The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Just How Interconnected We Are

President's Page

Photo of John M. StewartAs we sail across the seas of change, the unexpected can occur. The waters are not always calm. The winds aren’t always favorable. Our course may be disrupted by unexpected challenges that cannot be overcome by the captain of the ship alone. We must work together and keep traveling into the future.

We have recently experienced a global health crisis that caused the population of various nations — including our own — to make unprecedented changes in the way we live and work. Never before have so many organizations, including law firms, been forced to rely upon technology in order to maintain regular operations in response to crisis. The capability for practitioners and staff to work remotely from home has never been more important. Carrying on the profession of law away from the office and avoiding face-to-face contact in order to stem the transmission of COVID-19 has never been more critical. The rapid spread of the virus demonstrates just how interconnected we are — not only as a state or as a nation — but globally. These kinds of events are reminders of how susceptible our economic and legal systems are to interruptions beyond our control. While we don’t know what the future holds (this column went to press April 3), every difficult situation can also present an opportunity.

The coronavirus pandemic provides a perfect example of why the legal system in general (lawyers, clerks, and courts) must catch up to modern times, so that the system can continue to serve people in trying times. We must ensure we can work remotely, virtually, and telecommute. Maintaining a functional society in the current environment requires greater capability and efficient use of technology than prior to the pandemic. The crisis — which has no national boundaries — is a wake-up call, confirming that our profession and clients cannot afford to slowly adapt to technology. We must accelerate our integration of necessary technologies in order to work effectively from home, have staff work remotely, be able to meet clients virtually, by telephone, by video conference, and to among other things be able to conduct depositions or conduct closings remotely. It’s a matter of bringing existing technology into the workplace. Simply put, justice cannot grind to a halt because the profession has failed to integrate necessary technologies that enable our citizens’ and our clients’ legal needs to be met.

While technology is not a magic pill and cannot solve all our problems, remote work is effective on some level for nearly everyone. We all know time-sensitive legal problems cannot suffer interruptions. Life, business, and work must go on; and they cannot be halted for extended periods of time solely because we haven’t taken advantage of or learned how to utilize technological resources that are already available.

Additionally, the global health crisis has crystallized the need for the review already requested by the Florida Supreme Court of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and various rules of procedure to ensure not only that our profession can function without interruption in response to unexpected challenges, but also that our profession will meet the modern needs of our citizenry after the crisis subsides. We cannot, we should not, and we will not return to business as usual.

Thank you

Since this is my last president’s page, I wish to say a final farewell to The Florida Bar Board of Governors and to thank each valuable member for their impressive efforts this year. Thank you to Executive Director Josh Doyle and Rosalyn Scott, executive assistant to the president, with whom I have worked closely throughout the year. I thank my president-elect, Dori Foster-Morales, who I know will have a great year and whose advice and counsel have been invaluable. I cannot adequately express how the Board of Governors and entire Bar staff worked tirelessly to assure that The Florida Bar never wavered in protecting the public, promoting professionalism, and pursuing justice in what can only be considered the most challenging of times.

I also extend my utmost appreciation to my firm, Rossway Swan, and to my daughter, MaryClaire, for hanging in there the last couple of years during my constant travel. I am grateful that my year as president coincided with my dad, William “Bill” Stewart, Jr., on his 50-year anniversary as a Bar member. I extend to him my warmest congratulations. I’ve worked with my dad in my hometown of Vero Beach since the beginning of my career. I thank him for his endless support, and for everyone’s encouragement and hard work during this amazing experience at the helm. Fair winds and following seas and a fond thank you to all Florida Bar members. It has been my greatest honor to serve you!