Installation of Dori Foster-Morales as President of The Florida Bar
June 19, 2020
Thank you, Jimmy, for that beautiful introduction and for doing the thank you-s for me. Given the number of years we’ve been together, no one knows me better than you. I’m so thankful to you, our children, our family, our friends, and so many others who have encouraged me on my journey to become President of The Florida Bar.
To Jimmy and to everyone Jimmy mentioned, you know how much I love you all and how I wish we could all be physically together today… but this will have to do.
The speech I’m giving today is not the one I ever envisioned delivering when I was elected a year and a half ago.
In a relatively short period of time, my life and everyone else’s lives have changed. It’s like we’re in a maze, and we have to figure out a way to get out of it — as a society, as a profession and as individuals.
An interview question now in vogue is: “What advice would you give your younger self?”
A year ago, I might have said: to have more confidence, develop early networks and seek out mentors, all good things, but they seem small at this point.
If asked today, what advice I’d give my younger self, I’d say to expect that no matter how much you plan and focus and learn and work really hard – nothing, nothing, is more important than taking care of yourself and keeping your family safe.
I’d also say that you need to support not only your family, but also your community and your profession. Because those are the places where you’ll find the most support when you need it the most. Times like these teach us just how much we need to be strong for ourselves and for one another.
John F. Kennedy was once asked by a young child how he got to be a war hero.
Kennedy replied: “They sunk my boat, so I had no choice.”
And The Florida Bar has no choice, either. The ongoing pandemic and the recent civil unrest are accelerating our need to change the way we live and work.
You know that lawyers are problem-solvers. After all, no one calls us if they are problem free. We must use our special training and positions of leadership for the betterment of society. And we are also officers of the court and defenders of the rule of law. In such uncertain times, we should focus on these important responsibilities more than ever before as we struggle to navigate our way through the maze.
We have been fortunate to have great leaders in our Bar whose wisdom and forethought have brought us so far since our establishment 70 years ago.
Over the decades and especially during the past several years, our progress in diversity and inclusion, in applying technology to the practice of law, and on focusing on mental health and wellness, has put us in a position of great strength when dealing with the crises at hand.
Now, many of you know how particularly passionate I feel about the mental, physical and financial health of our members.
What you may not know is that while you know me as a relatively successful lawyer and now the Bar president, I wasn’t a “particularly gifted” law student, I wasn’t on law review, I didn’t go to an Ivy League law school, and I never worked in a big fancy firm. Heck, at one point, I wasn’t even sure it made sense to finish law school.
But each of us is the sum total of our experiences, our unique journeys. Mine took me from Miami Beach, to the University of Florida, to the EPA in Washington D.C. and then New York City, the state attorney’s office in Miami, all before becoming a matrimonial lawyer. It includes marrying my husband Jimmy, which was one of the best decisions I ever made – just ask him. And then came our two children, Nora & PJ, who each brought their own special qualities to our family.
I guess it was a good thing I finished law school.
After over 30 years of practice, I thought I finally had things pretty much under control…But now I’m dealing with the new and added stress that most if not all of my fellow lawyers are experiencing: working from home with my husband who is now a city manager, one child who had to return from college early to finish his first year online, and another who because of the pandemic is furloughed.
Like many of you, I had to suddenly abandon my familiar work surroundings, shift to conducting business in a new way, and follow a fresh and ever-changing set of rules.
Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Facebook Live, and so many other new means of communications and practicing law all require a new and different level of concentration. They also cause additional strain as we learn how to lawyer remotely while being effective advocates for our clients.
On the other hand, we now know how to use the mute and unmute button, and raise our hands on Zoom, as we see fit.
Not having the support of legal assistants, colleagues, associates and partners physically at arm’s length has become an uncomfortable reality. And we all have to practice this thing called “social distancing,” which creates numerous added challenges. Six feet will never mean the same thing again.
Just last month I had a full-day evidentiary hearing with: my client in South America, the opposing party in New Orleans, the judge at her home in Ft. Lauderdale, me in my office in Miami, and who knows where the clerk, the interpreter and court reporter were located – cross examining witnesses, introducing evidence, all by Zoom, certainly something I never expected to do in my lifetime. But thanks to the leadership of Chief Justice Canady, the Florida Supreme Court, and the state and county judiciary, we are all practicing law in ways we never thought possible.
As you likely know, in this speech, incoming Bar presidents are expected to describe their agenda for the upcoming year, what great program or ideas they want to espouse. I was pondering what I was going to launch or expand in my speech. And then the boat sunk.
Instead, when I look at The Florida Bar – what we do and how we are doing it now — I see a mosaic of tiles and rather than coming up with new programs, I am in a position to consider which tiles we highlight in our mosaic.
As lawyers, we are taught to focus on precedent, but now is the time to look ahead to see how we proceed. This year is going to be about rebuilding, becoming stronger, and making ourselves, our profession and The Florida Bar, truly resilient.
Our Florida Bar will be more proactive than ever, listening to you – our members– and doing what we can to meet your needs and the needs of your clients as the profession continues to shift to the new normal. But there will be no return to normal when it comes to the issue of equality and fairness for all our citizens. It will be up to The Florida Bar and our partners: the courts, our voluntary bars, and the Bar’s sections and committees, to ensure that the phrase is “meaningful” and “not meaningless”. I know this is possible because I know what each and every one of you is capable of.
We need to evaluate what’s been done so far and how we will move forward with all of these new tools and approaches to improve the practice of law and the delivery of justice.
Now is the time for us to focus on options that will work. Now, more than ever, as our society struggles with fear, anger and frustration, we will continue to collaborate with our legal partners –to keep our justice system solid and accessible to everyone and assuring that full exercise of every American’s constitutional rights.
Abogado, avoka, avvocato, lawyer … regardless of the language, we are in a better position to withstand these problems than any other profession or business. As President of The Florida Bar it is my hope that we will enhance the tiles in the mosaic, to boost the resources provided by The Florida Bar to its members, to help us all be successful.
These are such difficult times, but I have no doubt that we can and will seize every possible opportunity and face the future unafraid.
Thank you for your attention.
I am so honored to be a member of our great profession;
I am humbled by the opportunity to lead our Bar and I will always be proud to be your colleague.
May God Bless the State of Florida and the United States of America.