Later this month, The Florida Bar Board of Governors will be considering a proposed amendment to the Rules of Judicial Administration that would require judges to grant a continuance to lawyers who need parental leave, unless there is good cause to deny the continuance. The Rule, which has been reviewed by various Bar committees over the past year, will directly impact the careers of members of the Young Lawyers Division, because young lawyers frequently use this type of leave as they begin their families.
This new Rule will prevent lawyers from being forced to give up cases, show up to court against doctor’s orders, or miss the birth of their children. The Rule will be available to lawyers who welcome new children to their families by birth or adoption and applies equally to men and women. While, the Florida Bar’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion supported the measure, the Rules of Judicial Administration Committee expressed concerns that trial judges may lose discretion under the Rule. As a result, in 2016, at the recommendation of President Bill Schfino, The Florida Bar Board of Governors formed a special committee to study the Rule. In January 2017, that committee recommended a revised Rule to The Florida Bar Board of Governors that supports parental leave while addressing concerns about potential abuse of the Rule. The Board of Governors will review the Rule at its meeting this month.
The Rule, as proposed, will have significant positive impact on Young Lawyers’ practice. It will signal that childbirth does not mean that women can no longer be trial lawyers or fall behind as they are forced to give up their trials. The parity in the Rule also signals that men have just as much right and interest in parenting.
Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen and Florida Bar Board of Governor Member Deborah Baker-Egozi have been leaders in stressing the importance of the Rule to our profession. Lawyers looking for a review of the Rule can listen to the March 8, 2017 CLE presentation for The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division International Women’s Day Webinar available at: https://flayld.org/continuing-legal-education/yld-webinars/
It’s unfortunate that this Rule is needed. But, it is. The proposed Rule is well balanced and addresses concerns that the Rule may be abused. Because it affects us the most, Young Lawyers must speak up and explain why the benefits of the Rule outweigh any potential prejudice that may be caused by a brief continuance. Many members of the Board of Governors, who may not be affected by the Rule, may not appreciate the impact.
Annika E. Ashton is a Member of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors, representing the 11th Circuit. This year, she Co-Chairs the YLD’s Commission on Women. She is an Assistant County Attorney in the Broward County, Office of the County Attorney, and a Past President of the Caribbean Bar Association.