time and services, does not provide a judicial or government attorney exemption, creates the need for a new petition should The Florida Bar need to increase funds for operating expenses, and places a new administrative cost to The Florida Bar’s current operational budget.

On August 25, 2014, Petitioners filed a Response stating that while Florida Bar members neither can solve a global crisis nor improve Florida’s delivery of legal services to the poor, they must take the lead. Voluntary time and monetary donations were recognized but are not sufficient. The Response states that it will not “break the banks of Florida attorneys” for a potential annual increase that is “roughly the price of a lunch” per month. Response at 8.

The Response states that annual dues are a non-voluntary contribution to The Florida Bar, which has, or should have, a priority of providing access to justice. However, the issue associated with a non-voluntary contribution to The Florida Bar Foundation is not addressed. The Petitioners state that the $100 increase can be structured by The Florida Bar to accommodate exemptions or even opt-outs. The Response also points out that a separate rule change to increase operating fees would be needed for any change in membership fees regardless of this Petition and that The Florida Bar processes voluntary contributions within its current operations.

On September 26, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court issued an Order scheduling this Petition for oral argument at 9:00 a.m. on December 2, 2014.

Petition for Authority to Increase Membership Fee Cap by $100 Per Year for Legal Services to the Poor

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