SEAN DESMOND, an assistant state attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, accepts the Young Lawyers Division gavel from outgoing YLD President Renée E. Thompson as former YLD presidents look on. From the left are Jewel White Cole, Michael Faehner, Frank Bedell, Desmond, R.J. Haughey II, Thompson, John Stewart, Jamie Billotte Moses, and Scott Atwood.
Desmond optimistic to lead the Young Lawyers Division
By Annie Butterworth Jones
Sean Desmond is no stranger to adversity.
He experienced it while running for Leon County judge in 2008, and again when he and partner and friend John Maceluch, Jr., had to close the doors of their Tallahassee firm.
But, says Maceluch, those experiences helped to shape Desmond into who he is today: president of the Young Lawyers Division of The Florida Bar.
“Everything that Sean is flows from one over-reaching trait: He is eternally optimistic,” said Maceluch in his introduction of Desmond at the Bar Convention General Assembly on June 24.
“His ability to think through every possible path and decision and find the upside gives him a confidence that is inspiring.”
Maceluch led Desmond’s campaign in 2008 and saw firsthand that optimistic attitude in action.
“We knew it’d be a tough road, and the potential downsides were very serious. But I was convinced by his optimism that there were positive points to even the most devastating outcome.”
Although Desmond eventually lost that close race, he maintained his sense of leadership and service. Throughout the following months, Desmond remained a leader in the YLD, chairing the committee that created the Law Student Division, a successful and growing program now in its third year.
“I’m so proud of all the division has accomplished in helping connect the law student community of Florida to the practice of law,” said Desmond. “Anyone who has gone to law school remembers entering practice and how it is completely different from going to law school. We’re trying to reach out to them now, in the earliest stage of their development, to help let them know how they should act and how not to act.”
The YLD, which serves all lawyers under age 36 and new Florida Bar members for the first five years, reaches over 21,000 members, a number that totals almost a quarter of the entire Florida Bar.
“We represent the newest members of the profession. We represent those coming in who haven’t had the opportunity to practice, haven’t had the experience yet.”
For that reason, Desmond said, his focus remains on professionalism and mentoring, not a surprise given his current position at the Second Judicial Circuit state attorney’s office in Crawfordville, where he supervises and mentors young prosecutors.
“As I begin to realize what the YLD board is all about, it’s about mentoring; it’s about leading and giving examples to young lawyers about how best they can learn to act,” Desmond said.
“I’ve grown, by watching many of you, to realize that it’s the small, daily acts of good that you do every day, the consistent acts, that develop the habits of professionalism that are so important in teaching and becoming a true professional.”
Past presidents of the YLD were on hand to offer support, congratulations, and advice to Desmond as now YLD immediate past President Renée Thompson “passed the gavel,” finishing what former YLD President Jewel White Cole described as the “two-year odyssey” that is the path to the YLD presidency.
“It feels like yesterday that I was taking this office,” said Thompson to the YLD board during her final meeting as presiding president. Thompson and Desmond worked together on board projects throughout the year, maintaining daily early morning phone calls during Desmond’s commute between Tallahassee and Crawfordville.
“Sean, this is a really fast ride. I can tell you that it is an amazing one to be on, but you have to remember that before you blink, you’ll be here passing the gavel to Paige.” Paige Greenlee, an attorney with Akerman Senterfitt in Tampa, was sworn in as president-elect alongside Desmond.
Thompson also offered Desmond a small piece of advice: “Remember the people that helped get you here.”
For Desmond, that assignment shouldn’t be too difficult. His parents, John and Doris Desmond; his wife, Angie; and their two children, Kevin and Kristen, attended his swearing-in ceremony.
“They’re here and behaving. I’m very proud of that. At 8 and 6, that’s quite a difficult task,” said Desmond to a laughing crowd.
As president of the YLD, Desmond has plans to promote the Law Student Division, now chaired by Zackary Zuroweste, a Dunedin attorney. Arrangements for the YLD’s annual Affiliated Outreach Conference are also in the works; this year, the AOC is chaired by Melanie Griffin of Orlando. The conference is a highlight for YLD members and bar association leaders as they come together to share ideas they can take back to their respective communities, said Desmond.
With e-filing and e-service issues making the rounds at Bar meetings and in Supreme Court cases, the YLD is prepared to offer its own ideas and opinions on technology and its place in the legal profession, particularly as it relates to lawyer-to-lawyer and Bar-to-lawyer communication. Desmond hopes attorneys will publicize their professionalism programs and teaching efforts on the YLD website to foster open communication and promote a sense of camaraderie among members.
“I truly believe that communication is the key,” Desmond said.
Those who know Desmond believe he is well-equipped for the multitude of tasks that lie ahead.
“Sean’s motivation for becoming president is not out of vanity or thirst for power, but rather a true desire to be in a position to do the most good for the most people,” said Maceluch. “Sean is a living example that with a winning attitude, you can come back stronger and wiser from a setback.”