If you’ve ever had experience with any kind of claim or lawsuit, you probably went to an attorney for help. You probably know that lawyers have to pass the “bar exam” to be able to practice law. The bar is not an abbreviation or acronym. The word “bar” in bar exam or bar association refers to a physical feature inside the courtroom.

If you’ve been in a courtroom in Tampa, Florida, you may have noticed that the area occupied by the lawyers, judge, and jury is separated from courtroom observers by a rail, gate, or “bar.” This “bar” identifies someone authorized to enter the active section of the courtroom on behalf of clients. 

In other words, lawyers literally “pass the bar” every time they enter the courtroom to plead a case.

American courtrooms inherited this layout from English courtrooms. The same “bar” gave English lawyers the term “barristers” for lawyers who litigate in court.

Here is some information about The Florida Bar and its role in the legal system.

The Florida Bar

Lawyers use the term “bar” in both official and unofficial ways. For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) is a voluntary professional organization. Only about 5% of the 1.5 million lawyers in the U.S. hold a membership in the ABA.

Similarly, lawyers often join local and special interest bar associations for educational, social, and professional development. But lawyers do not need to join these organizations to practice law.

The Florida Bar is different. Lawyers must join the Florida Bar to practice law in Florida.

The Supreme Court of Florida has the authority to decide who can practice in Florida’s state courts. To exercise its authority, Florida’s Supreme Court created two bodies.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners sets the rules for admission to practice in Florida. It also enforces the admission rules by:

  • Reviewing applications for admission
  • Conducting background checks on candidates
  • Administering the Florida bar examination

To become a lawyer in Florida, a candidate must:

  • Have a clean background that demonstrates good moral character
  • Graduate from an accredited law school
  • Pass the Florida Bar Examination

The bar examination tests the applicants’ knowledge in many basic fields of law, including:

  • Legal ethics
  • Constitutional law
  • Business organizations
  • Property law
  • Torts (the basis of personal injury law)
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law
  • Wills, trusts, and estates
  • Family law

More than half of the applicants will not pass this difficult test. For the July 2021 test, only 44% of the candidates passed the Florida bar exam.

The Florida Bar

The Florida Bar acts as an arm of the Supreme Court of Florida. While it provides many professional and educational services for its members, it has two primary roles with respect to lawyers:

Regulating the Practice of Law

The Florida Bar, in conjunction with the Supreme Court of Florida, passes rules that lawyers must follow in their practices. These rules cover a range of topics, including:

  • Fees (including contingency fees)
  • Confidentiality and communications
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Advertising
  • Certification of specialists

These rules set the baseline for legal ethics. They encourage lawyers to err on the side of caution while setting the boundaries that can lead to discipline.

Disciplining Lawyers in Florida

When lawyers violate the rules regulating the Florida Bar, they can face discipline by the Florida Bar. The Florida Bar’s grievance committee reviews all reports of lawyer misconduct. 

If the committee finds a violation of the rules, the committee can:

  • Admonish the lawyer
  • Place the lawyer on probation
  • Publicly reprimand the lawyer
  • Suspend the lawyer from practicing law
  • Disbar the lawyer

The difference between suspension and disbarment is that a suspended lawyer remains a member of the bar but a disbarred lawyer does not. For a disbarred lawyer to practice law again, the lawyer must get readmitted to a state bar.

The Bar and Your Case

The Florida Bar and local bar associations provide some services to the public. Many of these groups operate lawyer referral services to help clients find lawyers for their cases.

The Florida Bar also maintains records of discipline against lawyers. You can use these records to filter any lawyers with disciplinary records from consideration for your case. You want to be sure the attorney handling your car accident case hasn’t been disciplined by the Florida Bar.