Florida's New Rules on Multijurisdictional Practice: A Mixed Bag for Arbitration Attorneys

Article excerpt

The Florida Supreme Court just approved major amendments to the Florida rules that address the issue of multijurisdictional practice. The new rules, which take effect next year, allow unlimited practice of international arbitration in Florida by non-Florida attorneys, but limit practitioners of domestic arbitration to three appearances within a 365-day period.

For years, attorneys from states other than Florida who have an opportunity to engage in Sunshine State-based legal practice have bemoaned the fact that they would have to take the bar exam to practice law in Florida.1 This restriction on law practice puts Florida in the minority of jurisdictions that do not admit out-of-state attorneys to practice based on reciprocity (i.e., being licensed to practice law and in good standing in another state).2 The bar exam requirement ostensibly protects the citizens of Florida from unqualified practitioners, although some commentators have argued that the true purpose of this requirement is to protect the economic self-interest of the attorneys already practicing there.3

The tension between public protection and professional protectionism has heightened as lawyers around the country have broadened their practices to other jurisdictions to service clients who do business in multiple states and even internationally. Florida rules governing law practice define "multijurisdictional" law practice as a lawyer providing legal services in a jurisdiction where the lawyer is not licensed to practice law.4

The Florida Bar rules have always prohibited out-of-state attorneys from rendering legal services in Florida, except in the following limited circumstances.5 Essentially, an out-of-state attorney could only make three appearances in Florida without being admitted by passing the bar exam. This restriction addressed the concern that attorneys from other states might pack up and move to the Sunshine State. It was not intended to address the phenomenon of multijurisdictional practice. Because the current rule does not provide a basis for disciplining non-Florida attorneys for violation of the Code of Conduct Governing Florida Attorneys,6 the Florida Bar determined that a rule governing multijurisdictional practice had to be adopted.

Multijurisdictional practice is an outgrowth of tremendous changes in the business world over the past three decades. Businesses have expanded their operations into other states without having offices in those states. Accordingly, they have need of legal advice in states where their regular attorneys are not admitted. This change has affected the practice of law because attorneys need to service clients who do business in multiple jurisdictions where the attorneys are not admitted to practice law. Clients expect these legal services from their regular counsel to avoid the need to have a lawyer in every state. The proliferation of new computer technology and the Internet have made it relatively easy for outof-state lawyers to research the statutes and case law from states in which they are not admitted to practice law. Thus, the time is long overdue for states like Florida to address multijurisdictional law practice and develop rules that are consistent with modern business practices.

In July 2000, the American Bar Association (ABA) appointed a commission to study the multijurisdictional practice of law, and in August 2002, the ABA adopted the commission's final report and recommendations.7 When the ABA asked for input from the states, the Florida Bar appointed a commission to study the ABA report. In March 2002, the commission made several recommendations to the Florida Bar Board of Governors, which were adopted. Five months later, the Florida Bar formed a second commission charged with making recommendations to change Florida's rules. After obtaining input from many interested parties, the second commission was reconvened to study the multijurisdictional practice issue. In April 2003, the commission produced its final report, which the Florida Bar Board of Governors adopted in December 2003. …