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Why Now is the Time to Amend Florida Bar Rule 4-8.4

Authors: Starlett Massey, Jonathan B. Lewis, Nikki Barker

Massey Law Group is in discussions with attorneys across Florida regarding the proposed amendment of Florida Bar Rule 4-8.4.

Florida Bar Rule 4-8.4 states that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including “to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against litigants, jurors, witnesses, court personnel, or other lawyers on any basis, including, but not limited to, on account of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, employment, or physical characteristic.”

MLG supports an initiative to amend 4-8.4 to reflect its counterpart in the ethics rules propounded by the American Bar Association, which states that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including “conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law.”

Scroll through the PDF below to learn more about how these changes are a significant step in working to eradicate sexual discrimination and harassment in the legal field, which is just one aspect of the proposed amendment. MLG is actively seeking allies and partners to add to this conversation by providing their perspectives on the many other forms of harassment and discrimination encompassed by the ABA’s model rule.

The Florida Bar regularly amends its Rules. In its latest biennial petition to the Florida Supreme Court to amend various Florida Bar rules, most of the Bar’s recommended changes were approved. However, Florida Bar Rule 4-8.4 has not been amended since its inception in 1994, despite the major advances in the legal landscape that this ethics rule seeks to support.

In advocating for this change, the most common positions we have heard from those resistant to change are:   1) that adequate civil/criminal remedies are available to address harassment/discrimination without a change to the Bar Rules, 2) that harassment and discrimination is not a significant problem in the practice of law, which commonly takes the form of statements such as “well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen at my firm…”, or “is that really an issue today?” and 3) that now is not the time. Logic and empirical data may show these arguments to be false, but we believe that it will be impossible to make transformative reforms without the power of personal testimonials like those which have been the catalyst of the #MeToo movement. With this in mind, we are encouraging our fellow members of the Bar to share their own personal stories with us, either anonymously or publicly, so that we may be better equipped to fight this battle.

The purpose of Florida Bar Rule 4-8.4 is to ensure that attorneys of the Bar hold themselves to professional standards that reflect the importance and gravity of their position. MLG fully supports the initiative to amend 4-8.4 to prohibit conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law. By amending 4-8.4, the Florida Bar and its members are sending a clear message that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated.

Proposed Amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-8-4

Download the PDF

If you have been affected by discrimination or harassment in the legal field, and would like to share your story in support of this change, please reach out directly to Starlett Massey at smassey@masseylawgrouppa.com or submit an anonymous account of your experience using the form below.

Submit an Anonymous Account of Your Experience

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