Monday, September 21, 2015

My thoughts on Florida reciprocity

I will never understand while the Florida Bar believes that someone straight out of law school is more qualified to advise clients on legal matters having taken the  exam just a few weeks earlier than someone who actively practiced in another State for many years. I also have hard time grasping why attorneys who have taken the Bar exam in another American jurisdiction, passed it, then made a living working in the profession within a legal system very similar to ours are treated as if they practiced law in another country. The only thing that cures that is of course- taking a two day exam side by side with recent graduates. Here's where I think we lose sight when talking about reciprocity and whether or not Florida should adopt it. We're not talking about opening the floodgates and swearing in everybody who just wants to practice law. We're not talking about allowing people without Juris Doctor degrees to sit for the bar. We're not talking about abandoning the requirement that the schools running those programs be ABA approved. Some jurisdictions do allow foreign LLM graduates to take the exam. Others make provisions allowing formal legal education substitution. But- at the same time- States that do that have the reputation of having some of the hardest exams in the country. And I say - good luck to applicants trying that route, they will need it.

And I say that- in the interest of full disclosure- as someone- who after graduating with a law degree from a different country and an LLM from Florida, actually went back, got his Juris Doctor, took and passed the Florida Bar exam. I'm a Florida attorney- but also taking advantage of the admission on motion rules in DC- a Washington DC attorney. Being sworn in and practicing in DC opens me up to reciprocity in a large number of under States, that Florida itself didn't. It just takes longer. So, here's where the bottom line is for me- all of us (or most) went to ADA approved schools following the same guidelines. We've taken exams that had the same parts like the multistate section day or the MBE. We were also required to pass the ethics exam- the MPRE, on which I hate to brag I scored pretty high. The only thing that is truly different is the "state portion", on which we write essays and solve multiple choice tests. But even then large amount of what we have to express is still pretty similar. With some "state distinctions" we have to memorize over the multistate concepts. Often in review classes they are taught more as an afterthought, or a list we have to memorize. So, what is it about Florida that makes it more hermetic in how it administer the admission to the legal profession,  how are we more unique than New York or Illinois. And are we really helping the clients or just keeping the gates closed for those that are already in? And I understand that the Bar needs to set the standards for admission and monitor the quality of the services rendered. I just don't think that sealing itself from the rest of the country, ignoring the talent and experience of all those other lawyers is the proper way to do it. I know- there's ninety thousand of us. And if Florida offers any type of reciprocity- there will be more. Some of us have a hard time getting legal work as it is. I know that traditional law firms have not been exactly rushing to hire me either- but it is a time to adapt.

When somebody asks me how to go about locating a lawyer, I often tell them to find someone experienced and local. Yes, I know some people collect jurisdictions like badges, but to me it's never about how you got your Bar card, but are you physically there. Have you dealt with the peculiar ways courts in your area do things and can you assist someone if a matter escalates. Ten, eleven bar memberships may look impressive on a resume- and if you're willing to move here- great. If not, I don't think it speaks much about your ability to help a Florida client.

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