The Supreme Court has dismissed without prejudice The Florida Bar's proposed massive rewriting of lawyer referral service rules and instead said it wants to have "informed discussions" with the Bar and other interested parties.
The court heard oral arguments on April 5 on the Bar's amendments seeking to broaden the definition of lawyer referral services to "qualifying providers," which would include any for-profit entity that seeks to link consumers with lawyers for legal services.
The board had not included in its submission a rule requiring that all for-profit referral services be owned or managed by Bar members, something the court had ordered the Bar to do in September 2015 when it rejected an earlier rewrite of referral service rules.
The court issued its new order on May 3, noting that it had "directed the Bar to propose [rule] amendments that 'preclude Florida lawyers from accepting referrals from any lawyer referral service that is not owned or operated by a member of the Bar.' In this case, the Bar proposed amendments to Rule 4-7.22 that do not comply with the court's direction concerning lawyer referral services that are not owned or operated by a member of the Bar and that seek to expand the scope of the rule to include 'matching services' and other similar services not currently regulated by the Bar.
"The court having considered the Bar's prior petition, the amendments proposed in this case, the comments filed, the Bar's response, and having had the benefit of oral argument, the Bar's petition in this case is hereby dismissed without prejudice to allow the members of this court to engage in informed discussions with the Bar and those who are in favor or against the proposed regulation of matching and other similar services. The court lacks sufficient background information on such services and their regulation at this time."
The court's action was welcomed by Board of Governors member Carl Schwait, chair of the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics, who oversaw the writing of the Bar's proposed rules and represented the Bar in the April oral arguments.
"I'm pleased," he said. "Having participated in the oral argument, it was obvious that there were many questions to be answered that could not be done in the realm of 15 minutes for the Bar.
"I take it as a very positive step that the Supreme Court and the participants in the oral argument will have a fruitful conversation on the many and diverse issues."
He said by dismissing the case,...