Does Reciprocity Help or Hurt Solos: The Florida Bar Debate?


Earlier this week, the Florida Bar tabled a controversial proposal to adopt reciprocity or some other form of admission on motion, reports The Daily Business Review. The proposal — intended to bring Florida in line with the 40 states that allow admission on motionsparked a firestorm amongst bar members, particularly solos and smalls who feared that reciprocity would draw lawyers from out-of-state “mega law firms” who would steal their business.  Other lawyers expressed concern that consumers might be harmed if represented by out-of-state lawyers who hadn’t passed the Florida bar exam and demonstrated sufficient familiarity with Florida law.

But do reciprocity requirements disproportionately impact solo and small firm lawyers? I don’t think so – at least any more than under the current system. After all, a full bar exam isn’t much of a deterrent to mega-firms  firms which already have the means to acquire a local Florida lawyer or pay for an associate to take the full bar exam if they’re set on establishing a Florida outpost.  Likewise, reciprocity won’t shield solos against online services like Legal Zoom which take the position that they don’t provide legal services and therefore, licensing requirements, reciprocal or not, don’t apply to them.

Moreover, even admissions by motion isn’t a walk in the park.  Maryland, one of the jurisdictions where I practice, has a modified reciprocity arrangement, under which a lawyer who’s practiced for a minimum of five years can gain admission after passing a 3-hour practitioner’s exam on Maryland procedure and paying the admissions fee, which includes a costly character investigation. Back in 2002, I gained admission to the Maryland bar under this process, and all told, spent around $1800 for the privilege. And even in jurisdictions like the District of Columbia, which offer full reciprocity, admission fees are still high. I didn’t even apply for admission to the D.C. Bar until 1990, after I’d left government to work for a firm, because I couldn’t afford the $600 fee on my government salary and didn’t need it since I was admitted in New York and New Jersey. And once admitted, lawyers then have the cost of bar dues in multiple jurisdictions and where applicable, CLE costs as well.

Still, money on admission to another jurisdiction is well-spent if it opens the doors to other business opportunities. And that’s where Florida solos and smalls are short-sighted about reciprocity: because it creates far more opportunities than it takes away. With reciprocity, solos and smalls could assist clients with business needs in other states.

Moreover, even with reciprocity, there’s no reason why solos and smalls wouldn’t retain a competitive advantage over out-of-state firms. Community involvement, familiarity with judges and opposing counsel, day-to-day experience with Florida law – all of these capabilities give local attorneys an edge over carpetbaggers. Florida also offers an array of Board Specializations which would likely take a newbie only partly committed to Florida practice a long time to master – but which solos can use as another selling point.

For the time, Florida lawyers succeeded in keeping reciprocity requirements at bay. The reprieve may only be temporary because protectionism is generally on the wrong side of history.  Florida solos should start thinking now about how they can steel themselves against competition from out of state lawyers – as well as about the possibilities that reciprocity has to offer.

What’s your opinion? Do you think reciprocity is a boon or bust for solo attorneys?


  1. Paul Spitz on October 9, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I guess it all depends on your practice area. I originally took the Massachusetts bar, and was admitted to the Ohio bar via reciprocity. I’m now retired from the Massachusetts bar, and admitted in Ohio and California. I really don’t need multiple admissions, because I’m a business/transactional attorney. I don’t need to fuss with civil procedure and court rules, because I never go near a courthouse.

    The main advantage reciprocity will have for me is giving me mobility. I have clients all over the country. I currently live in Cincinnati, but I may want to move to Santa Fe at some point. Reciprocity would allow me to easily move there and make that my base, and I could still service my nationwide clientele. In fact, I’d probably have very few local clients, just as now local clients make up only about 25% of my client base.

    Which shows why state bar admissions are kind of ridiculous in the first place.

  2. Sandy Woessner on October 9, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Honestly, I can see why solos are frustrated. Florida is the state of snowbirds. I have a house down there and I know of at least two other Minnesota attorneys who commute back and forth. I also know many many retired folks who winter down there every year.

    When these snowbirds want estate work done, will they hire the attorney with the Florida license or the attorney licensed in Minnesota and Florida who can take care of all the work in both states? To compete, Florida attorneys would have to get licensed in other states because of the increased competition. Who wants that? (Besides me and the other commuting attorneys of course:)).

    I don’t disagree with the premise that protectionism doesn’t help anyone, but I have sympathy for my fellow lawyers fighting off competition from yet another source. If I was a Florida attorney, the fact that my own Bar association was recommending it would just seem like salt in the wound.

  3. Gabriel Munoz-Calene on October 10, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Below are 2 videos about the issue of Reciprocity and the recent FL Bar Town Hall on the subject.

    Here is a VLOG about the day of the Town Hall:

    Here is the official recording of the entire Town Hall from the FL Bar’s Youtube Page:

    I personally supported the proposal for Reciprocity, and support the mission of the FL Bar Vision 2016 Commission.

    However, I also believe that Reciprocity should not be implemented if the overwhelming majority of the members of the Florida Bar, and the Florida Public, oppose the issue.

    After attending the recent FL Bar Town Hall on the issue, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of FL Lawyers oppose Reciprocity.

    I don’t think the FL Public really had the opportunity to express their views, though I think access to justice remains a critical issue for the people of the state.

    Since the issue has been tabled by the FL Bar, I am not going to try and persuade anyone to change their views on the issue.

    Ultimately, I was inspired by the debate at the Town Hall, and hope future issues involve the participation of lawyers to shape the destiny of their profession.

  4. Stephen Furnari on November 4, 2015 at 7:37 am

    This debate in Florida is a great example of federalism at work. You can only say that Florida is on the wrong side of history on this issue when looking at it from the prism of what’s best for a majority of States.

    But what works well for lawyers & clients in Maryland, or California, or New York, may not work well for lawyers & clients in Florida.

    The constant onslaught of retirees from every part of the country and the transient nature of the Floridian populace, combined with an unusual set of laws specific to Florida, creates challenges that other states do not deal with.

    After getting admitted in New York and Massachusetts and practicing for 13 years, my family decided to exchange the frigid winters and oppressive tax schemes of the Northeast for endless Summers and the business friendly environment of Florida.

    Since you can’t even work your New York practice from within Florida without being admitted to the Florida bar, in between juggling a newborn, a law practice and a real estate business, I studied for the FL bar for 3 hours every morning for 12 weeks. My law partner who blazed the trail a year earlier, and several other of my colleagues, have done the same.

    From the Sunshine Law to Homestead laws to tort reform, Florida has some really unique, and interesting, laws. Studying for the bar actually tempered my New York-know-it-all arrogance, it made me a better lawyer and made me even more invested in my new home state.

    If you are committed to practicing in the Sunshine State, then you can take the time to pass the exam. Is it inconvenient? Yes. But it’s very accomplishable and you will be better lawyer for it.

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