Two members of The Florida Bar Board of Governors have qualified to run for president-elect in the March Bar elections.
Lansing “Lanse” Scriven, a commercial litigator and appellate lawyer at Trenam Law, a 100-plus member law firm in Tampa, and Michelle Suskauer, a criminal defense attorney in a two-lawyer office in West Palm Beach, filed qualifying papers by the December 15 deadline.
“I’ve always had a strong commitment to service and, in particular, the legal profession. I care deeply about the profession and the important role lawyers play in society, and the public’s perception of the profession,” said 54-year-old Scriven, a 13th Circuit board member, who is married to Judge Mary Scriven, of the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida.
“We’re going through some very difficult times as a profession, and I think we need leadership that is thoughtful, unflappable, and strong. I think I am that person.”
Calling herself “passionate about bar service” since she was a young assistant public defender, and “a tireless advocate for the legal profession,” 50-year-old Suskauer describes her desire to run for Bar president as “a natural progression” in her career.
“I am a trial attorney. I have a small practice. I am a mother of two. My husband sits on the bench. Having run a small practice for as many years as I have, I understand what it is like to have those daily pressures of generating business, competing in the marketplace, balancing family while you participate in the legal community, and knowing how to make payroll,” said Suskauer, a 15th Circuit board member, who is married to 15th Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer in Palm Beach County.
Noting her communications degree from Boston University, Suskauer said, “The Bar must have someone who can communicate effectively to the sections, to the committees, to the members, who can advocate for the courts, especially to our Legislature.”
Both candidates served as presidents of their local bars and specialty bar associations.
Scriven served as president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association, and the George Edgecomb Bar Association.
Suskauer served as president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association and the Palm Beach County Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers.
Besides being heavily involved in Bar committee work, both candidates are involved in serving their communities.
Scriven has served on the board of directors for the Tampa Housing Authority, Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation, The Innocence Project of Florida, as legal counsel to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and as a trustee of Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Suskauer is president-elect of the board of directors of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, and served as vice president of the A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts Theater Parents Association, and vice chair of the Bak Middle School of the Arts Foundation.
The winner of the election will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s June Annual Convention, when current President-elect Michael Higer becomes president. The winner will take office as president in June 2018.
Constitution Revision Commission
Both candidates cited the upcoming Constitution Revision Commission, convening in 2017, as a major concern for The Florida Bar.
Every 20 years, the state constitution is subject to review, and changes will be recommended that will range from minor tweaks to major revamping.
Both candidates agree the issues to watch closely are term limits for judges, taking procedural rulemaking authority away from the courts, and the Supreme Court’s ability to regulate lawyers.
Helping lawyers “navigate this new economy where there is increased competition in the legal marketplace” would be one of Scriven’s top priorities, if he becomes Bar president.
“The Bar needs to continue to offer membership technology training and help our members develop necessary skills to differentiate themselves from some of the other models that we are seeing. By that, I mean the online providers, such as LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, and Avvo. That is not to suggest there is not a place for online providers. The Bar needs to assist lawyers in better communicating the value that lawyers can provide,” Scriven said. “A way the Bar can do that, for instance, is highlighting the value of legal specialization and making our legal specialization or board certification programs more user-friendly and encouraging young lawyers to consider becoming board certified. Because, in this new economy where consumers will have lots of choices, and consumers have more information than they have ever had before, due in large part to technology, the Bar just needs to help our members communicate the value we provide.
“In this new economy, there is a trend to portray or try to commoditize legal services, and certainly lawyers should expect that they will be compensated for their professional judgment, as opposed to performing process-based tasks. We need to help our members understand that distinction. When they understand that distinction, then our members can prosper. At the same time, consumers can receive the services that they need in sometimes more economical models than traditional law firms can provide. But we still need to help consumers understand that in many circumstances, technology-based platforms cannot supplant the value of what a lawyer can provide.”
Suskauer agrees that “technology has absolutely transformed our practice.”
“We have online service providers in our marketplace. They are here. They are not going to leave,” Suskauer said. “So what are we going to do? Are we going to compete with them, cooperate with them? But maybe the way to look at them is: How can we do a better job at branding the Florida lawyer?”
Technology has brought a lot of negativity to the lives of lawyers, she said.
“I read a study that 20 percent of lawyers are undergoing dissatisfaction with the practice: mental health and addiction issues, higher divorce rates, suicide rates. I think that number is wrong. I think it’s too low. I think we have a tremendous amount of dissatisfied lawyers in the practice. I think it’s because we do not disconnect from work,” Suskauer said.
“There used to be a time when we did not have texting, and we did not have those technological connections that keep us plugged in 24/7. When I run around the state and ask, ‘How many people have gotten an email or text message or a pleading at 10 o’clock at night?’ everybody raises their hand.”
One of Suskauer’s top priorities is underscoring the Bar’s “obligation to take care of all of its lawyers.” Unhappy lawyers, Suskauer said, often don’t ask for help.
“It’s trickling down to our relationships with our friends, with our families, with our clients. And the perception of lawyers is certainly not getting better. . . . So we have to have the conversation about these issues,” Suskauer said. “And try to figure out, with mental health professionals, and this goes back to health and wellness, what can we do to take care of our lawyers? The Florida Bar must have this conversation and must continue to have this conversation, until we can see some noticeable improvement. It is not just young lawyers. It is lawyers in every area of practice and every length of time and every area of the state.
“If you look at the number of lawyers who actually use Florida Lawyers Assistance, it certainly is not very high, and it’s confidential. Because lawyers don’t seem to seek the help they need,” Suskauer said. “Maybe it’s just the mentality of lawyers, that we can handle it, and we can do it. But there is a breaking point. I think this is something we must talk about.”
Inclusion and Access
Also at the top of Scriven’s priority list is inclusion.
The Bar must be “steadfast in its commitment to involve all of our members in the work of the Bar,” Scriven said. “I’m speaking now about our commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we need to stay vigilant and realize that we have much work to be done. And that is just not in the more traditional areas of gender, ethnic, and racial issues, but to be sure the Bar is inclusive of all of our members, including our governmental members, lawyers that are in the public sector. We have a very large Bar that exceeds 100,000 members, and it is getting increasingly diverse, and it is a challenge having diverse leadership.
“Leadership at the Board of Governors is an example. The Board of Governors needs to continue to evaluate itself and its membership to be sure that it is reflective of its entire membership. To give an example, the Board of Governors now has a seat allocated for a governmental representative. It’s just continuing to look at the entire membership to make sure, as we are making decisions as leaders, that we are taking into consideration the perspectives of as many members of the Bar as we can in a deliberate way,” Scriven said.
“The challenge for the Bar is we need to develop better accountability in how we measure our progress.”
“Access to justice” is an issue that resonates with Suskauer.
“We have so many folks coming into the system who can’t afford attorneys. We have individuals who are indigent, who need the protection of having counsel, who cannot afford counsel,” Suskauer said. “Certainly, we have our middle class, who really have been priced out of the market, who need attorneys and don’t have them. I know that has been a priority of the Bar, and I’ve been involved in strategic planning at the Bar for many years, and that is something we’ve always focused on. I don’t think it’s something we can ever give up on. It’s an issue I think is only getting worse. We have to consistently work on that.
“The other issue is underemployment or unemployment of our members. We have brand new lawyers that are being graduated out of 12 law schools with crushing debt, no jobs, with no mentoring. And The Florida Bar has an obligation to protect them and take care of them. When I have been traveling around the state and speaking to groups and law firms and voluntary bars, they are saying: ‘What is The Florida Bar going to do about all the young lawyers that need help, coming into the system and taking anything they can get because they need to be able to make payroll and live?’”
The indigent, as well as the middle class, need representation, and the goal is to match them up with lawyers who need work, she said.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that the Florida Supreme Court Commission on Access to Civil Justice has become permanent,” Suskauer said. “I am excited about the fact that we have our business community working to try to solve this problem. Because this is not a lawyer problem. Access to justice is everybody’s problem.”
Education and Experience
After getting his undergraduate degree from Duke University in 1984, Scriven graduated with honors from Florida State University College of Law in 1987, where he served as editor of Law Review and competed on the moot court team.
Right after law school, Scriven clerked for a year for Joseph Hatchett, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Following a two-year stint at Trenam, Kemker, Scriven was a solo practitioner for a decade, before coming partner at Quarles & Brady. He is now a partner at Trenam Law.
His honors include receiving the National Bar Association’s Heman Marion Sweatt Award for exemplary service in the legal profession, and the Francisco Rodriguez Award from the George Edgecomb Bar Association for excellence in the preservation of civil rights.
Scriven’s Bar service includes being past chair of the Business Litigation Committee of the Business Law Section, three terms on the Board of Governors Executive Committee, chair of the Budget Committee, and vice-chair of the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics.
After graduating from Boston University in 1988, Suskauer received her law degree from The American University in 1991, and went to work that year at the Office of the 15th Circuit Public Defender. Three years later, she joined Schuler, Wilkerson, Halvorson & Williams. And three years after that, in 1997, she launched her own firm, Suskauer Law Firm, P.A., now Suskauer Feuer LLC.
She is an emeritus member of the Craig S. Barnard American Inns of Court, and she received the Serving Justice Award from the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County; the Justice Barbara Pariente Award from FAWL, Palm Beach County; Leader in the Law, FAWL, Palm Beach County; and the Women in Power Award, National Conference of Jewish Women.
Suskauer’s Bar service includes serving as chair of the Disciplinary Review Committee, the Communications Committee, and the Annual Convention Committee. She served on on the Strategic Planning Committee, Criminal Law Certification Committee, and Program Evaluation Committee. Among her special appointments is chairing the Fourth DCA JNC Screening Committee, and serving on the Special Committee on the Constitution Revision Commission.