Despite the support of forward-thinking, recently inaugurated Bar President Ramon Abadin, the Florida Bar has voted down a proposal to allow greater reciprocity with lawyers from other states. Abadin proposed reciprocity in his inaugural speech in June, and the Florida Bar’s three year Vision 2016 study featured a proposal that the state adopt a form of reciprocity or admission by motion. Abadin, who made a progressive attempt to thwart Florida’s blatant economic protectionism of its legal industry, rightfully questioned critics’ assertion that Florida has “too many” lawyers when seventy percent of people in the state cannot get legal services. Abadin, who has been traveling the state since his inauguration to discuss the Vision 2016 study, pointed out that Florida’s approach to the issue of reciprocity is antiquated and does not conform with the changing landscape of the legal industry, which now has to contend with internet companies such as Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer whose services are not confined by state lines.
However, despite his forward-looking efforts, Abadin admitted that reciprocity is unlikely to pass in Florida, even though the debate will continue. Many members of the legal profession spoke out against Abadin’s proposal, but no legitimate concerns were brought. A self-described young attorney who sat for three bar exams in an attempt to do things “the right way” was arguing against reciprocity, only to be told by Abadin that, “What happened yesterday doesn’t affect today.” Along similar lines, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners issued a letter against reciprocity, reasoning that individuals who are admitted to practice in Florida should establish at least a minimal knowledge of Florida law. However, while a bar exam may force attorneys to cram large amounts of material in a short amount of time—not a method of learning that cultivates long-term retention—it does not absolve a practicing attorney from conducting thorough legal research into applicable law. Legal education teaches lawyers how to think and how to find information, and an attorney who has these basic skills would not need to frantically memorize Florida—or any other state’s—law just to regurgitate it on an exam. In order to be a good advocate, the attorney would simply need to be sufficiently competent to effectively research and apply the law that is relevant to the case that he is handling.
During a September forum on the issue, Florida attorneys working in small firms and solo practices expressed a concern that reciprocity would cause Florida to be flooded with attorneys working for “mega law firms” who will complete for business. However, the ostensible purpose of restrictions on practice is to protect consumers, not to protect lawyers. Complaints from lawyers about competition expose the real reason for these and other unlicensed practice of law restrictions: to protect lawyers from competition, both within and outside the profession. Abadin’s response to critics who fear that Florida would be inundated with out of state attorneys should reciprocity pass was that there is no empirical evidence to support this contention. Abadin has been making commendable attempts to align Florida with more progressive approaches to reciprocity, as his state and the U.S. as a whole are clearly lagging on the issue. Both should look to Canada, a country that allows multijurisdictional practice. This in turn harvests greater competition in the legal services industry and allows more lawyers and law firms to reach economies of scale. A similar approach would help alleviate Florida’s justice gap that was pointed out by Abadin—a problem that is in fact all too pervasive throughout the United States.
Elena Kravtsoff is a Responsive Law volunteer