By Jan Pudlow
Immediate Past President Bill Schifino got a big laugh at the General Assembly when he showed a photo of himself on a big screen before taking the helm of the Bar in 2016.
“Not bad for an old guy, right?”
“And, now, without the hours of cosmetic help that I received before getting up here today, here is a real photo of how I look after this year. Whew!”
Schifino’s hair had turned to total gray, and his face was weathered and wrinkled with age, in an “after” photo doctored to make a statement about his hectic year: traveling to all 20 circuits, giving 75 speeches, visiting 49 bar associations, and spending 150 nights in hotels across the state.
“When I stood before you last year, after being sworn in as your Bar president, I talked about making it our year; bringing all of the stakeholders under that one proverbial tent. Our Bar staff, voluntary bars, courts, sections, committees, the Bar Foundation, the Board of Bar Examiners, the Young Lawyers Division, and, of course, our Board of Governors — all working together with a common and shared purpose. All the while, never sacrificing on our commitment to professionalism, never wavering on our commitment to serve the citizens of our state and membership, never compromising the standards that have been set for the privilege of practicing law in Florida, and never lowering the standards of what it takes to become a Florida lawyer.”
After thanking the YLD leaders for “unyielding support of our core mission and support of me,” Schifino listed several accomplishments realized during the past year “on behalf of my fellow Board of Governors”:
“Andy Sasso, your hard work on the trust accounting software will benefit not only our members, but The Florida Bar Foundation.
“Sandy Diamond and Mike Tanner, thank you for your work on the Constitution Review Commission education campaign.
“Scott Westheimer, Katherine Hurst Miller, Zack Zuroweste, and their team, the work you did on Lawyers Advising Lawyers has provided a state-of-the-art mentoring platform that will help many of our fellow practitioners.
“Michael Higer, thank you and your committee for your work on the gender bias task force.
“Paul SanGiovanni and Scott Westheimer, thank you for your work on the new website.
“Terry Hill, thank you for working on Florida Bar Free Legal Online Answers, another way for our members to deliver pro bono legal services.”
“The list goes on and on. If I had time, I’d say something about each board member and what you brought to the table, for it was absolutely a team effort,” Schifino said. “What I will say is that, as a board, I can think of no finer group of men and women committed to our profession. I truly wish everyone could see the tireless efforts you put in for the betterment of our fellow practitioners and citizens.
“If I could take credit for one thing this year, it would be the small role I played in empowering each of you to achieve everything you accomplished and we accomplished together. Thank you for your friendships and your dedication,” Schifino said.
As a Board of Governors, Schifino said, “We have successfully advanced our four core objectives:
• “Enhancing member benefits; always asking what we can do for our members;
• “Promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels of our profession and establishing our Bar as a true industry leader;
• “Serving the legal needs of our working class and indigent, striving to make certain justice is available for all, not some, not many, but liberty and justice for all; and
• “Advocating for our branch; ensuring a fair, impartial, independent, and adequately funded judiciary.”
“Certainly, we recognize our work is not done, and I know Michael Higer, the Board of Governors, and all stakeholders will continue to lead us in the right direction,” Schifino said.
Calling it a surprise, an honor, and a great opportunity, Schifino thanked Senate President Joe Negron for appointing him to serve on the Constitution Revision Commission.
“With great anticipation of what is to come, know that no matter what you do or who you are, whether a part of The Florida Bar or not, please consider these three concepts as I bid farewell:
“One, respect others’ opinions. Everyone’s thoughts matter. Two, you can learn more while listening than speaking. And three, don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Be in perpetual motion, searching for ways to enhance the delivery of legal services; not running from new ideas, but embracing them. Be bold!”
“As I prepare to step down and pass the torch to Michael Higer, I know our Bar is secure. This isn’t a leap of faith from my perspective. To the contrary, we are on sound footing in that The Florida Bar, the brand, the profession, and the advancements we are making, are in the hands of the right person. I trust Michael Higer. Michael is focused, protective, and loyal. . . . I look forward to all he will do in the next year,” Schifino said.
“To everyone, thank you for the opportunity, thank you for your professional and personal support, and thank you for a great year together.”