After a national search, the new executive director of The Florida Bar was found across the street from the Tallahassee headquarters at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Special Agent Joshua Doyle, 37, will become the new executive director, succeeding John F. Harkness, Jr., who is retiring after 37 years at the helm of the 104,000-member Bar.
After wrapping up his FBI work, Doyle hopes to join the Bar by mid-July. Harkness plans to help with the transition for at least six months.
“I view this job as a continuation of my dedication to public service. My entire career has prepared me for this position, as I have long been committed to seeking and serving justice, fairness, and respect for the rule of law,” said Doyle, who grew up in Tallahassee, and received both his undergraduate degree in public relations and his law degree from Florida State University.
“Leading a staff and organization that supports the advancement of these core principles would be the culmination of everything I have pursued in my career, as well as my personal and professional values,” Doyle wrote in his application.
“I seek the opportunity to help lead The Florida Bar on a course that embraces the demands of the 21st century: an appreciation of and commitment to diversity and an understanding of the rapidly changing advances in technology and information services.”
“We had wonderful candidates, very qualified candidates who put their names in, as you would expect,” said Bar President Bill Schifino. “I sat through and watched interviews. At the end of that process, Josh Doyle was the No. 1 choice of the search committee.”
Schifino said he personally contacted Doyle’s references and received universally high recommendations, including from his FBI boss, Teresa Gustafson.
“What she had to say about him was what a consensus-builder he is, how he managed people, how he worked with people, and is a true listener,” Schifino said. “When the Tallahassee branch had a need, they recruited Josh [who was working in Washington, D.C.], and he was one of the most highly regarded FBI agents in the country.
Bar President-elect Michael Higer said: “I am extremely pleased with the board’s decision approving Josh Doyle as the Bar’s next executive director. He greatly impressed me with his character, poise, and judgment — all qualities that will make him an excellent leader to guide the Bar for many years to come.”
Doyle said he knows Harkness from the time he worked for the Bar’s former outside legislative counsel, Steve Metz, from 2006-09.
“[Harkness] always impressed me as a quiet but exceptional leader who for 37 years assisted numerous Bar presidents in transforming the organization into the gold standard it is today,” Doyle wrote.
“He assembled talented people to work for The Florida Bar and enabled them to do their jobs to support Bar leadership and its goals. Like Mr. Harkness, I would keep the focus on leadership, not the staff. I do not think The Florida Bar needs dramatic change. Rather, I would rely on the talented staff already in place to help identify challenges, opportunities, and efficiencies to help the organization keep pace with an evolving profession, so together we could support and enable The Florida Bar president and Board of Governors to achieve their goals.”
Harkness said Doyle has the proper demeanor for the job and possesses the ability to quickly form relationships with diverse groups of people, which will serve him well in his new position.
“Josh instills confidence in those around him and is good at motivating people to work toward a common goal,” Harkness said.
Former Bar President Scott Hawkins, who chaired the search committee, said: “We had a field of very strong, talented applicants, and went through a rigorous process to select the best candidate for the challenging demands facing The Florida Bar.”
Hawkins said the committee received inquiries from all over the country, and, ultimately, 31 people submitted applications. Working with Barbara Mayden, of the Young Mayden legal search and consulting firm, the committee interviewed eight finalists — four men and four women — in two rounds of interviews.
“One of the criteria the committee thought was important is the executive director needed to be a lawyer ultimately licensed by The Florida Bar, and Josh is and has been for some time,” Hawkins said.
He praised the work of the committee and Vice Chair Patricia Seitz, a former Bar president and senior federal judge who headed the subcommittee that drew up the “core competencies” required of the new director, and Vice Chair Greg Coleman, a former Bar president who led the panel that marketed the position and did the initial candidate vetting.
Since first meeting in February, Hawkins estimated the committee spent 750 hours in the search process, including 10 telephone conferences and two in-person meetings.
“We had interest from bar leaders from other states; we had appellate judges; we had senior officials from state government,” Hawkins said.
Doyle’s nomination was approved by the Board of Governors on May 26.
Doyle’s early career in the law began when he served as special assistant to Martha Barnett, when she was president of the ABA in 2001. In his application, Doyle was asked what he expected references to say about him. He answered: “Martha Barnett would say I am a highly ethical person of scrupulous integrity who treats the building maintenance staff with the same respect and courtesy I showed state Supreme Court justices.”
Barnett wholeheartedly agrees she would say that — and more.
“Josh is one of the young lawyers I’ve met over the years who embodies the concept of a lawyer as a professional with a commitment not just to clients but to the public,” Barnett said. “He understands the public role that lawyers have and the role we play in the justice system, a bigger role than practicing law. He has always been interested in the core values that define the profession. When he first started working for me, he got those concepts long before I did when I was a lawyer his age. He’s very self-effacing. He’s always focused on others, and how he can facilitate and work with you to accomplish your goals. It’s often as though he was one thought ahead of me on things I had to do.”
President-elect Designate Michelle Suskauer said she was “heartbroken” when Harkness announced his retirement in January. However, “With change, although it can be nerve-wracking, can also be exciting with a chance to work with someone like Josh Doyle, who will bring to the table new ideas and fresh eyes to look at the Bar and our profession.”
Doyle was working in the legal profession before he was a lawyer.
In 2002, Doyle was as a special assistant to Sen. Bob Graham, managing the flow of information to the senator, and he left to attend law school.
In 2004, Doyle was a law clerk at Nabors, Giblin, & Nickerson, and left in 2005 to focus full-time on law school.
While in law school, Doyle was a certified legal intern with the Second Circuit State Attorney’s Office, handling a variety of cases.
Reached at his current FBI job on June 2, Doyle said he was in Pensacola looking for a missing child and would call back later.
At the FBI, where Doyle has worked since December 2009, he is the primary relief supervisor for the Tallahassee Resident Agency, which means, during specified times, he supervises five FBI agents, three task force officers, and three professional support staff. He supervises investigative teams made up of agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and support personnel on complex investigations. He frequently served as the on-scene commander for law-enforcement operations. In 2016, Doyle was named coordinator for the North Florida Public Corruption Task Force, supervising agents from other law-enforcement agencies assigned to the task force.
Eleven years ago, Doyle married his high-school sweetheart, Kate, and they have two small children, Jillian and Davidson.
“Though I no longer work in politics, I still get excited about the political process and enjoy consuming as much political news as I can get,” Doyle wrote in his application. “It will embarrass my wife to admit it, but I am the only person I know who regularly watches C-SPAN and The Florida Channel.”