Last year, the Florida Legislature created Section 189.069, Fla. Stat., (Chapter No. 2014-22, Laws of Florida), requiring special districts to maintain an official website. Under the provision, the website must include the following information by October 1, 2015:
If you have special district clients, don’t forget to tell them about these new requirements. To help ensure all required content is posted, use the Special District Website Requirement Self Checklist provided by the Special District Accountability Program. And don’t forget to provide the website address of your special district clients to the Program.
Do you know what a Florida Registered Paralegal is? A Florida Registered Paralegal is someone who meets the definition of paralegal and the requirements for registration with the Florida Bar. The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar define a paralegal as:
“a person with education, training, or work experience, who works under the direction and supervision of a member of The Florida Bar and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a member of The Florida Bar is responsible”
Unlike paralegal certifications, you don’t have to pass a test to be a Florida Registered Paralegal. You must meet the education combined with work experience requirement or be certified through NALA or NFPA to be eligible. There is also a grandfathering provision for paralegals who were registered before March 2011, but resigned or had their registration revoked.
If you meet one of the eligibility requirements, the application process is quick and easy. You must complete the application form, pay an application fee and provide supporting documentation to prove your education, work or certification. You must also sign an acknowledgment that you have read Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and will comply with the Code of Ethics and Responsibility. Lastly, you must be currently working and your current and/or previous supervising attorney(s) must provide an attestation.
To maintain your Florida Registered Paralegal status, you must complete a minimum of 30 hours of CLE every 3 years, including 5 hours of ethic or professionalism. You must also be continuously employed as a paralegal and pay an annual renewal fee.
So what are the benefits of being a Florida Registered Paralegal? Prospective employers may be more likely to hire you because your registration shows that you have the education, training and work experience as a paralegal. Your contact information is listed on the Florida Bar website. You also have access to the same benefits available to attorney members of the Florida Bar, including free access to Fastcase and discounted CLE programs.
I have to admit I was hesitant to become a Florida Registered Paralegal, mostly because of the continuous employment requirement. If you lose your job or resign, you also lose your Florida Registered Paralegal status. And then, once you are hired again, you must submit a new application and fee. Some paralegals may also be reluctant to register because the program is administered by attorneys (who are also employers of paralegals), as opposed to certification programs administered by paralegal associations. One may wonder if the Florida Bar has the paralegal’s best interest at heart.
As you can see, there are Pros and Cons to be a Florida Registered Paralegal. Please consider them before applying.
I am curious to know what other paralegals think about this topic. Do you feel it’s worth it to become a registered paralegal with your state bar association?
It’s that time of the year. The 2015 Florida Legislative Session starts today and will last until May 1. Over 1460 bills have been filed. Only a few will make it to the end of the session and become law. Below are bills of interest to attorneys and legal professionals. Keep an eye on them as they may impact your practice areas if they pass in a few months. For your convenience, I’ll provide a status update at the end of the legislative session.
HB 47 State Minimum Wage
HB 47 increases state minimum wage from $6.15 to $10.10. It provides that an employer may not pay an employee at a rate less than the state minimum wage. It deletes the requirement that only individuals entitled to receive federal minimum wage are eligible to receive state minimum wage. (Identical Bill: SB 114)
CS/SB 102 Digital Assets
Known as the “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” this bill authorizes a personal representative to have access to specified digital assets and electronic communication of a decedent and provides compliance requirements to receive and collect digital assets. It also give a similar authorization to guardians, agents and trustees. (Similar Bill: HB 313)
CS/HB 113 Local Government Construction Preferences
This bill prohibits local ordinances and regulations from restricting competition for award of construction services based upon the location of the vendor’s office or place of business. It requires state colleges, school districts and other political subdivisions to make specified disclosures in competitive solicitation documents. (Similar Bill: SB 778)
SB 126 Social Media Privacy
SB 126 prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring access to a social media account of an employee or prospective employee. It also prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for an employee’s refusal to allow access to his social media account. However, it provides that an employer is not prohibited from seeking access to social media accounts used primarily for the employer’s business purposes.
SB 150 Student Loans
This bill would require the Justice Administrative Commission and the Office of the Attorney General to implement a student loan assistance program to assist a career assistant state attorney, assistant public defender, assistant attorney general, or assistant statewide prosecutor in the repayment of eligible student loans. (Similar Bill: HB 45)
SB 462 Family Law
This bill provides that a collaborative law process commences when the parties enter into a collaborative law participation agreement. It prohibits a tribunal from ordering a party to participate in a collaborative law process over the party’s objection. SB 462 provides for confidentiality of communications made during the collaborative law process. (Similar law: HB 503)
HB 611 Residential Properties
HB 611 provides requirements relating to the request for an estoppel certificate by a unit or parcel owner including a 10-day timeframe to deliver the certificate. It also provides that an association waives any claim against a person or entity who would have relied in good faith upon the estoppel certificate if the association failed to deliver the certificate. It revises fee and supplemental fee requirements. (Identical Bill: SB 736)
As you can see I can’t cover all bills that may affect your practice areas. If you want to look and find bills, you can do a word or statute amended search under the Bills tab on the Florida House of Representatives website.
Thanks to the General Practice Solo Small Firm Section of the Florida Bar, I attended my first legal tech seminar last week. On Day 1, the speakers talked about courtroom technology, e-discovery, social media and blog ethics, Microsoft Office, PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat. Day 2 was mostly on practice management. There was also an interesting conference on social media discovery and jury selection. I learned a lot and met great attorneys and paralegals. For those who couldn’t make it, these are my favorite tips of the Wild Wild Tech Seminar:
The GPSSF Section will host another legal tech seminar next January. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to keep up with legal technology and trends.
I know it’s only November. The Florida legislative session will not start until March. But if you want to submit a local bill, you have to get it ready now.
Local Bill Procedure
If you are not familiar with the legislative process, you probably wonder what is a local bill. A local bill is a proposed law that only affects a specific geographical area as opposed to a general bill that affects the state in its entirety. Typically, public agencies such as special districts and municipalities request local bills. Before introducing a local bill to the Florida legislature, an agency’s request must be heard by its county legislative delegation. Agencies must submit the following documents to their delegation before the scheduled hearing:
Once heard and approved by a majority vote of the delegation, the requesting agencies must publish a Notice of Legislation in a local newspaper at least 30 days prior to the introduction of the bill to the Florida legislature. They must also find a bill sponsor.
Local Bill Deadlines
Don’t forget to follow all your county legislative delegation deadlines. The delegations don’t make any exceptions! In Palm Beach County, the deadlines are as follows:
For more information about local bills, visit or call your county legislative delegation office.
* Picture by Ebyabe (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Have you heard about the Sunshine Law? No, it doesn’t refer to Florida’s beautiful weather, but to openness in government. Open government is necessary to ensure public trust, promote accountability and strengthen democracy. Open government is achieved by giving citizens access to government meetings and by making available for inspection public records. These rights are established in Article I, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution, and Chapters 286 and 119 of the Florida Statutes.
Government In The Sunshine Law
Florida’s Sunshine Law provides a basic right of access to most government proceedings of public boards, commissions and other governing bodies at both the state and local levels. It applies to elected and appointed boards, and to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss matters that will come before the board for action. The Sunshine Law lists three basic requirements:
Public Records Law
The Public Records Law provides for a right of access to state and local government records or records of any private entity acting on their behalf. In the absence of a statutory exemption, the right to access applies to all material made or received by an agency in connection with its official business. Over the years, the definition of public records has evolved to include not just written documents, but also photographs, films, sound recordings and records stored in computers.
If you would like more information on these topics, the Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual, a yearly publication written by the First Amendment Foundation, covers in great details the who, what, when, where and how of open government laws. It also provides for recourses and consequences when a public board or agency fails to apply public records and sunshine laws.
Do you need more information on a probate topic? Are you looking for an estate planning form or checklist? Are you wondering how much you should charge for your services? These websites provide resources to assist your estate law practice.
ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law has a list serve for open discussion of estate planning and estate administration issues by lawyers, accountants, trust officers, financial planners, insurance agents, law professors and law students. They also have portals containing educational materials, practice settings, forms and checklists related to estate law. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys provide a list of helpful links.
Laws & Rules
Chapters 731-739 of the Florida Statutes include the Probate and Trust Codes. Guardianship laws are covered in Chapter 744. Florida Probate Rules govern the procedure in all probate and guardianship proceedings. Finally, don’t forget to check administrative orders for the circuit court you practice in.
The Florida Lawyers Support Services, a non-profit corporation assisting attorneys, has a great website for real property, FR/Bar contracts, probate, guardianship and trust forms. The forms are sponsored by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar and are available for purchase individually or in packages. The website also provides a list of all licensed software vendors offering the Section official forms.
In addition to select probate and guardianship forms, many circuit court websites offer checklists. Below are a few:
The Florida Department of Revenue website has a quick overview of Florida estate tax requirements. Forms are available for download including the Affidavit of No Florida Estate Tax Due. The estate tax section of the Internal Revenue Service also provides publications and forms to be filed upon an individual’s death under certain circumstances.
Probate Attorney Fees
Are you wondering how much to charge a personal representative for your probate services? Section 733.6171, Fla. Stat., provides attorney fees for ordinary estate administration services. Attorneys are not required to follow the fee schedule, especially for large estate where the fees are inflated and, in most cases, unrelated to the amount of work done. It is still a helpful guide for setting up your probate fees.
These are some of my favorite estate planning and probate resources. What are yours?
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What is legislative history?
Legislative history is the material generated in the course of creating legislation such as bills, committee hearings, committee reports and debates on the floor. It also includes all prior versions of a law.
When do you need to look at legislative history?
How to find prior versions of a law
There are several ways to find prior versions of a law. First, you find the statute in the statute book. Then, you look at the bottom where the history is. Let’s say that you are looking for s. 63, ch. 99-385. By using this reference, you know that you have to look for the Laws of Florida of 1999, Chapter 385, Section 63.
Another way to find prior versions of a law is to use a legal research program such as Westlaw. In Westlaw, search for the statute by using its citation. Then, on the left side of the screen, under legislative history, click on text amendments and select the one you need.
If you can’t find a prior version of a law at your local courthouse library or on Westlaw, you can get it through the State Archives of Florida.
How to find legislative intent
If the law or its amendment was enacted recently (1998 to present), find the bill number of the law by visiting the Laws of Florida website. Then, go to the House of Representatives website and do a bill search. This website provides staff analysis, bill text, vote history and committee actions.
If you have access to Westlaw, you can find the statute as mentioned above for finding a prior version of a law. Then, under legislative history, you can find text amendments, editor’s notes, bill drafts, reports and related materials.
Once again, if you can’t find what you are looking for online or if the law is older, you can contact the State Archives of Florida to find the material generated in the course of creating the legislation.
For federal law, the Library of Congress provides a legislative history guide on its website.
Remember that legislative intent should be used as a last resort when doing legal research because it is not primary law.
Starting a law firm is not an easy task. Most law schools still don’t teach future lawyers what it takes to start and manage a solo practice or small law firm. Nonetheless, there are a lot of free online resources for attorneys who want to hang a shingle. Below are some of my favorites.
Florida Bar Law Office Management Assistance Service
Even though it is geared towards Florida attorneys, LOMAS provides useful information for anyone looking to open a law firm. It offers free on-demand CLE courses from the ABC’s of starting and managing your law practice to building a small firm marketing program. LOMAS gives access to over 100 administrative forms including a contract for legal services, a general partnership agreement and a new law practice office checklist. It also has a help line and a FAQs section with topics ranging from trust accounts to planning for vacation when you have a solo practice.
ABA Solo & Small Firm Resource Center
Like LOMAS, the ABA Solo & Small Firm Resource Center offers advices, tools and resources to successfully manage a law practice. Their topics include, but are not limited to, marketing, work and life balance and staffing. They also have a form bank and an active listserv, SoloSez, where you learn about events, networking opportunities and ask for advice.
General Practice Solo and Small Firm Sections
As a solo practitioner or small firm owner, there are several benefits of being a member of your state bar section or ABA division. There are numerous networking and referral opportunities, reduced price CLE and monthly publications.
There are several blogs for attorneys looking to build their own law practice. Lawyerist has resources, articles and product reviews. My favorite features are the technology oriented articles and its forum where anyone looking for help can asks questions about the practice of law. My Shingle is another blog inspiring solo and small firm lawyers. I especially like the Start a Law Firm Guide page where blog posts are listed by subject such as setting up and growing your law firm. Finally, Attorneyatwork offers a daily law practice tip that can be delivered straight to your inbox.
As a solo practitioner or small firm owner, what are your favorite online law practice resources?
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As part of my work with a local government law firm, I have accumulated over the years a list of online resources for municipalities, counties and special districts. Below are local government legal resources you need to know:
Municipal & County Codes
Municode includes most major American municipalities and counties ordinances and rules. American Legal Publishing Corporation also provides for select municipal codes. If you can’t find what you are looking for on these websites, local governments often include their codes on their websites.
Ethics play an important role in local government and vary by state. Several counties and cities have also adopted codes of ethics. Most states have an ethics commission such as Oregon and Florida. In Florida, the Commission on Ethics website includes a lot of resources for local government such as opinions, orders, rules, forms and guides for public officers and employees.
Local Government Formation
Not only can you find proposed bills that may affect local government on the Florida House of Representatives website, but also guidelines for bill drafting, local bill policies, procedures and forms, and a local government formation manual. In California, you can find information on special district formation on the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions.
You can find board meeting agendas and minutes on most local government websites. County minutes can also be found on the county clerk website. For example, Palm Beach County minutes can be viewed on the Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller website.
Local governments often publish public notices in newspapers, from a board meeting notice to a request for proposals. You can view public notices published throughout the State of Florida on Florida Public Notices website. The Ohio Newspaper Association also has a public notices website.
There are a lot more resources specific to each municipality, county and special district that can be found online. If you are looking for a local government resource or document I haven’t mentioned here, send me an email. I will be happy to help you find it.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.