The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Getting Back to Basics

President's Page

'Our WHY is our purpose, cause or belief — the driving force behind everything we do.' — Simon Sinek

Scott Westheimer

Scott Westheimer

As we embark on our year together, my plans begin with The Florida Bar’s “WHY.” What is our purpose and the driving force behind what we do? At its core, our mission is simple to regulate the practice of law; ensure the highest standards of legal professionalism; support the court system as a co-equal and independent branch of government; and protect the public we serve.

To do that, it is incumbent on Bar leadership to concentrate on these basics, focus on our “WHY,” and be innovative and forward thinking during the process. That’s what I plan to do this next year as Bar president.

What does getting back to basics mean to me? It means investing in and empowering our more than 111,000 members, supporting them in meaningful, practical ways with their daily practice of law, educating them about their ethical duties, providing them tools and resources to assist in complying with our rules and supporting their health and wellness. All that serves to effectuate our mission of protecting the public and supporting our independent court system.

We already know The Florida Bar’s discipline system and grievance process set the standard for the nation. But we can always do better and that’s why our main focus this year is doing everything we can to analyze, enhance, and improve our system. Part of that focus is being more proactive in providing our members with resources to help them avoid the most common violations that bring way too many into the Bar grievance process.

One of the most common complaints we see year after year are trust accounting violations. In 2019-2020, it was the top violation; in 2020-2021, the fourth highest; in 2021-2022, the third highest, and currently this year, it is the second highest violation. In fact, the Bar gets on average one nonsufficient funds notification per day due to poor trust accounting practices.

To address that, your Bar has been working with a provider to bring a free comprehensive cloud-based trust accounting solution to our membership. The software is designed to provide a seamless and efficient way to comply with our rules, which can be used in concert with most existing online banking services or as a stand-alone trust accounting solution. The Board of Governors has provided approval, and we are working through the contracting and timeline details.

We anticipate by this column’s publication, we will have formally announced all the details of this exciting trust accounting product and it should be available this fall to Bar members.

I’m also eager to help Florida lawyers remain at the forefront when it comes to technology and continue to adapt to its constant evolution. That’s why at my urging the Board of Governors recently approved a new Board Committee on Artificial Intelligence Tools & Resources and a Standing Committee on Cybersecurity and Privacy Law.

Make no mistake, AI is coming to the practice of law. A recent survey by Thompson Reuters found 82% of lawyers polled think AI could be applied to the profession, while 51% think it should be.

As it evolves, AI will impact every aspect of what we do. The special committee will spend the year looking at AI and take a holistic approach, reviewing everything from regulatory aspects, to use by self-represented litigants, and its use as a tool to help Bar members. We must leverage technology in innovative ways, while maintaining critical personal relationships and live interactions.

The new Standing Committee on Cybersecurity and Privacy Law consists of expert practitioners in this field and is believed to be a first for any unified bar. It will develop resources with the Standing Committee on Technology for Bar members to better achieve “cyber-resiliency,” and to better understand how cybersecurity impacts legal ethics, including “competence, diligence, client-confidentiality, and third-party confidentiality.”

We all know how cybersecurity affects the day-to-day practice of law and the Bar can educate members on the dangers and how to adequately protect client data. This is especially important for our solos and small firms, which make up the bulk of our membership.

To be more initiative-taking in providing new members and government attorneys with tools that enable them to succeed, we have set out to develop a financial literacy toolkit to assist members in navigating assorted options for loan forgiveness, financial counseling, and a web-based benefits calculator. These new tools will complement existing Bar programs aimed at making life easier, which I plan to detail in future columns.

I am humbled and truly honored to be chosen to lead the Bar in these transformational times. I am excited to serve with one of my favorite people in our profession, President-elect Roland Sanchez-Medina, and the hardest working group of men and women I know, The Florida Bar Board of Governors and Bar staff. We all look forward to proudly serving you, the great lawyers of Florida, and the public this upcoming year.