The Florida Bar

2019-20 President’s Message Archive

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John Stewart: I’m John Stewart, president of The Florida Bar, here in the State Capitol, and this is my February President’s Message.

Q. What is happening during the 2020 Legislative Session?

The Florida Bar is actively monitoring legislation on behalf of the judicial branch and lawyers. Right now, we’re focused on the Court’s primary objective relating to funding for the 2020 budget for the judiciary. We’re looking to increase the salaries for judges. Right now, the trial courts and the DCA judges rank in the lower half among states across the country. We’re also looking to increase security, increase efficiencies, and get general access to justice improved for the judicial system. Right now, the state’s budget for the judiciary is less than one percent of the annual budget, and we’re continuing to work to improve that.

Q. Why is it important that we are here?

We’re here in the State Capitol during Legislative Session. It’s our job to make sure that, not only is The Florida Bar and the judiciary treated fairly by the legislature, but really to protect Florida citizens. There’s only one position in Florida’s Cabinet that is not comprised by a lawyer.  So, we have our Secretary of State, we have our Attorney General, we have our Governor, and we have our Commissioner of Agriculture … are all Florida lawyers. So it’s great to be here, we’ll have some interviews coming with them, so be on the lookout for them on our social media platforms.

Q. What are some of the ways the Florida Supreme Court is working to keep Florida’s legal system efficient and accessible?

Florida court systems see over two million civil cases on the annual basis, so the Florida Supreme Court has put together a task force, including two past Florida Bar presidents, to review the efficiency and the way that civil cases can move through the system so that Florida citizens have access to justice. In addition, in conjunction with the law school deans, the Florida Supreme Court has removed two subjects from the Florida bar exam – the intent not to make the bar exam easier, but to allow law students to study core principles that will make them better lawyers. Finally, the Supreme Court has tasked The Florida Bar with studying the issues of the changing legal marketplace including areas of technology and advertising with an obligation to report back both to The Florida Bar Board of Governors and to the Florida Supreme Court with its final recommendations by June 2021.

Q. What can Florida Bar members do to provide input on these matters and keep up with the progress of these studies?

Florida Bar Member dialogue is critical to success of all the studies and projects that The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court is currently engaged in. We make information available on The Florida Bar’s website through The Florida Bar News, through The Florida Bar Journal, all of our social media platforms. It is our job to get the information to you, and it is your job to review the information and provide us your feedback in a professional, educated, meaningful way.


I am John Stewart, president of The Florida Bar, and this is my December President’s Message.

Q. How have you gone about achieving your priorities for the year?

Well, of course, we’ve been working very hard with the Board of Governors, with our local voluntary bar leaders and our members throughout the state to assure that we’re staying on top of the issues that are important to the lawyers of Florida. These include the changing legal marketplace, technology, mental health and wellness, promoting our CLEs, and making sure that we do the two things that we’re obligated to do and that we do best. And that’s one, protect the public, and serve our members.

Q. What do you see as the most noteworthy successes from your presidency thus far?

Well, thanks to our hard-working Board of Governors and our voluntary bar leaders across the state, we have quite a few successes in the early part of this year. First, on December 12, Chapter 23 was filed, the voluntary registration of online service providers. This is designed both to protect the public when utilizing these services, as well as making it clear for our members when they are able to participate with these programs properly and responsibly under the rules regulating The Florida Bar. Additionally, we recently learned that the Florida Supreme Court approved a version of the parental leave continuance rule, which is a rule that was strongly supported by the Board of Governors. It’s something that we are very excited about that we think promotes diversity in our profession and also promotes general mental health and wellness amongst our members.

Q. What’s next for The Florida Bar?

Well, following on the heels of the filing of the voluntary registration for online service providers, the Florida Supreme Court has directed us to look at the broader legal marketplace, the broader legal landscape, and to address a variety of issues that entails, which will be a primary focus. We’ll be drawing in our voluntary bar leaders to help us with that. We’re also going to continue to focus on diversity, diversity within the leadership of The Florida Bar, and also continue to push for diversity amongst the judicial nominating committees, which is an important role and something that we take great pride in. We’re going to continue to push as we have for years for mental health and wellness initiatives. That continues to be a huge priority of The Florida Bar, and I see it continuing to be a priority of the Florida Bar for years to come including following me with my president-elect, soon to be president, Dori Foster-Morales.

Q. How is the legal profession giving back to the community during the holiday season?

Florida lawyers give all year round. I’ve always said that Florida lawyers are often social workers at heart. And I think especially this time of year, as we get closer to our annual Pro Bono Awards ceremony where we recognize the lawyers who have gone above and beyond their necessary contributions in the areas of pro bono and are recognized for those efforts at the Florida Supreme Court, this year to be held on January 30, we’ll continue to give back both financially and in hours of pro bono dedication. We also recognize our voluntary bars around the state who continually strive to improve their communities through various volunteer projects at all levels, so it’s something that we’ll continue to do, and this time of year is a perfect time to highlight it.

Q. As 2019 comes to a close, what are you grateful for?

Personally, I’m grateful for time spent with family and friends. I’m grateful to be able to lead The Florida Bar during this year. I’m grateful for my hard-working Board of Governors members. I’m grateful for everything that Florida lawyers do for our community, and really grateful that the rule of law still governs and that we’re able to provide for the peaceful life of men and women in a peaceful state during this holiday season.


I’m John Stewart, President of The Florida Bar, here in Tallahassee at The Florida Bar headquarters.

Q. Can you describe the proposed Florida judicial parental leave rule? What is the Bar’s position?

I recently had the pleasure of arguing for the Florida Supreme Court on the issue of the parental leave rule. The rule was intended to allow for up to a three-month continuance for anyone subject to parental leave. This rule would promote really three important missions of The Florida Bar: One: Diversity in the profession. Two: Mental health and wellness by allowing lawyers to have some time off during this important period of their life. And three: Protecting the public so that the client can be assured they can have the attorney that they would like. While we recognize, and hearing the court’s questions that the rule is probably not perfect, we think the rule makes progress. Perfection can be the death of progress, and so we’re hoping that we’ll find a way to make progress in this arena.

Q. Can you tell us about the Bar’s proposed new voluntary registration program for online service providers?

The Board of Governors recently approved a voluntary registration for online service providers. This rule still requires Supreme Court approval. However, the idea behind the rule is to provide some regulation in a generally unregulated area. Largely, these companies are providing forms, so the primary regulation comes in the requirement that these forms either be approved by the Florida Supreme Court or approved by a licensed Florida Bar member in good standing.

Q. What is the Bar’s outlook for the upcoming 2020 Legislative Session?

The legislative session for 2020 is starting early. We’ve already had committee weeks this session. The Florida Bar’s primary mission is to assure the advancement of legal profession and to assure an adequately funded judicial branch of government. We believe that we are in a good place to continue to promote those ideals, and we’re continuing to work with our legislators and with the governor to assure that those goals are accomplished.


John Stewart: I’m John Stewart, president of The Florida Bar, and this is my July President’s Update.

Q. Why did you decide to pursue law?

John Stewart: Well, most people think I decided to pursue law because of my father and grandfather are both lawyers. But in fact, primarily, it was after I got my first job, I saw how the patent lawyers were working in the company and decided that autonomy was really interesting to me and I thought I would go back and practice law, rather than continue in the career I had started.

Q. You are a third-generation lawyer. How has our system of law changed since your grandfather began practicing?

John Stewart: Well, in some ways, it really remains the same. My dad calls us counselors at law, and I think that’s what we are. I mean we offer a lot of good advice, helping people out. It been a lot of changes through the generations.

Q. How has your practice changed since you first began practicing law?

John Stewart: I think for me, it’s mostly been the way technology has impacted the practice. And coupled probably with that time frame we became a lot more specialized in the type of work that we do.

Q. What kind of challenges do you think that creates for today’s lawyers? 

John Stewart: Running a small law firm is like running a small business. You only have so much time — the pace of change in technology is challenging. And so, keep up with that, while still trying to maintain your business and meet your clients’ needs is really probably the most difficult aspect.

Q. Have you set any goals for your presidency, and what are they?

John Stewart: Well, we going to continue the areas that we been working on, that we’re strong in. We going to continue to push diversity and inclusion in the profession — all different areas. We going to continue to work on our health and wellness initiative; we know how important those are. And we going to work with the legislator, with the governor’s office, with the court on getting a fully funded judiciary.

Waves of Change

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” — John F. Kennedy

On June 7, 1949, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion that created The Florida Bar. The court stated in part, “Growing populations and changing conditions necessarily give rise to social and economic complexes that require wisdom and discretion to cope with. The [B]ar should be the first sector of the population to comprehend this and order its house to meet such emergencies.” Since then, The Florida Bar has grown from 3,758 members to more than 106,000, and Florida’s population has grown from almost 2.7 million to nearly 21.7 million. With that growth in population and the legal profession has come the social and economic complexities that the Florida Supreme Court predicted. In that time, The Florida Bar has established itself as a national leader. Now, 70 years later, we are called upon again to be a leader in shaping the profession and the practice of law for the benefit of both the public and our members. The leadership and members of The Florida Bar must be the architects of this rapidly changing legal landscape.

As a third-generation Florida lawyer, following my grandfather’s start in 1925 and my father’s start in 1970, time hasn’t changed our roles much. We are still counselors at law — always pursuing justice yet guiding our clients on the individual path that is right for them and their businesses. But time has brought with it many changes that have impacted our profession and the ways in which we conduct our business, particularly in terms of technology.

For the past 20 years, I’ve been involved in Bar service. It wasn’t until 2013 that I gained the opportunity to learn the challenges involved with technology — from simple email communication to alternative (often online) legal service providers. Although the advantages of technology are clear, there are many questions that should be asked: How do we maintain past traditions as lawyers with the current trends facing us in terms of technological advances? How do we introduce potential new rules, or change existing ones, that allow for more ethical opportunities for Florida lawyers in this new digital age? How will those changes benefit members and the public? How do we as leaders guide the Bar as change happens at a pace never before experienced?

The Bar has traditionally been in a strong position. It’s a bulwark against the powerful waves of change, standing firm in the protection of the public and ensuring the highest standards of legal professionalism are preserved. But water is forceful. Water finds its way into crevices and can carve a path of its own. We cannot stand idly by and allow the seas of change to erode the Bar’s responsibilities or the profession’s traditional core values. Change happens. Evolution happens. The questions as to how to navigate those changes and how to evolve are at the forefront of my mind.

For years, we have been internally focused. It is time to look outward, to break down our silos and make sure our ship catches this rising tide. The Bar must engage in its social and economic responsibilities to focus the energy carried by these waves of change for the benefit of our members and the protection of the public. This year, I look forward to opening the conversation about closing the access to justice gap by reviewing some of our rules that may impede lawyers from obtaining more business. We must ensure that we do not create a remote island of talented lawyers who are being hindered from efficiently and ethically providing legal services to Florida residents who need them. We have to talk through the value proposition of collaborating both with other industry professionals as well as technology service providers to enhance the practice of law and the provision of legal services without sacrificing the profession’s traditional core values.

It is my honor to serve as Florida Bar president, and I look forward to discussing ways in which all 106,000 Bar members can do their jobs effectively, while also protecting the public for future generations. My goal is to help the Board of Governors and our members make difficult decisions because we’re ready, because we’re leaders.

John M. Stewart, President
The Florida Bar