Bruce B. Blackwell has been named executive director of The Florida Bar Foundation, a statewide charitable organization that works on behalf of Florida’s legal profession to provide greater access to justice.
A founding shareholder with King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth, P.A., in Orlando, Blackwell is a past president of the Foundation, the 2011 recipient of its Medal of Honor Award, and the 2013 recipient of the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for outstanding service. Prior to becoming president, Blackwell served on The Florida Bar Foundation’s board for 10 years and on The Florida Bar Board of Governors for four years.
Blackwell, 67, is taking on the leadership of the Foundation at a time of tremendous challenge. The organization’s primary funding source, Florida’s Interest on Trust Accounts Program, is at less than 10 percent of its peak level as a result of near-zero bank interest rates, while the organization’s once-healthy reserve is dwindling. Meanwhile, access to justice is difficult for most Floridians, especially those with lower and fixed incomes.
“My service to The Florida Bar Foundation was the most meaningful of the many leadership positions I’ve been fortunate to hold in my career, but I never would have imagined myself in this role,” Blackwell said. “This was a call I just had to answer, as the Foundation is simply too important. Florida needs a healthy Florida Bar Foundation more than most people will ever know. But I do know, and I will do all within my power to make it so.”
The Foundation is the only funder linking 30 legal aid organizations in Florida to form a comprehensive, statewide legal services delivery system. It also provides funding for projects to improve the administration of justice. Through its leadership and funding, the Foundation has been instrumental in bringing about advances from a statewide, Web-based case management system for legal aid, to the creation of a statewide plan to combat human trafficking, to the establishment of the Innocence Project of Florida, which has used post-conviction DNA evidence to bring about the exonerations of 14 innocent men who spent a combined 268 years in prison.
Over the course of his career, Blackwell has regularly performed more than 500 hours of pro bono work per year, including taking on some of the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association’s most difficult cases, as well as raising money for and lobbying Congress and the Florida Legislature to support legal services for the poor. He has used his previous leadership positions as OCBA president and as a member of The Florida Bar Board of Governors to persuade other lawyers to make a commitment to serving the poor and increasing their pro bono work.
He has received the OCBA’s highest award, the William E. Trickel, Jr., Professionalism Award, the ABA’s Grassroots Advocacy Award, the Florida Council of Bar Association Presidents Outstanding Voluntary Bar President Award, and twice received the President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the Ninth Judicial Circuit from the president of The Florida Bar. A fifth-generation Floridian, Blackwell is a past president of the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society.
“I can think of no other lawyer who has done more to advance the cause of access to justice in Florida, and no one better to help move the Foundation forward,” said Florida Bar Foundation President John Patterson. “He will be a remarkable leader for the Foundation, and I am very grateful that he was willing to take on this role.”
Blackwell graduated from Florida State University with his bachelor’s degree in 1968 and earned his law degree from the FSU College of Law, graduating with honors in 1974.
He replaces Jane E. Curran, who had served as executive director of The Florida Bar Foundation since 1982 and who now serves as executive director emeritus.
“Jane Curran has given us a tremendous legacy on which to build, and we all owe her a great debt,” Blackwell said. “The Florida Bar Foundation will work to honor that legacy while adapting to the many changes that have come our way. While we are met with great challenges, we also see great opportunity. We intend to employ partnerships, technology, leadership, and outside-the-box thinking to help make sure that in Florida the phrase ‘justice for all’ means what it says.”