A New Day, Many New Places
I’m a people person. That’s a big part of why I got involved in Bar service. I enjoy greeting friends with hugs, engaging in discussions, and seeing new faces in a room. But with social distancing guidelines in effect to combat the spread of COVID-19, the “old-fashioned” way of doing things is on hold. However, something monumental has happened. Never before has a Bar president been given the chance to reach so many members in such a short period of time — albeit electronically. My presidential term is unique because of the many virtual programs in which I have already participated (including my virtual swearing-in), putting me in contact with so many people across our great state who I otherwise might not meet physically.
In August, we began a series of Virtual Town Halls in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits, in which all Bar members are invited to participate. Alongside Bar leaders, judges, and affiliate members, we discuss how Florida attorneys have been coping during the pandemic and what the Bar can do to assist members in their legal practices and beyond. We are focusing on rebuilding and listening to our members. Ultimately, the hope is to forward any helpful ideas and concerns to the Bar’s COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, a hardworking committee led by President-elect Michael Tanner. The task force’s mission is to study the impact of the health crisis on Florida’s legal profession and advise how to best address key issues. From the Town Halls, we could develop proposed rules or policy changes to support our members. The virtual forums allow us to talk openly about how we are feeling, about recovery and relief resources, and how we are adjusting to this new normal. Some questions we ask: How can the Bar assist members during the pandemic? What particular issues are facing Florida’s legal profession? How has the pandemic affected your law practice? We heard from many of you at the Town Halls, and it’s inspiring to hear just how much our members care about our profession and the public we serve. It is extraordinary how efficient and far-reaching our technological capabilities have become.
I’d love to get in my car, travel across the state, and make contact — something I cannot do right now, but I can still connect virtually, and while there is a loss of physical contact, there is something to gain now, which is the breadth of contact. Although the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging on so many levels — the Bar president can be more accessible than ever before. Videoconferencing makes it possible for me to be in Jacksonville at 11 a.m. and Tallahassee at noon. I can offer my support to smaller organizations that are spread out across the state that don’t receive as much attention. I can devote more time to help or give insight; or just to say “hello,” and listen and thank people for being involved. Please feel free to call on me to Zoom into an event. With the Town Halls, we are giving a giant virtual hug to everyone who wants to join us.
I’m committed to making this year about resilience. The Bar will continue to zero-in on recovery efforts. Through the Town Halls and the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, we will continue to focus on the needs of our members so they can practice law and serve our communities while we weather this crisis together — and I will be there with you every step of the way.
I think many of you know how much mental health and wellness mean to me, and I’m concerned about the psychological toll the pandemic is having on our members, as well. That’s why in June we accelerated the launch of the Florida Lawyers Helpline, a confidential, toll-free line staffed by mental-health professionals who serve as a gateway to free mental-health counseling, financial counseling, elder and child-care services, and a host of other resources (833-FL1-WELL).
In the future, a lot of things can happen, and other emergencies may arise, and the lessons we learn today and the changes we implement will make us the most resilient profession possible.
I hope everyone joins our Town Hall meetings. To join a Town Hall meeting, Bar members can view the remaining schedule and registration information on the Bar’s website at www.floridabar.org/virtualtownhalls.