Sunday, November 1, 2015

President's Message: Florida’s Leaders Solving the Justice Gap - The Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and Florida’s Vision 2016 Commission

By Carter Andersen

Admission by Motion and Reciprocity are dead in Florida. The red herring has been hooked, fileted, and fried. Florida Bar members have spoken, The Florida Bar Board of Governors has listened, and by many accounts, the great public interest in preserving the rigorous standards for admission to practice in Florida courts has won the day. What’s next?

The Justice Gap

The real issue facing Florida is solving the justice gap ― who will solve it? Will it be Florida lawyers? Will it be technology companies? One thing is for sure ― Florida’s legal leaders are working hard to solve it! Solving the justice gap is a high priority for the Florida Supreme Court and Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, as well as for The Florida Bar and President Ramón Abadin.

Abadin described the justice gap at our September 16 Membership Luncheon as the “fat middle.” Studies show that the top 10 percent of legal consumers (our clients) get legal services by paying top dollars for excellent lawyers at law firms big and small. And the bottom 20 percent of legal consumers get legal services from legal aid organizations, pro bono legal services, or contingency fee lawyers. What does that leave? The “fat middle” ― could it be that 70 percent of legal consumers are left without a lawyer?

Retired Judge William Van Nortwick, who sits on the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and is now practicing with Akerman in Jacksonville, echoed Abadin’s concerns about the justice gap problem in his October 1 presentation to Bay Area Legal Services at the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center:

Only 14 percent of the people who reported having civil legal issues during the past year obtained legal help in addressing them.
Less than 20 percent of the legal needs of low-income Americans are being met.
When confronted with a civil legal problem, 30 percent of low-income Americans give up and seek no legal redress.
For every client served by a federally funded legal aid program, someone else seeking help is turned away.
In many courts, 90 percent of parties in restraining order matters are unrepresented.
80 percent of divorce cases in Florida had at least one pro se litigant.

Internet Technology

Abadin opened a lot of eyes with the examples of more than 50 companies selling legal forms online, and he explained the estimated size of the unserved legal market in the United States is $45 billion. He also pointed out that in the Internet marketplace, consumers have virtually unlimited access to legal information and knowledge. The balance of power has shifted from professionals (lawyers) to consumers (clients).

Many were surprised to hear from Abadin that outside equity investment in legal startup technology companies grew from $66 million in 2012 to more than $1 billion in 2014. Today, companies such as LegalZoom are creating technology-based platforms to connect consumers and lawyers. LegalZoom itself plans to have 20,000 to 50,000 lawyers on the platform within five years. The target clients are the middle-class and small businesses. Last year, LegalZoom served more than 2 million customers. Another company we all know, AVVO, had more than 70 million visits to In 2014, AVVO connected 3.5 million consumers to lawyers and generated $8.5 billion in revenue for legal services in United States.

Abadin’s point? We have a justice gap problem. Those in need of legal services have access to the Internet. If Florida lawyers don’t solve the justice gap, Wall Street and technology startups will! What are you going to do? How should we solve the justice gap?

Leaders like Chief Justice Labarga, President Abadin, and Judge Van Nortwick are working hard throughout the state to solve the justice gap. They are going to the lawyers and the citizens of Florida and working for solutions ― following the advice of Winnie-the-Pooh: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” We should all thank them!

Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice

In November 2014, recognizing that economic disparity threatens access to a fair and impartial judicial system, Chief Justice Labarga established the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice. The 27-member commission includes leaders from all three branches of Florida government, The Florida Bar, civil legal aid providers, the business community, and other stakeholders. The commission is studying the unmet civil legal needs of disadvantaged, low-income, and moderate-income Floridians.

The Commission on Access to Civil Justice will submit its final report to the Florida Supreme Court, the governor, and the Florida Legislature by June 30, 2016, and that report will likely recommend a permanent access to justice commission. The commission will address the need for staffed legal aid programs, resources and support for self-represented litigants, issues regarding limited-scope representation, pro bono services, and innovative technology solutions. The website for the commission is

The Florida Bar’s Vision 2016 Commission

The Vision 2016 Commission is tackling a wide array of issues facing Florida lawyers. The commission had its inaugural meeting September 26, 2013, where then-Florida Bar President Gene Pettis appointed 68 individuals from the legal profession, public sector, and business community to perform a comprehensive three-year study of the future practice of law in Florida.

The Vision 2016 Access to Legal Services Subgroup yielded to the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, and it is working under that umbrella to meet its mission. The Vision 2016 Bar Admissions Subgroup is studying several issues relating to multi-jurisdictional practice, including reciprocity/admission on motion, the disaster rule (“Katrina rule”), foreign authorized house counsel rule, foreign pro hac vice, foreign legal consultants rule, alternative business structure models, the uniform Bar examination, and the licensing of non-lawyers for specific tasks. The Vision 2016 Legal Education Subgroup is studying how to define competencies that new lawyers should have, models for legal education reform, and how to work with all stakeholders to produce lawyers with well-rounded and extensive competencies. The Vision 2016 Technology Subgroup is studying the integration of technology into law offices and courts, technology that performs legal/lawyer work, e-discovery, mandatory technology CLE, online legal service providers, and other technology issues. Check out Vision 2016 at

In short, Vision 2016 teaches that the future is now. And through Vision 2016, The Florida Bar is tackling the future.

Recent HCBA Resolution

In September, the HCBA made a great effort to engage and educate our members regarding Vision 2016. Together with the THBA, HAWL, GEBA, and the FBA Tampa Chapter, we co-hosted a Vision 2016 Town Hall Meeting at the Chester H. Ferguson featuring Abadin and Florida Bar President-Elect Bill Schifino. We also hosted Abadin as the keynote speaker for our Membership Luncheon in September. After learning so much about the issues, our Board of Directors submitted HCBA Resolution Number 15 – 3 commending The Florida Bar and the Vision 2016 Commission for their effort to raise awareness that the practice of law is rapidly changing and our profession is facing new challenges. We also urged the Board of Governors to continue to educate, raise awareness, and look for solutions to these challenges that will serve all Florida Bar members.

I predict that Florida ― based on the efforts of leaders Chief Justice Labarga and Florida Bar President Abadin and those who follow ― will lead the nation in solving the access to justice issues and the many Bar admissions, legal education, and technology issues. The Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and The Florida Bar’s Vision 2016 Commission are two efforts that invite all Florida Bar members to be part of the solution, and they deserve our respect and support.