We face some big challenges in the years ahead as we recover from the pandemic’s impact on our health, mental wellbeing and the economy. Now more than ever, The Florida Bar — your Florida Bar — must actively meet the changing needs of our profession. As your President-Elect, I commit to serve your interests above all else.
Serve Florida Bar Members
I have been campaigning to become your next President Elect for The Florida Bar in the age of COVID-19. I’ve spoken with lawyers, law firms, voluntary bar associations sections and committees statewide virtually and by phone. We have all been challenged personally and professionally by the pandemic. If I am fortunate enough to earn your vote, my time and energy will be focused on you and the issues affecting our profession.
Helping lawyers succeed must be The Florida Bar’s top priority. I joined our firm in 1992. It was me, a semi-retired senior partner and a part-time receptionist. Since then, we have grown the firm to 10 lawyers and 25 non-lawyer staff members. I’ve learned firsthand the challenges of growing and maintaining a small law firm.
This experience taught me that The Florida Bar needs to offer more support to members, so lawyers can focus on running their firms and representing clients. There is a vast array of member benefits, including free CLEs, mentoring, mental health resources and more. We need to communicate these resources directly and frequently to our members so they get the help they need. We also must be mindful to evolve these resources as needs change. For example, there has been a big focus on technology and working collaboratively with voluntary bar associations. We are heading in the right direction and should build on these collaborations.
Protect Our Judicial Branch
Our Judicial Branch is the guardian of our constitution and our democracy. We must ensure that our courts remain independent and properly funded, free from any partisan political issues.
If the judiciary becomes politicized, the rule of law becomes endangered, threatening the integrity of our legal system. We must ensure that the Court retains its exclusive rulemaking authority and regulation of our profession. The Court and our profession will lose its independence if another branch of government determines our rules, regulations and our ethical obligations to clients.
Further Equal Opportunity in Our Profession
For a number of years, The Florida Bar has focused on diversity and inclusion, and matters of race, gender bias and related issues. This should always be at the forefront of our efforts. And while we have made progress, we still have a lot of work to do. Our legal profession — and The Florida Bar in particular — should continue providing equal opportunities for involvement and leadership. The Young Lawyers Division has been the benchmark for diversity and inclusion. Their leadership represents a cross-section of race, gender, geographic location and more. By learning from them, we will foster a stronger organization founded in equity. The Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Leadership Academy has been especially successful by giving younger lawyers the opportunity for leadership development, networking and more. By supporting and strengthening the resources already in place, we can fortify equal opportunity in our profession.
Remain Vigilant in Our Ethics and Professionalism
As Florida lawyers, our ethics rules and professionalism guidelines are unique. These provide the cornerstone for a lawyer’s obligation to clients, the court, other attorneys and the community at large.
We live in an age of seemingly increasing acrimony that strains the civility of public discourse. Our ethics rules exist first and foremost to protect our clients, and ensure that we are our “best selves” in the course of our representation, even if matters become disputed or even hostile. This is the core of who we are as officers of the court.
The Florida Bar has tremendous resources, including our Ethics Hotline and the Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism. These resources should be regularly promoted to our membership. Practicing law can be stressful due to time and financial pressures, the challenges of bringing in new clients and the unethical and unprofessional behavior of our fellow lawyers. I commit to making sure these resources are made more directly visible and available for you.
Safeguard Our Unified Bar
The Florida Bar has been a unified or mandatory bar for over 70 years. We are an agency of the Supreme Court of Florida in the regulation of our members, including lawyer discipline, ethics rules and more. Through this structure, The Florida Bar provides opportunities for our lawyers through section and committee involvement, CLE programs and legislative efforts.
The Bar addresses the other branches of government and the public on behalf of our profession and the court. We must remain a unified bar in order to protect the integrity and independence of the legal profession, and this will always remain a priority of Florida Bar leadership.
Increase Access to Justice for Floridians
Several years ago, I learned of a poll where approximately 80% of Floridians surveyed said they would not hire an attorney because they feel they can’t afford it. This troubling statistic impedes fair and equitable legal representation for all Floridians.
This reveals a very growing disconnect between the general population and the legal profession. At risk is not only the well-being of our citizens, but of our judicial system, as citizens know increasingly less of the legal system’s value to democracy and society in general. And any disconnect between the public and the legal profession impacts the success of our livelihoods. There should be a public education system about the benefits of hiring a lawyer, a trusted professional familiar with the complexities of the legal system. Solo practitioners and small firms constitute a majority of Florida lawyers, and efforts should be focused to support and strengthen programs which will grow and sustain their law practices.
Increase the Role of Government Lawyers
Lawyers who work for municipal, county, state and federal governments, or who represent those interests, form a vital part of our membership. Many government lawyers are involved in The Florida Bar, but there is more work to do. We must remove any barriers or misconceptions that stymie their involvement and leadership. There are untapped resources that would benefit us and our membership. This will result in a more robust organization and increase the caliber of leadership to the Florida Bar.