By Gary Blankenship
and Megan E. Davis
A new Leadership Academy to train future leaders of the Bar and the profession has won approval from the Bar Board of Governors. Applications for the first class of 40 “fellows” will become available March 1, with an application deadline of April 1.
The academy will hold its initial session at the Bar’s Annual Convention in June.
The board voted at its February 1 meeting, a day after its Program Evaluation Committee, which has been reviewing and tweaking plans for the academy for several months, gave the idea its unanimous support.
A goal of Bar President-elect Eugene Pettis, the academy’s mission “is to enhance the skills of a diverse and inclusive group of lawyers selected from across the state that will enable them to become effective leaders throughout the Bar, our profession, and the greater community.”
Pettis said, “As I set out to determine what the focus of my administration was going to be, I thought an area we could really advance was developing strong leadership across the Bar. The focus is not to groom leaders necessarily for the Board of Governors or to run for president, but to groom leadership throughout all areas of our profession, including the local levels, to create ambassadors for the legal profession as a whole.”
At the PEC meeting January 31, board member Jay Cohen, who headed the subcommittee that reviewed the academy plans, said the idea has met with enthusiastic support from various Bar groups.
“We investigated, we surveyed, we tweaked, we listened, we did everything we could to come up with answers to questions [about the academy],” he said. “They came up with a very, very viable program that impressed the subcommittee without a single vote in opposition. At the end of the day, based on all of the information we heard . . . not one single group, not one single committee, not one single section of this Florida Bar is in opposition to this Leadership Academy. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Every group, every section supports overwhelmingly this Leadership Academy.
“That’s our constituents, that’s who we respond to. They found that the program’s goals will enhance The Florida Bar; enhance the membership; enhance our opportunities for the future; and it incorporates so many of the programs and principles that we stand for, including our path to unity and inclusion.”
Complete details about the Leadership Academy, as well as more information about the nomination/application process for fellows, will be in the March 1 Bar News. Basic information stipulates that the first class of fellows will have approximately 40 members, with future academies dependent on the demand. The academy will have two branches. The “Northern Branch” will consist of the geographical jurisdictions of the First, Second, and Fifth district courts of appeal. The “Southern Branch” will be from the Third and Fourth DCA jurisdictions.
“Florida is such a diverse state,” Pettis said. “We want to allow the fellows to develop a comprehensive understanding of the Bar and its resources, and to develop a skill set that will enable them to serve as effective leaders in their chosen path.”
Fellows will be selected based not only on ethnic and gender diversity, but also diversity of firm size, geographical location, practice areas, and other factors.
The academy will meet six times throughout the year, at the Bar’s Annual Convention in June, the Fall Joint Meeting in September, the Tallahassee meeting in January, and three sessions in the regional branches
Each session will begin at noon on a Friday and run until noon Saturday with various speakers and topics, such as collaborating with different workplace personalities; balancing personal, volunteer, and work life; motivating others and delegating; conducting effective meetings; effective leadership styles; and public speaking.
The program also will educate participants about the Bar’s divisions and sections, strategic plan, and history.
Throughout the year, fellows will put what they’ve learned into practice by creating and executing public service projects.
Pettis said the continuity of a Bar’s strategic plan throughout the state is sometimes lacking.
“While every bar should have an opportunity to have its unique agenda, I think we, as lawyers, should have some common agenda that can strengthen our profession,” Pettis said. “Hopefully, unified leadership training — providing core skills that all leaders need — will create a unifying focus on common goals we all must share.”
Networking and mentorship will also be focuses of the academy, Pettis said. Fellows will be matched with mentors based on their specific interests and needs. Pettis said he’s already seen a buzz of excitement from various Bar and legal organizations interested in having their members participate.
“I believe the demand will be great and the experience will be priceless,” Pettis said.
A Leadership Academy Committee will be formed to oversee the program and receive help, especially with curriculum, from the Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism and Diversity Initiatives Manager Arnell Bryant-Willis.
Scholarships will be available to help some fellows pay hotel and transportation costs.
Pettis said it’s important that cost not be an obstacle to participation.
“Total inclusion must be our goal,” he said, adding some sections and divisions are already considering providing scholarships if their members are among those chosen for the academy.
Former Young Lawyers Division President Reneé Thompson has worked with Pettis to develop plans for the Leadership Academy and will serve as the academy’s first chair.
“When President-elect Pettis first mentioned the concept of creating an academy for our Bar, I knew that our Bar and the legal profession would benefit from this initiative for years to come with the leaders it will help foster and develop,” Thompson said. “It is an exceptional program, and he is putting together an all-star team to make it a reality for our members. I am proud to see our Bar investing in our future leaders and am truly looking forward to the launch of The Florida Bar Leadership Academy.”