What are local professionalism panels?

As we've established on our blog, when a person has been aggrieved by the misconduct of an attorney, their primary avenue for resolution is through filing a grievance with the Florida Bar's Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, which is capable of meting out significant discipline.

What happens, however, when the person -- from a judge or fellow attorney to a quasi-judicial officer or a non-attorney -- doesn't necessarily want to take this potentially punitive route, but rather only wants the offending attorney to be held accountable via a process that is both constructive and enlightening?

While this may seem like wishful thinking, such an option actually exists here in the Sunshine State via what are known as local professionalism panels.

What are local professionalism panels?

Local professionalism panels are essentially peer review programs in which complaints of unprofessional attorney conduct can be filed against a particular attorney by a non-attorney (client), fellow attorney, quasi-judicial officer, judge or even the ACAP.

With what kind of power are local professionalism panels vested?

Local professionalism panels don't have the power to discipline attorneys for misconduct, meaning they can't hand down formal sanctions or address grievances. Rather, they serve as an informal and confidential forum through which to discuss alleged unprofessional attorney conduct, provide instruction and, if necessary, make recommendations.

What is considered "unprofessional attorney conduct?"

The unprofessional attorney conduct that local professionalism panels are tasked with examining includes "substantial or repeated violations" of any of the following:

  • The Oath of Admission to the Florida Bar
  • The Florida Bar Creed of Professionalism
  • The Florida Bar Ideals and Goals of Professionalism
  • The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar
  • The decisions of the Florida Supreme Court

However, if any per se violation of the bar rules is raised in a complaint, the panel can decide to refer the matter to the ACAP.

How long have local professionalism panels been in existence?

Local professionalism panels have only been in existence for a few years. Indeed, a 2013 mandate from the Florida Supreme Court directed all of the state's circuit courts to create them.

We'll continue this discussion in our next post, examining the composition of the panels and structure of the hearings.

In the meantime, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you have serious concerns relating to the services provided by your attorney.

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