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2019-20 President’s Message Archive

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July Video Message

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

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.

Question: 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.


July President’s Page

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