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The Florida Bar Journal
July/August, 2018 Volume 92, No. 7
We’re All in This Together

by Michelle R. Suskauer

Page 4



One of my great passions when it comes to Bar work is getting people together. I learned quickly as a young lawyer in West Palm Beach — in my first job as an assistant public defender — that the legal community is so much more than a walk to and from the courthouse. The chance to get involved in something greater than myself, to meet lawyers and judges from all facets of the law, and to make a real difference in the profession and my community swept me away. I love the work, making new friends, and the positive influence lawyers can have on society.

Focus on Solos and Small Firms
I am thankful for the opportunity to serve this year as your Bar president. During my campaign for this office, I traveled our state and talked with lawyers from every practice area — managing partners, government, corporate counsel, and solo and small firm lawyers — and learned about the challenges they’re facing. In my own experience, I practiced with my husband in a small firm for 18 years, and I am now in a firm of less than 10 lawyers, so supporting solos and small firms is on my agenda. I’m excited that we can help all lawyers in Florida become more productive and profitable. One way we can do that is with LegalFuel — The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar. Formerly the Practice Resource Institute, LegalFuel offers law office management and technology support for Bar members. All free of charge, highly experienced practice management advisors assist Bar members with the business-related aspects of running a law firm. Staff is available to chat online, by telephone, or email.

I’ll be working to increase the visibility of LegalFuel with fresh marketing strategies so that more members take advantage of this incredible resource. It has a new website, legalfuel.com, with improved navigation and layout, which make accessing the valuable tools on this site much simpler. In addition, we plan to launch a speaker series on issues that address helpful topics for lawyers, ranging from technology to social media to how to attract new clients. The speaker series will be a great way for lawyers to bolster their knowledge of law firm management and to earn free CLEs at the same time.

Criminal Justice Reform
Having worked as an assistant public defender and a criminal defense lawyer my entire career, taking a look at the criminal justice system is also at the top of my agenda. Toward that end, the Bar will be hosting a Criminal Justice Summit October 16-17 in Tampa. Its purpose will be to assemble a diverse group of leaders from the criminal justice field, at the policy and grassroots level, to provide in-depth discussion and collaboration on important issues facing Florida’s criminal justice systems.

During the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers expanded the use of “civil citations” and pretrial diversion programs to the delight of juvenile justice reform advocates. The legislature also authorized the creation of a publicly accessible criminal justice data clearinghouse. Other bills, including giving judges more leeway to depart from minimum mandatory sentences and raising the monetary threshold for felony theft, were heard in committees and most likely will be back up next year.

It’s my hope the summit will help identify additional criminal justice issues ripe for reform and help drive legislation forward during the next session of the Florida Legislature.

Mental Health
A top priority will also be the mental health and wellness of Florida lawyers. There is now a standing committee to address these important matters both for this year and years to come. These concerns continue to resonate across the state. We will make efforts to destigmatize mental health issues, create programs to assist members, and provide education and training. Together, we will make great strides.

It’s not easy practicing law today. I understand having to bring in business, deal with increased competition, make payroll, and balance my family and bar service. We need each other, and I hope to bring us all together this year to make a difference.


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[Revised: 06-22-2018]