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July 1, 2017

Higer sworn in as Florida Bar president

By Jan Pudlow
Senior Editor

Introducing the new Florida Bar president as her “main man” she first met in an accounting class at the University of Florida, Bobbie Higer thanked “all of the amazing people who helped me to transform an immature, basketball-playing, not-studying-very-much, 19-year-old frat boy college student into this incredible man: a very accomplished yet humble, caring yet competitive, attorney, with a tremendous passion for the Los Angeles Dodgers!”

When 56-year-old Michael Higer stepped up to the mic, giving his wife a big hug, he wore a Dodgers cap, declaring the official language of the Bar will be baseball, and the official team will be — you guessed it — the Dodgers.

“There are lots of moments and people in my life that make up my narrative as to why I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a lawyer,” said Higer, a partner at Berger Singerman in Miami. “Some of those people include Clarence Darrow and Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson — all of whom were significant influences on my career path.”

Another big influence, he said, was his late father, Aaron Higer, who had throat cancer as a young boy, and whose life was saved by removing most of his voice box — so he never spoke above a whisper.

While that condition kept his father from achieving his aspiration to become a Florida lawyer, Higer said, “It did not, however, affect him being the de facto legal counsel to our neighbors and our community. Over the years, I saw dozens of people visit with my dad in our kitchen, in our synagogue, and in their homes, as he counseled them on myriad business and personal issues that confronted them.

Michael Higer and his wife, Bobbie. “Watching my dad do what good lawyers do every day, which is to give their clients good practical, logical, and compassionate advice, struck a deep chord in why I do what I do each day and why I am here today,” Higer said.

Higer then turned to the audience at the General Assembly at the Bar’s Annual Convention in Boca Raton on June 23 and asked: “Why are you here?...More importantly, why are each of us lawyers? And the answer isn’t just because you couldn’t hit a curve ball,” Higer said, swinging an imaginary bat.

Why is not only a critical question for each of us; why is also a critical question for The Florida Bar. We do lots of great things at the Bar, lots of great programs, lots of great initiatives. But for all the good we do, and we do lots of good, sometimes we forget, sometimes we lose touch with our why.

“So what is the Bar’s why? If you asked our members, they would probably say it is to serve them, to take care of them, or, for some, to regulate them. And that would all be true,” Higer said.

“We would find some who say our why is to protect and promote our court; after all, it created the Bar and without the court we do not exist. And that, too, would be true.

“Few might say that our why is to protect the public. When the court created the Bar in 1950, it specifically held that the Bar has a responsibility to the public that is unique from any other profession, which is rooted in the oath that we all took to support, protect, and defend the U.S. and Florida constitutions. In fact, the Florida Supreme Court held that a lawyer’s responsibility to the public rises above his responsibility to his client. So, yes, serving the public is certainly part of our why.

“And, collectively, it is true that the Bar’s why is predicated on serving all three: the lawyer/members of the Bar, the courts, and the public. The common thread in our service is the pursuit of justice. Understanding that justice is at the heart of everything we do, elevates everything we do, and everything we should be doing. Knowing that the pursuit of justice is our why makes the what we do more impactful, because now we walk in and toward our purpose.”

Higer outlined five priorities consistent with the Bar’s strategic plan:

  • Member Benefits and Services: “Because 75 percent of our lawyers practice in solo or small firms of 10 lawyers or fewer, it is critical that we provide our lawyers with the resources they need to effectively represent their clients. We make ourselves relevant to our members when we make them feel safe. We make them feel safe when we give them the tools and services they need to run their practices. Simply developing these tools and services is not enough. We need to identify what tools and services our members require most, and then we need to be able to effectively communicate the availability of these tools and services to our members.”
  • Technology: “Technology drives how our lawyers compete in both a local and global market. And technology will fuel our court system to more effectively and efficiently deliver justice. Technology drives how four out of five citizens who need a lawyer, but cannot afford one, will be able to connect with a lawyer. There are simply not enough hours in the day or lawyers to meet the great need for legal help, but, through technology, we will bridge the access to justice gaps. With the benefits of technology, there are also great risks. Cyber attacks occur each day, not just affecting our clients’ data but our data, which includes our privileged communications. It is, thus, critical that we educate our members and provide them with the necessary tools to use technology to effectively represent their clients, and, at the same time, do so without compromising our client confidentiality.”
  • Inclusiveness: “Our third pillar is to continue to promote inclusion in all aspects of the legal profession and the justice system. Although we have made great strides in our law firms and in our courts to level the playing field, inequality still exists. So we must and we will continue to eliminate bias wherever it exists.”
  • Health and Wellness: “We understand the enormous day-to-day pressures our lawyers are experiencing. It will, therefore, be a priority for us to help our members achieve better work-life balance, mindfulness, healthy lifestyles, and to develop a support system for our lawyers in need. An ounce of prevention will truly be worth a pound of cure.”
  • Constitution Revision Commission: “We will educate Florida Bar members and the public about the CRC through a comprehensive outreach effort and assist the CRC by providing subject-matter expertise. A little less than a year from now in May, the CRC will file its proposals for potential amendments to Florida’s constitution. Throughout this coming year, we will remain vigilant and steadfast in our efforts to protect and promote a strong, independent, and well-funded judiciary.”

“Importantly, as we implement the action items for each of our whats, those pillars and priorities, we will communicate the why, and we will do so with an understanding of the meaning and purpose of our why to pursue justice for everyone who touches our legal system,” Higer said.

“Today, it is my honor to serve as a leader of our Bar. But everyone in this room is a leader. And that means we all have a responsibility to each other, to those who have come before us, and to those who are coming after us.

“To those in government practice, to those in large law firms, to the 75 percent-plus who are in solo or small firms, and to those who are struggling in their practices. We all have a responsibility to help each other to represent our clients and be servants of justice.”

[Revised: 04-21-2018]