Florida Bar Admissions - ADMISSION RULES and REGULATIONS
Supreme Court amends bar admission character and fitness rules regarding mental health and substance abuse disorders. [Added 1/4/21]
The Florida Supreme Court approved rule changes proposed by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners relating to character and fitness issues. The amended rules deal with mental health and substance abuse disorders. New language now specifically states that these issues may be cause for character and fitness inquiry if they “may impair the ability to practice law.” The Court stated that Rule 2-13.1 was the changed to “delete obsolete language pertaining to disciplinary resignation, which is no longer recognized under the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.” The amendments to Rule 3-11 “replace outdated terminology in subdivisions (j) and (k) with the terms used in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for mental and substance use disorders and clarify that the Board’s investigative focus with respect to such disorders is on whether the disorder ‘may impair the ability to practice law.’” The rule changes are effective immediately. In re: Amendments to the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar – Rules 2-13.1 and 3-11, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC20-850, 11/25/2020), 2020 WL 6948931.
Supreme Court amends Rules Regulating The Florida Bar to remove “conditional admission” as separate category of Bar membership, effectively replacing it with admission pursuant to consent agreement under bar admission rules. [Added 9/20/20]
Acting in response to a petition filed by 50 Bar members and supported unanimously by the Bar’s Board of Governors, the Florida Supreme Court amended the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar to remove the bar membership category of “conditionally admitted members.”
Conditional admission had been used when the Court admitted applicants with “a prior history of drug, alcohol, or psychological problems.” Former Rule 1-3.2(b). Those so admitted were on a probationary status and subject to conditions imposed by the Court (e.g., monitoring, blood or urine testing, participating in certain programs).
The Court eliminated the conditional admission category of membership, effectively replacing it with admission pursuant to a “consent agreement” as authorized in the bar admission rules. The Court explained: “The proposed amendments reorient how the Bar treats members with a history of drug, alcohol, or psychological issues that are admitted to the Bar pursuant to a consent agreement. . . . Under the proposal, such members are no longer treated as a separate class of ‘Conditionally Admitted Members’ that are subject to a term of probation. The proposal instead treats such members as any other member of the Bar in good standing, except for the added terms of the consent agreement.”
New Rule 3-4.8 is effectively immediately and provides: “The Supreme Court of Florida may admit a person to membership in The Florida Bar under a consent agreement as provided in the Rules Relating to Admissions to the Bar. The consent agreement will be monitored by The Florida Bar. The Supreme Court of Florida, unless otherwise required by law, will require that the member admitted under the consent agreement pay monitoring costs. A failure to observe the conditions of the consent agreement or a finding of probable cause as to conduct of the member committed during the period of the consent agreement may terminate the agreement and subject the member to all available disciplinary sanctions. Proceedings to determine compliance with conditions of admission will be processed in the same manner as matters of contempt provided elsewhere in these Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.” In re: Amendments to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar – Rule 1-3.2(b), __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC19-1335, 9/3/2020), 2020 WL 5246658.
Supreme Court declines to adopt proposed emergency rules to permit law licensure without passing the bar exam, concluding that law school graduation alone is not a sufficient indicator of qualification to practice law in Florida. [Added 9/11/20]
Four days after adopting a “Temporary Supervised Practice Program” for applicants for the July 2020 bar exam that was not administered, the Supreme Court declined to adopt an emergency rule that was proposed pursuant to a petition filed by Bar members under Rule 1-12.1. The proposed rule would have allowed admission to the Florida Bar without examination due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 situation, replacing the requirement of taking and passing the bar exam (at least temporarily, and possibly permanently) with a program of “supervised practice.”
Pointing out that “it is essential for this Court to ensure that those seeking to practice law in this state possess ‘knowledge of the fundamental principles of law and their application,’ an ‘ability to reason logically,’ and the preparedness to ‘accurately analyze legal problems,’ before they are allowed to offer their services to the public,” the Court concluded that “law school graduation alone does not sufficiently demonstrate the knowledge, ability, and preparedness necessary to admit a law graduate to the practice of law in Florida.” In re: Petition to Amend the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar and the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, ___ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC20-1236, 9/3/2020), 2020 WL 5494607.
Supreme Court adopts "Temporary Supervised Practice Program" for applicants registered for July 2020 bar exam that was not administered. [Added 8/25/20]
On August 24, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued an administrative order designed to address the “severe hardship” that delays in administering the bar exam originally scheduled for July 2020 have caused for bar applicants. The Court created a “Temporary Supervised Practice Program” for applicants who registered for and received an admission ticket to the July 2020 bar exam that was not administered.
The Program will permit eligible bar applicants to practice under the supervision of a “Supervising Attorney” who directly employs the applicant or is employed at the same law firm, governmental organization, or legal aid organization. The Supervising Attorney must be a member of the Florida Bar in good standing for at least 5 years with no “pending discipline posted in the member’s profiled on The Florida Bar’s website.”
The Order spells out the services that may be performed by a “Supervised Practice Participant” and the level of supervision that the Supervising Attorney must provide. In the case of at least some court appearances, the Supervising Attorney must be present with the Supervised Practice Participant in court.
Eligible bar applicants may complete a form posted on the website of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. Lawyers currently licensed and in good standing in other jurisdictions are eligible, as are unlicensed applicants who have “not taken a bar examination in Florida or in another jurisdiction before February 1, 2020.”
The privilege to engage in supervised practice under the Program “expires within 30 days after the [Florida Board of Bar Examiners] releases results for the February 2021 General Bar Examination.” The privilege to engage in supervised practice “will remain in effect if the practice participant opts not to take or is unsuccessful on the bar examination offered by the board October 2020.” In re: COVID-19 Emergency Measures Relating to the 2020 Bar Applicants – Creation of the Temporary Supervised Practice Program (Admin. Order No. AOSC20-80, 8/24/2020).
Petition to adopt emergency rule replacing this year’s bar exam with supervised practice program leading to full admission to Florida Bar filed with Supreme Court. [Added 8/23/20]
On August 20, 2020, a petition seeking an emergency rule to allow for admission to the Florida Bar without examination due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 situation was filed with the Florida Supreme Court. More than 100 members of the Florida Bar signed the petition.
The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar provide that a rule amendment petition signed by 50 Bar members may be filed with the Supreme Court. Ordinarily such petitions must be provided to the Florida Bar 90 days before they are filed with the Court. The instant petition, however, asks the Court to waive that provision “[d]ue to the exigency of this situation and the need for immediate relief.”
The petitions sets out concerns and hardships experienced by bar applicants due to the changing plans for administration of the July 2020 Florida Bar examination, including the August 16 announcement that the online bar exam scheduled for August was cancelled.
The petition proposes Emergency Rule 1-17, the substance of which provides: “Every applicant for the July 2020 bar examination who has complied with the requirements of the applicable rules for admission into the Florida Bar Examination, and met the requirements as to character and fitness, and otherwise complied with the requirements of the applicable rules for admission into The Florida Bar will be recommended by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners to the Supreme Court of Florida for admission to The Florida Bar. Every applicant who is admitted pursuant to this rule will be subject to Supervised Practice under Rule 1-3.12, Rules Regulating the Florida Bar.”
Proposed Supervised Practice Rule 1-3.12 would permit an applicant to be supervised by a lawyer who has been in good standing with the Florida Bar for at least 5 years. The supervised practice would operate in a manner similar to the law student practice program under Chapter 11, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. The proposed period of supervised practice is 6 months, although the petition noted that this period could be extended if the Court “requires the taking of the bar exam at some point.” In re: Petition for an Emergency Rule for a Supervised Practice and Pathway to Admission to The Florida Bar Without Examination(Case No. SC20-____, filed 8/20/2020).
Supreme Court approves changes to rules setting the qualifications for lawyer and non-lawyer members of Florida Board of Bar Examiners. [Added 2/19/20]
Responding to a petition filed by the Board of Bar Examiners, the Florida Supreme Court approved changes to the rules setting the qualifications for lawyer and non-lawyer members of the Board.
Rule 1-22.1 was amended “to now require that attorney members of the Board (1) be active members of The Florida Bar while serving on the Board; (2) have been active members in the five years immediately preceding Board service; and (3) be otherwise deemed qualified by the Court to assess whether applicants meet the essential eligibility requirements for admission under the Bar Admission Rules. Ambiguous language regarding the requirements for serving on the Board has been deleted.”
Rule 1-23.1 was amended “to require that public members of the Board have an academic bachelor’s degree and otherwise “be deemed qualified by the Court to assess whether applicants for admission to The Florida Bar meet the essential eligibility requirements as provided in these Rules.” Language that suggested an emphasis on scientific experience for Board membership has been deleted.”
The revised rules were effective immediately. In re: Amendments to the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar – Rules 1-22.1 and 1-23.1, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC19-1342, 2/13/2020), 2020 WL 717819.
On its own motion, Supreme Court removes 2 subjects from list of subjects tested on Florida Bar Examination. [Added 1/27/20]
Following a discussion between the Board of Bar Examiners and the deans of Florida law schools, the Supreme Court on its own motion amended rules to remove two subject areas from those that may be tested on the Florida Bar Examination. Rule 4-22 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar was amended to remove juvenile delinquency and dependency from the list of subjects that may be tested.
The Court explained: “We remove these two subject areas because we agree with the law school deans that these subjects test specialized knowledge falling outside the general competency that the General Bar Examination is intended to test. . . . We believe that amending rule 4-22 to eliminate these two subject areas will increase the validity of the Florida Bar Examination by allowing law school graduates to engage in more thoughtful analysis of core legal subjects instead of memorizing highly technical rules and information for a limited period of time.”
The amendment will apply beginning with the July 2020 bar exam. The Court announced that interested parties will have until April 7, 2020, in which to file written comments with the Court. In re: Amendments to the Supreme Court Rules Relating to Admissions to the Bar, __ So.3d __ (Fla., SC19-2018, 1/23/2020), 2020 WL 370190.
Supreme Court approves change to bar admission rules designed to make it easier to transfer bar exam scores from other states to Florida. [Added 12/5/17]
Approving a request from the Florida Bar of Bar Examiners, the Florida Supreme Court amended the bar admission rules to allow applicants to transfer certain scores on the Multistate Bar Examination from the jurisdiction in which they took the exam to Florida.
Effective upon release of the Court’s opinion, Rule 4-23.1 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar was amended to provide: “A score achieved by an applicant on the Multistate Bar Examination administered in a jurisdiction other than the State of Florida will be accepted by the board if the applicant achieved the required scaled score under rule 4-26.2, under the individual method, within the timeframe required under rule 4-18.1. The score must be transferred directly to the board by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.”
The Court explained the background behind the rule change: “Rule 4-23.1 is amended to allow an applicant to transfer a score obtained on the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) in another state, as long as the transferred scaled score meets the requirements of rule 4-26.2 (Pass/Fail Line) – the scaled score would have to be 136 or higher under the individual method – and as long as it is obtained within the timeframe required under rule 4-18.1 – within 25 months of the date of the administration of any part of the examination that is passed. In 1983, we adopted the current rule prohibiting the transfer of scores because at that time, there were inconsistencies in the administration and scoring of the MBE administered in other jurisdictions. However, since then, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has established very specific guidelines and procedures for the administration of the MBE, making the transfer of scores feasible and acceptable.” In re: Amendments to the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC16-2252, 11/30/2017), 2017 WL 5897810.
Supreme Court amends Rules Relating to Admissions to the Bar to provide specific deadlines applicable to those wishing to use laptops when taking bar exam. [Added 11/3/17]
In response to a petition from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, the Florida Supreme Court amended rule 4-44 (“Computer Option”) of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Florida Bar. The rule as amended now explicitly states deadlines applicable to laptop use on bar exams and requires bar applicants “to indicate their intention to use a laptop for the examination on the application, or otherwise notify the Board in writing of their intent, and pay the laptop fee at the time they register to take the exam.” The amendments took effect upon release of the Court’s opinion. In Re: Amendments to Rule 4-44 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to The Florida Bar, __ So.3d __ (Fla., SC17-1543, 10/19/2017), 2017 WL 4684219.
Supreme Court rejects Bar's proposed amendments to rules regarding character and fitness evaluations of students who apply for Law School Practice Program. [Added 4/14/17]
In October 2016 the Florida Bar petitioned the Supreme Court for changes to the Law School Practice Program. Responding to concerns raised by law schools and the Young Lawyers Division, the Bar asked the Court to change rules regarding character and fitness approval for law students who apply to become certified as legal interns under Chapter 11. Currently those students must pass a full bar admission background investigation before being certified as a legal intern. The proposed changes would have dropped that requirement to a Level 2 criminal background check, which may take 1-3 weeks as compared to perhaps 6-9 months for the full investigation. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners did not support the Bar's proposals.
The Court rejected the proposed rule changes. “[W]e conclude that the Bar’s proposal in this case is not an acceptable compromise between the position of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners – the entity in which we have reposed our trust to carry out the responsibility of screening the character and fitness of certified legal intern registrants – and the positions of the law schools and programs who rely on the participation of certified legal interns to help serve their clients. Although we are concerned that the current rule may have contributed to the reduced participation in certified legal intern programs, and we agree that this reduction in participation is detrimental to law students, law schools, and the programs themselves, we cannot place those interests, no matter how important, above our duty to ensure that the participating students and graduates, who actually provide legal representation under the supervision of members of The Florida Bar, possess the requisite character and fitness for eventual admission to the practice of law, either in this state or another state of their choice. For this reason, we decline to adopt the proposed amendments at this time.”
The Court went on to urge the Bar Examiners and law schools to work together under the current rules to increase law student participation in the Law School Practice Program. “The Florida Board of Bar Examiners and the law schools should continue to stress the benefits of participation and the need for early application to the various clinical and internship opportunities that are available. We strongly encourage law school students to continue to participate in certified legal intern programs and to register early with the Florida Board of Bar Examiners in order to timely receive clearance under the current rules.” In re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar – Rules 11-1.3 and 11-1.9 (Biennial Petition), __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC16-1963, 4/13/2017), 2017 WL ______.
Board of Governors approves recommending changes to rules governing Certified Legal Interns. [Added 5/31/16]
At its May 2016 meeting, the Board of Governors voted to recommend that the Florida Supreme Court change rules governing Certified Legal Interns (“CLIs”). The proposed changes to rules 11-1.3 and 11-1.9 of the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar are designed to reduce the amount of time that it takes for the Board of Bar Examiners to check the character and fitness of CLI registrants. The proposals would allow prospective CLIs to begin work after applying to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners as a CLI registrant, being certified by their law dean, and passing a Level 2 criminal background check, which can be done in a matter of weeks. Under the existing rules, CLI registrants must pass a full Florida Board of Bar Examiners background check, which can take a number of months. The changes were overwhelmingly supported by Florida law school deans. No changes will be effective unless and until they are approved by the Florida Supreme Court.
Supreme Court adopts amendments to Rules Relating to Admissions to the Bar. [Added 5/23/16]
Responding to a petition filed by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, the Supreme Court approved several amendments to the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar. The approved amendments became effective immediately upon release of the Court’s opinion. The Court also chose to reject, without prejudice and without comment, proposed amendments to rules 2-30.2 (Filed with the Court); 3-22.5 (Board Action Following an Investigative Hearing); 3-23.6 (Board Action Following Formal Hearing); 3-40.1 (Dissatisfied with Board’s Recommendation); and 3-40.2 (Dissatisfied with Length of Board’s Investigation). Some of the rule amendments approved by the Court are summarized below.
Rule 3-10.1 (Essential Eligibility Requirements). The amended rule clarifies that applicants and registrants must demonstrate by their actions that they meet the Essential Eligibility Requirements, and adds the requirement that applicants and registrants must demonstrate that they will “avoid acts that exhibit a disregard for the rights, safety, or welfare of others.”
Rule 3-23.1 (Failure to File the Answer). The amended rule provides that failure to file an answer to Specifications is a waiver of an applicant’s right to a formal hearing before the Board.
Rule 4-42.4 (Cutoff for Test Accommodations). The amended rule requires that requests for test accommodations be received by the Board, rather than just postmarked, by the deadline. This will help ensure that the Board can timely process all requests for accommodations. In re: Amendments to Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC15-1226, 5/91/2016), 2016 WL _______.
Board of Governors votes unanimously to reject admission on motion to the Florida Bar, with or without reciprocity. [Added 10/16/15]
At its meeting in Jacksonville on October 16, 2015, the Florida Bar Board of Governors voted on a recommendation that had been made by a sub-committee of the Bar's Vision 2016 Commission. After studying the issue, the sub-committee had recommended that the Board consider approving some form of admission on motion to the Florida Bar. The Board voted unanimously to reject admission on motion, with or without reciprocity.
A press release from the Florida Bar can be viewed here.
Supreme Court amends bar admission rules to provide for appointment of additional members to Florida Board of Bar Examiners. [Added 6/7/15]
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners (“FBBE”) petitioned the Supreme Court to amend the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar. FBBE currently has 15 members (12 lawyers and 3 public members). FBBE asked the Court to authorize appointment of additional members to help address workload issues, without making those additional seats permanent spots on the Board.
Instead of adopting the proposed amendment, the Court promulgated a new rule. New rule 1-21.1, which is effective immediately, provides: “The board may submit to the court a request for additional members to serve, as necessary. The request and appointee recommendations must be submitted in the same manner as appointee recommendations under rules 1-22.2 and 1-23.2. The term of service of a member appointed under this rule will be as provided in rules 1-22.3 and 1-23.3 or as otherwise approved by the court.” In re: Amendments to Rules of the Supreme court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, __ So.3d __ (Fla., No. SC15-176, 6/4/2015), 2015 WL 3496054.
Supreme Court amends the Oath of Admission to the Bar to stress civility. [Added 9/14/11] -- In re: Oath of Admission to the Florida Bar, 73 So.3d 149 (Fla. 2011).
Supreme Court amends the Rules Relating to Admissions to the Bar. [12/17/10]
The Florida Supreme Court ruled on a number of amendments to the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar that were proposed by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. The Court essentially adopted the rules as proposed, with two notable exceptions: (1) a proposal relating to applications from disbarred lawyers was adopted as modified sua sponte by the Court; and (2) a proposal relating to applications of persons convicted of a felony was rejected. Rule changes of interest are outlined below.
Applications from disbarred lawyers. As proposed by the Board, Rule 2-13.1 would have been amended to require disbarred lawyers and lawyers who resigned with disciplinary proceedings pending to be readmitted in their home states before they would be eligible to seek readmission to the Florida Bar. Bar member Jack Weiss commented that this proposed rule change would result in permanent disbarment of a Florida lawyer who was disbarred (but not permanently) in Florida and then reciprocally disbarred in another state that makes disbarment always permanent. Agreeing that this would effectively overrule its decision in Florida Board of Bar Examiners v. Simring, 802 So.2d 1111 (Fla. 2000), the Court adopted a revised version of the proposed rule. As adopted, the rule focuses on the jurisdiction in which the conduct resulting in disbarment occurred. If the misconduct occurred in Florida, the lawyer cannot apply for readmission to the Florida Bar "for a period of 5 years from the date of disbarment, or 3 years from the date of resignation, such other time as is set forth by any Florida rule of discipline, or longer period for readmission by the Supreme Court of Florida." If the misconduct occurred in another state, the lawyer cannot apply for admission or readmission to the Florida Bar "until the person is readmitted in the foreign jurisdiction in which the conduct that resulted in discipline occurred. Readmission must occur in the foreign state in which the conduct occurred even if Florida imposed discipline prior to the imposition of discipline in the jurisdiction in which the conduct occurred and even if the person would otherwise be eligible for readmission under the terms of any Florida discipline."
Applications from lawyers suspended in other states. The Court amended Rule 2-13.2 to provide that, if a lawyer is suspended for disciplinary reasons as a result of misconduct in another state, that person "is not eligible to apply for admission to The Florida Bar until that person is reinstated to the practice of law in the person's home state."
Applications for admission of convicted felons. The Board had proposed a new rule (to be numbered Rule 2-13.35) that would set forth specific requirements for admissions by persons who had been convicted of felonies. The Court stated that it declined to adopt the proposed new rule "at this time." (A copy of the rule as proposed can be viewed by clicking here and scrolling to Appendix A, page 6.)
Readmission prior to satisfaction of court-ordered restitution and disciplinary costs. The Court approved an amendment to Rule 2-13.25 after making modifications sua sponte. As adopted, the rule provides that ordinarily restitution obligations and disciplinary costs must be satisfied in full before a disbarred, suspended, or resigned lawyer is eligible to apply for admission or readmission to the Florida Bar -- but also established that an applicant may avoid this requirement "upon a showing of exceptional circumstances." Two justices dissented to the establishment of this exception.
Board recommendation of permanent denial of admission. The Court amended Rule 3-23.6(d) to authorize the Board of Bar Examiners to recommend permanent denial of admission for "extremely grievous misconduct."
The amendments were effective immediately upon release of the Court's opinion. In re: Amendments to Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, 52 So.3d 652 (Fla. 2010).
Supreme Court adds "professionalism" and others to list of subjects that may be tested on Florida bar examination. [Added 12/10/10] -- In re: Amendments to Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, 51 So.3d 1144 (Fla. 2010).
Supreme Court restricts conditional admission to bar applicants who will live and work in Florida during conditional period. [Added 12/15/09] -- In re: Amendments to Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, 23 So.3d 1179 (Fla. 2009).
Supreme Court declines to ease bar application rules for persons who graduate from Florida law schools after those schools receive initial ABA accreditation. In re: Proposed Amendments to the Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar, 873 So.2d 295 (Fla. 2004).