Legal Education

Citing lack of lawyers, public defenders in this state ask to let law grads work before bar admission

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A Florida proposal to allow court appearances for law school graduates, up to one year before bar admission, has been made by the state’s public defenders organization.

“To me, it’s primarily an access-to-justice issue,” said Carlos Martinez, president of the Florida Public Defender Association, according to a Feb. 13 website post by the Florida Bar.

He’s the public defender in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, which covers Miami-Dade County. Out of the 34 attorneys the office hired in 2021, only 17 remain, according to the website post.

The public defenders group suggested the change as an amendment to an existing Florida Bar rule. Candidates would have to be graduates of an ABA-accredited law school and clear character and fitness. Certification would end if a participant did not pass the bar on second attempt or take the next bar exam.

In October, the Florida Bar rules committee approved the measure 5-0. The Florida Bar board of governors is expected to consider the proposal in May. If passed, it would go to the Florida Supreme Court for final approval.

An existing Florida Bar rule allows supervised practice, including court appearances, for students working with law school programs.

“Essentially, it opens up all law [school graduates] to us, not just the ones that [completed] a clinical program, or a law student practice program,” Martinez said in the website post.

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