Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Solution to The Florida Bar's Inability to Evenhandedly Regulate Lawyer Misconduct

Our system of government demands that the legal profession command the public's full trust and confidence. A recent survey by The Florida Bar's Research, Planning and Evaluation Department revealed 68% of those surveyed say the public does not have confidence in the legal system. See my previous posts for reasons I'm surprised that percentage isn't even higher.

Under the current system, Florida’s attorneys are licensed, supervised and regulated by the Florida Supreme Court through The Florida Bar, which is the delegated administrative arm of the Court. While self-regulation of the profession by The Florida Bar may have been a worthwhile experiment, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it fails to evenhandedly regulate lawyer misconduct. The Florida Bar's failure is a disservice to both the public and the professionally responsible attorneys who suffer by association.

Among the greatest flaws in The Florida Bar's grievance and disciplinary process are inadequate investigation and documentation to support grievance committee decisions. Written records are not usually kept of grievance committee proceedings. The discussions are typically oral and not, routinely, recorded. This fosters cronyism characterized by a lack of meaningful investigations and nod-nod, wink-wink decisions in cases involving well-connected lawyers. Many law firms are political juggernauts that enjoy a unique sheld against consequences for violating The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

Is there a solution to The Florida Bar's inability to appropriately regulate lawyer misconduct? It seems incapable of investigating itself. Maybe the current system just cannot be fixed and must instead be changed.

Legislators, public officials and special interest groups have in the past called for the regulation of the legal profession by an entity other than the Supreme Court of Florida. Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) seems the logical entity to take over since it already oversees licensing and regulation of most other professionals including accountants, veterinarians, contractors and about 200 other occupations. The Florida Bar has firmly opposed the proposed change but its arguments in opposition are unconvincing at best.

The DBPR would be a far better watchdog over the legal profession than The Bar and the Supreme Court of Florida. Just take a look at my posts summarizing the Bar's 'investigation' of The Law Offices of Eddie Farah's blatant overcharging practices.

The foxes have guarded the henhouse long enough. It's time to acknowledge the failed experiment of a self-regulating Bar and put a suitable system in place.

Copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey R. Hill. All rights reserved.

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