Florida Legal Industry Reform
Florida is getting closer to legal industry reform. In the coming months, they will likely have a plan in place addressing how to implement changes that will impact both legal industry professionals and consumers.
“The days for talking, studying, and reporting are over. We need to solve this problem with concrete, incremental steps. And we will.”
What Legal Industry Reforms Are Being Considered in Florida?
In 2019, Florida created a Special Committee to Improve the Delivery of Legal Services. The Special Committee’s purpose was twofold: to study the rules dictating Florida’s legal industry and determine if they could be altered to improve legal services delivery, and to make sure Florida lawyers continue to have a significant role in the delivery of legal services.
In June 2021, the Special Committee completed its work and issued a final report, in which several changes were approved conceptually. Notable recommendations (issued to the Florida Supreme Court and Bar Board of Governors) include:
- Amend Rule 4-5.4 to allow nonlawyers to have non-controlling equity interest in law firms. The nonlawyers would need to offer services that directly support the firm.
- Amend Rule 4-5.4 to allow fee-sharing between lawyers and nonlawyers.
- Amend rules to allow for not-for-profit law firms.
- Streamline and simplify advertising rules.
The Special Committee also recommended creating the Law Practice Innovation Laboratory Program. Similar to Utah’s legal regulatory Sandbox, the Innovation Lab would allow for amendments to happen in a controlled and monitored environment.
At this time, the Special Committee has not recommended that rules be amended to allow for the passive ownership of law firms by nonlawyers. This means that, for now, the allowance of nonlaywer-owned law firms like Law on Call is not being considered in Florida.
When Will Legal Reforms in Florida Be Implemented?
The Florida Bar Board of Governors is actively meeting to learn more about the Special Committee’s recommendations. A vote on the recommendations is expected in November 2021. If any recommendations are approved, an implementation timeline will likely follow.
Why Is Legal Industry Reform in Florida Necessary?
Like most other U.S. jurisdictions, Florida is facing an access to justice crisis. In civil legal cases, low- and middle-income Florida residents have increasingly gone without legal representation. And so far, attempts to bridge the gap between people and the legal services they need have made moderate dents at best.
As former Florida State Bar President Gregory Coleman wrote about the access to justice gap, “The days for talking, studying, and reporting are over. We need to solve this problem with concrete, incremental steps. And we will.”
How Does Law on Call Fit in to Florida Legal Reform?
Florida is considering loosening up its law firm ownership regulations. So far, however, the state is not considering allowing for “passive ownership” of law firms. This excludes Law on Call from operating in Florida, as our ownership model is “passive,” aka our owners don’t have anything to do with the practice of law.
But, we believe the loosening of law firm ownership regulations is a move in the right direction, regardless of if the reforms allow our entity’s existence or not. If Florida ever decides to move further in our direction, we’ll be there to offer our services.
Is Florida the Only State Pursuing Legal Industry Reform?
No! At least a dozen states are considering legal industry reform and researching the access to justice gap.
In Arizona, legal industry reform is already implemented, and we’ve submitted our application to operate an Alternative Business Structure in the state. In California, legal reform recommendations will be submitted by the Working Group no later than Fall 2022—the allowance of nonlawyer-owned law firms is on the table. And in Utah, legal reform takes the shape of the legal regulatory Sandbox—Law on Call has been in operation there since Winter 2021.
Legal industry reform is just beginning.