The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

William J. Schifino, Jr.: President of The Florida Bar

Featured Article

When Bill Schifino graduated from law school, he knew he wanted to return home to Tampa, where his parents and three siblings still live. “I think Tampa is a wonderful place to raise kids and have a family. Even today, it has a little bit of small town to it, but at the same time it has sophistication. Best of both worlds,” says Bill, standing in front of the Tampa Theatre, built in 1926, a protected downtown landmark. Photo by Mark Wallheiser.

Wearing little blue blazers and bow ties, the young boys gathered in the courtyard for morning prayers at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa. Even as grade-schoolboys, they recognized that one classmate stood out as a leader.

His given name is William Schifino, Jr., but back then everyone called him Billy, and his closest buddies called him “Feenz.”

“From day one at the boys academy, he came in very much self-possessed and as a leader,” recalls childhood friend Jay G. Trezevant, who grew up to be an assistant U.S. attorney in Tampa.

“If a young person in the fourth grade could accurately describe a person of substance, we knew Billy was a leader. He was strong, fast, and played every sport. He was the guy in the class who stood up to bullies naturally.”

Trezevant can remember two instances — once in the sixth grade and once in the eighth grade — when “Feenz” stood up to two bullies who were trying to pick fights with weaker students. The bullies backed down.

“Since we’ve become attorneys, he still just absolutely hates the bully.
That is really, really consistent with him,” Trezevant said. “He is not at all different today than he was the day I met him, except that he’s taller and further down the road.”

Traveling that road as a successful business litigator and Tampa managing partner at Burr Forman, 56-year-old Schifino has arrived at the junction where he is ready to roll up his sleeves and serve as president of The Florida Bar.

Colleagues, friends, and family describe him foremost as a devoted family man who is high-energy, extremely competitive, exuberantly optimistic, deeply loyal, fun-loving, empathetic, and passionate.

“He is about as passionate and driven a person as you will ever meet,” said his younger brother, John Schifino, also a partner at Burr Forman.

“This is a profession of passionate people; Type A’s. It still shocks me how driven Bill can be. He is very passionate about his job. I like being a lawyer, but Bill loves being a lawyer. And that’s why he got into bar service.”

Bill Schifino’s passion shines through when he describes his proudest moment as a lawyer. Years ago, he took a pro bono case representing a poor mother embroiled in a nasty divorce. Her husband accused her of abusing their three sons, and the state was trying to take away her children.

“She’s probably 4-foot-10, 90 or 100 pounds. She’s a peanut. I believed in my heart that she did not abuse anybody. When I drilled down, the substance of the abuse was a little red mark on one of the boy’s neck that a little boy could have gotten on the playground. Her husband said she had done it. I remember it like it was yesterday. The boys were 8, 6, and 2, and now she’s out of the house and the father has the boys.”

Schifino was shocked when they lost at the administrative trial.

“Totally a miscarriage of justice. I appealed it to the Second DCA. We won!”

His eyes glisten with tears as Schifino tells how happy he was his client got to keep her children.

“I’ve never been accused of not being passionate,” Schifino said. “My friends often make fun of how passionate I am. But I look back and remember the tears in her eyes. You look back at a mother losing custody of her three boys, for something you know is trumped up, and she didn’t have two nickels to rub together. She is thinking, ‘My God, how am I going to navigate through this swamp?’

“I wasn’t going to give up until we won. It was wrong. Her husband was a big bully. And I don’t like bullies. The law is the almighty equalizer. As long as you can get a lawyer in there fighting for you, it doesn’t matter who has more money.”

Bill Schifino, Jr., may be the managing partner at Burr Forman in Tampa, but he’s never had to manage his dad, Bill Schifino, Sr., whom he joined forces with when his father’s law firm closed. Younger brother John Schifino, also a partner at the firm, says, “Bill wears the brother hat and the managing partner hat, but we’ve never butted heads.” Photo by Mark Wallheiser.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
There’s another well-respected lawyer in Tampa named Bill Schifino, and that’s Bill Schifino, Sr., the new Bar president’s 83-year-old dad, who built his legal career specializing in issues related to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, where he once worked.

If you want to understand how Bill Junior became such an ethical, hardworking lawyer, with a delightful sense of humor, friends say, look no farther than his dad.

“I was born in ’33, the youngest of eight kids. I was the ‘whoops.’ In fact, the government acknowledged it by voiding Prohibition. They let us drink. And my father needed it,” Bill Senior said with a hearty laugh.

He tells how his grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1890s and settled in a little town outside Providence, Rhode Island, where his grandfather built a water and sewer construction business and passed the company on to his son.

Like most families, the Schifinos took a big hit during the Great Depression, with Bill Senior’s mom making the kids’ clothes out of flour sacks. Bill Senior’s dad lost his business, but put his blueprint-reading skills to good use at the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal agency that gave jobless folks work constructing public buildings and roads.

Bill Senior’s maternal grandparents had a little farm outside of Riverside, east of Providence, so there was plenty of chickens and eggs to share.

During World War II, the older Schifino boys enlisted in the service, while their father worked overtime constructing “Liberty ships,” designed for emergency construction by the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II.

During this turbulent wartime, Bill Senior was still a little boy and was raised mostly by his mom.

Bill Senior rose to the top of his high school class and excelled at sports: hockey, football, and baseball. He played quarterback in football and captained the baseball team.

His confidence got a big boost when he was named Rhode Island’s student athlete of the year. Skills as a starting shortstop got him a place on the baseball team at Yale University. Later, one summer after college, he played professionally for $20 a week for the “minor, minor” Milwaukee Braves, even though he loved the sport so much he would have done it for free.

For an anniversary gift in 1997, Paola bought Bill a “dream week” playing with the Philadelphia Phillies, who trained in Clearwater. When Bill was at bat, he couldn’t even see the ball traveling 85 mph, but he could hear his dad in the stands yelling: “Swing now!” Bill pitched two strikes to a Major Leaguer, who then dug in and hit the ball through the fence. In high school, Bill played defensive back for the Jesuit Tigers, and remains a competitive athlete to this day.

Playing ball revealed the unfair Jim Crow laws. His undefeated high school football team had an opportunity to play a team in Virginia, but because two players on the Rhode Island team would not be allowed to play in the game, the team decided not to compete. It happened again in 1951 when they traveled to Wichita, Kansas, for a tournament and checked in to their hotel only to discover a black teammate named Charlie was missing and not allowed to stay with the team.

“Those things stuck in my mind growing up,” Bill Senior said. So when he raised a family of his own, he taught his kids it was their responsibility to give something back, “not for monetary reasons, but for social reasons.”

At Jesuit High School in Tampa, where the motto is “Men for Others,” and the mantra is giving back, Bill Junior did community service at the McDonald’s Training Center, a facility for mentally challenged adults. As a busy lawyer, he has given back to his community as a guardian ad litem; working with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Tampa; serving on the corporate board of Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay, Inc.; and serving as coach and president of the board of directors of Tampa Bay Little League, Inc.

“I cannot imagine a life without public service, and I look at this Bar service as public service,” Bill Junior said. “Giving back. I love that. the way, it’s selfish because it makes me feel good.”

When his son talked to him about wanting to be president of The Florida Bar, Bill Senior asked him what he wants to accomplish.

“He said to make the law more affordable for those people who can’t afford it. Bill said he wants to get lawyers enthused about representing the indigent,” Bill Senior said.

He’s proud of his oldest child. But Bill Senior wouldn’t give his son a job at his law firm. Actually, it happened the other way around.

“I had a specialized practice,” Bill Senior said, “and that was not the direction he wanted to go. It was not an option, because I would not have hired him anyway. I wanted him to stand on his own two feet.”

A decade ago, when Bill Senior’s firm closed, he wasn’t ready to retire. So Bill Junior invited his father to come join his firm as of counsel.

Asked how it is to work for his son, the managing partner of the office, Bill Senior cracks another joke: “If he gets on my back, I will write him out of the will.”

Bill Junior said: “I never had to manage him. He still manages me. I still go to him when the proverbial poop hits the fan and say, ‘Dad, what do you think?’ I still seek his counsel.”

Good Country Living
Because he was in the Army ROTC at Yale, Bill Senior served in the military for two years in Germany, before coming home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Lois, in 1958.

And because he missed by four months the benefits of free college tuition with the GI Bill, Bill Senior worked at the SEC, while going to law school at Georgetown University, two blocks away in Washington, D.C.

“To be honest, looking back, the only way I could do it was with Lois’ help and the other married students doing it together, pushing ourselves,” Bill Senior said.

In 1960, Bill Junior was born, described by his dad as “rambunctious, a little bit of a devil.”

A favorite Schifino family outing is climbing aboard their boat and taking it for a spin around Tampa Bay.

“God love him, Bill taught us how to be parents,” said Lois, an only child of Irish descent, who graduated from Boston College, became a nurse with two master’s degrees, and eventually taught nursing in Tampa and worked as a psychiatric nurse at the jail.

In 1962, now with two sons (Bill and Paul), Bill Senior had his law degree and was recruited by a banking investment firm who needed a lawyer in Jacksonville with SEC experience.

Four years later, the Schifinos now had three sons (Bill, Paul, and John), when Bill Senior established his own firm specializing in securities-related work. Instead of living in the city, they moved to small-town Seffner, near Brandon, on 10 acres surrounded by orange groves.

Bill Junior loved his little pinto horse, Choctaw, and he and a little neighbor girl would pack a lunch and ride their horses up and down the dirt roads for hours.

Brother Paul Schifino, who owns a steel fabricating company south of Los Angeles, remembers knocking Bill out of the top bunk in a pillow fight in the “shotgun” house, before the Schifinos built a bigger house on their land and invited Nana and Granddad, the kids’ Italian grandparents, to stay in the cottage on their six-month visits from the North.

“We didn’t have a 7-11 or anything like that,” Paul said. “But there was a pizza parlor with a cooler on a screened-in porch, where you could get a soda for a dime. This guy had a tool shed with all these shelves, and you could get a fistful of candy for a quarter. It was as country as country gets.”

Brother John, the lawyer who works with Bill Junior and Bill Senior, remembers going to Camp Keystone in Odessa, in Pasco County, where Bill was a camp counselor.

“He was just a really fun big brother to have around,” John said. “He’d throw you on the back of a horse and pull you skiing on a boat. A great brother.”

Lincoln Tamayo, who runs the Academy Prep Center of Tampa, a private school serving students whose families are near or below the poverty line, has known Bill Junior since elementary school.

On the occasion of Bill Junior receiving an alumni award at the Academy of the Holy Names, Tamayo wrote these words to honor him: “You had it as a little boy and it has matured warmly and steadily in you as a man — a joy for life and sincere caring for others.”

Whether at the boys academy, Jesuit High School, law school at the University of Florida, or well into adulthood, Tamayo said, “I’ve admired and cherished your happy, bright vigor and the way you always make all around you know that you are truly, honestly, frankly engaged with them.”

Rob Scanlan, a Tampa lawyer who was an altar boy with Bill Junior, remembers when Brandon “was nothing but gas stations when Billy and I were boys. Brandon was created primarily as a fuel depot between the phosphate pits of Mulberry and the port of Tampa….

“It was a very rural setting. So families like the Schifinos and my family, the local Catholic Church was it. It was not only where we went to school, but where we did our socializing. And there was the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club. That was our world. A provincial, isolated community and everybody knew everybody. It was a terrific environment to grow up in.”

Scanlan can remember having Billy over for sleepovers, and they’d stay up late munching popcorn and watching scary TV shows about mummies, Dracula, and Frankenstein on Shock Theater. Just before that show, the elderly owner of the Valencia Gardens restaurant would lift his wine glass and give the Italian greeting, “Saluta,” while giving the winning Bolita lottery numbers drawn that night.

“That right there is such old Tampa,” Scanlan said with a laugh. “Billy and I shared that together.

“Observing Bill as a boy, you knew he would be a leader. It was in his DNA. He’s gregarious; he’s engaging. And he’s always been like that.”

T hey were Cub Scouts together, and Lois Schifino was their den mother. She would give birth to a fourth son, David, and a daughter, Laura.

“It wasn’t easy with five little children, but I absolutely loved being their mother,” Lois said, recalling how she’d pack as many kids as would fit in the family station wagon and take them to the beach in Sarasota.

“Bill was a cute, honest little fellow,” Lois said. “He was all boy and into everything.”

Bill Senior said, “That country living centered around family. And that is a bond the kids still have.”

A perfect day for Bill starts early with quiet alone time, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper, greeted by Duke, his fluffy Samoyed. Photo by Mark Wallheiser.

Ties that Bind
“If you want to try to understand Bill, understand the family and the support they give each other,” said Ray Gonzalez, a longtime close friend and classmate at Jesuit High School in Tampa.

“Core to his personality is the family he grew up in. They are all great achievers, solid ethical people. And a lot of fun to be around. There are no church mice in that family,” said Gonzalez, president of Kenyon Energy, a solar energy company, who chose Schifino to be his daughter’s godfather and to represent him in legal issues concerning his business.

Bill’s wife, Paola Schifino, is quick to say, “Family is first with him. Work and finances are second. It’s all about the family.”

While dating Bill, once she got to know the Schifino family, it was confirmed: “I knew he was a lovely catch. The Schifino family is full of traditions, and we create our own traditions. We think traditions are important, and it’s something we inherited.”

Her husband started the come-as-you-are pizza parties for every Schifino family member’s birthday, topped off with cake.

“Our family is so big we have a birthday party once a month,” said oldest child Amanda, majoring in economics at Vanderbilt University. And if college is too far away to come home for every Schifino birthday, well, “They put me on FaceTime when singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for the cake.”

Brother Paul Schifino makes sure to travel from California every Thanksgiving, and the whole Schifino family gathers at the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach to celebrate.

Bill Senior cooks the “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration, and on Christmas Day, they gather at Bill Senior and Lois’ place for the traditional turkey dinner and to exchange gifts.

Beyond traditional family gatherings, love binds this big Italian family together.

The youngest of Bill Junior’s siblings is Dr. Laura Schifino Dill, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Tampa. Aunt Laura has inspired Bill’s daughter, Julia, a freshman at Florida State University majoring in pre-med, to become an OB/GYN, too.

“Growing up in such a large family and being the youngest, not only was I raised by my parents but also by my brothers. I can honestly say I am who I am today because of all of them,” Laura said.
“Bill taught me so many things; it’s hard to pick where to start! From the time I was a little girl, I saw in my brother a determined, loyal, and hardworking person. He showed me that with these qualities, I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. Today, I am a physician in Tampa in a spectacular group, in part because of him. Bill is the kind of brother who is always there for you, in times of struggle and in times of celebration. I am honored to be his sister.”

When Bill was turning 40, he wanted to run a marathon and enlisted his sister to help him train and run with him.

“At mile 20, although Bill was doing great, he hit the infamous wall,” Laura said. “He was determined to finish but was also humble enough to tell me to go on ahead. He finished that marathon, and I could not have been prouder.”

David Schifino, a Tampa entrepreneur who does investment work, is seven years younger than Bill.

He recalls being picked on in the school cafeteria when he was a first-grader, and again at summer camp.

“I was a smaller kid in my class, and Bill was always there, like a protector,”

David recalled. “Bill was at the right place at the right time, and he made it right. He’s carried that quality he was taught at a very young age throughout his personal and professional life.”

When four of five Schifino kids were in college and about to go their separate ways, Bill Junior came up with an idea to keep in touch with his siblings, fueled by his deeply competitive side.

The “Schifino Olympics” pitted brother against brother, when they ranged in ages from late teens to twentysomethings. There were 10 events, including the one-mile run; 100-yard swim; tennis; and weight-lifting. The winner got to keep the trophy for a year and lord it over the other three brothers.

“Bill loved the competition. For him, competition was love,” said Paul Schifino. “Billy was trying to keep the family close.”

Top: After graduating from college, Schifino went on a European adventure with his brother and two friends. They never had a hotel reservation, backpacking and hopping on trains with their Euro-rail passes, zig-zagging across Europe with free-spirited abandon that included a stop in Venice. Their next destination was supposed to be Florence, recalls friend Ray Gonzalez, but when they got to the station, that train was pulling out. But the train to Munich was leaving in 10 minutes, and that was just fine with them.Bottom: Bill was a UF law student when he first spotted Paola lounging at the pool, an exotic transfer student from Curacao who speaks five languages. But they didn’t date until she moved to Tampa to attend USF. She was almost finished with her master’s degree, when Bill pulled out the ring.

The Straw That Stirs the Drink
While Bill Junior would have been happy going to college two hours away at the University of Florida, his parents insisted he go out of state because it would be a good life experience. They were right.

Schifino chose Tulane University in New Orleans.

“I’ll never forget my first year in New Orleans, freshman year, my first semester. My resident advisor said, ‘Hey, my parents are coming to town and they have tickets for us to go watch Muhammad Ali fight Leon Spinks.’

“Holy cow! Are you kidding me?” Schifino said, grabbing the opportunity to go to the Superdome in 1978 to witness Ali become the first three-time heavyweight boxing champ.

His sophomore year, he snagged tickets to the Super Bowl.

“I was a public policy major. I probably minored in having fun,” Schifino said, reveling in New Orleans’ music scene, recounting hearing the Radiators and Neville Brothers at Tipitina’s and going to Jazzfest.

Dad agreed to pay only for tuition and room and board. Bill Junior would have to earn his spending money.

To this day, Schifino thanks his dad for that deal, because “I learned the value of a buck.”

He pocketed many bucks in the good tips he made bartending in the French Quarter, with his first job at Anything Goes, an “artsy, wild place,” where every waiter dressed in costume.

“And behind the bar, I’m this little yuppie boy in his button-down shirt,” Schifino said with a laugh.

He played intramural sports at Tulane — softball, football, and basketball — and still works out daily.

His junior year, he was flung together with a motley trio of roommates paying cheap rent for a two-story ramshackle house on State Street, where the middle of the house hung two feet lower than the rest.

That’s how Hank Gordon, president and CEO of Tekart Building Corporation in New Jersey, remembers those Tulane days at the place they dubbed ZEN for Zeta Epsilon Nu. They made up T-shirts emblazoned with “ZEN,” but it wasn’t an official frat house, Gordon said. More like an “animal house,” where parties drew a thousand Tulane students.

“Bill and I were kind of thrown together,” said Gordon, known as Mojo. “I had a reputation back then as a rough-and-tumble kind of guy. I think Bill was apprehensive about moving in with me. Bill was this good-looking ladies’ man, with a phenomenal personality and relentless energy.

“We sat down and had some beers and were literally crying tears in our beers and sharing our life stories. We found out how similar we were. I learned that immediately. We found a shared bond, that we were both driven by our dads. We were both moaning about how intense that influence was, not realizing at that time that it was such a positive influence on both of us. Bill was a very deep guy, and we had some deep psychological discussions. And from that night on, we were inseparable.

“He was over-the-top generous with his time, back in college, too,” Gordon said. “He was loyal to his friends. He always had my back, and, believe me, I needed that.”

Borrowing the Reggie Jackson moniker “The Straw That Stirs the Drink,” Gordon gave that nickname to Schifino, because he was the one who got everything going with his fun-loving personality.

Ray Gonzalez, friends since high school, went on a European adventure with Schifino and two other friends after graduating from college. They never had a hotel reservation, backpacking and hopping on trains with their Euro-rail passes. They each were assigned a country, and became “ambassadors.” Because Schifino was once the president of the French Club in high school, he took France.

“I was Italy,” Gonzalez said with a laugh. “It was a blast!”

The adventure began before they ever set foot in Europe. They flew from Tampa, with a connecting flight in New York City. They had an hour and a half to kill, so college friends in New York met them at the airport and whisked them off to a party thrown by one of Schifino’s friends. They hop in a car and go to New Jersey. When Bill goes to hug his friend, his friend grabs Bill and throws him in the pool.

“He’s dripping wet.,” Gonzalez said. “And all of his dry clothes are in his suitcase. We were the last people to board the plane. Bill is still wet. It was a lot of laughs.”

Easter weekend, the close-knit extended Schifino family picked strawberries in Plant City, while Bill’s mom, Lois, (bottom photo) waited at home and helped wash their fresh-fruit bounty. Bill’s wife, Paola, shows off her carton of strawberries, in center photo. Photos by Mark Wallheiser.

Heading Home
Never pressured by his father to go to law school, Schifino knew the party was going to end one day, so he took the LSAT.

“I had a genuine love and respect for the profession,” he said and was looking at Tulane, Georgetown, Emory, and UF for law school.

“I met with an old family friend, Warren Cason, who passed a few years ago. He was one of the granddaddies of the profession of law, a wonderful lawyer, a statesman, and a mentor to my father,” Schifino said.

“‘What do you think, Mr. Cason?’ He was a Bull Gator, and he correctly said, ‘Have you thought about after law school? What do you want to do? Do you want to come back home?’

“I said, ‘I love New Orleans, but I want to come home.’ I knew hands down, never a second thought, never a scintilla of doubt that I was coming back to Tampa. I love Tampa and everything in it. Truth be told, I’m a little bit of a family man. Mom and Dad were there. My siblings were there.”

So Schifino chose UF for law school, and that’s when he first spotted Paola lounging at the pool at the Camelot Apartments in Gainesville. But they wouldn’t date until Tampa, when Schifino was beginning his first law job and Paola was getting her master’s in business administration in international marketing at the University of South Florida.

“What was really cool about her was that she was born in the Bahamas, her father was Italian and lived in Italy. Her mother was from Venezuela, and she grew up on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. And she speaks five languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento, a dialect of the island; and Italian).

“She was exotic and all these wonderful things!” Schifino said.

Paola Schifino is a success story in her own right, a principal at Schifino Lee, an advertising and marketing firm in Tampa.

Asked how she would “brand” her husband, Paola said, “He’s a coach. He’s encouraging. He likes perfection. He makes you work at it. He’s not going to let you slack. He’ll teach you, ‘These are the steps you need to make you great.’

“That is one aspect of his brand. The other is he’s the ‘commander in chief.’ That’s what my mother calls him. When he arrives someplace, he calls from the airport and jokes: ‘The eagle has landed.’

“There’s another side of Bill that a lot of people don’t know about, and he doesn’t know I know this,” she continues. “People come up to me and tell me that my husband has helped them, and they are very grateful for what he did. They never say what it was. But I know Bill is definitely a person who roots for the underdog. He helps people, but he’s very confidential about it. And he never boasts.”

Sometimes Schifino’s good works are very public.

Manuel “Manny” Menendez, former chief judge of the 13th Circuit, worked with Schifino on projects at the Hillsborough County Bar Association, and watched him help raise money to construct the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center that houses the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation. During his term as president of the foundation, Schifino led the successful challenge to double the usual $50,000 raised at the Law and Liberty dinner for outreach legal aid grants to $100,000.

“He is very bright and like the Energizer Bunny. He’s very task-oriented. When he is committed to a task, by God, he will get it done and get it done right,” Judge Menendez said. “Bill Schifino is top-shelf.”

Hungry to Learn, Ready to Serve
In 1986, Tampa lawyer Rob Williams hired Schifino full-time at his firm, Taub & Williams, after a summer clerkship.

“He was hungry to learn how to be a good trial lawyer,” Williams said. “I had tried a case about five years earlier that got a lot of headlines in Tampa, and Bill was well aware of it. He was hungry to get in the trenches and try cases: ‘Teach me how to do it. I want to test my mettle. I really want to be known as a really good trial lawyer and achieve justice for people….’

“He was a friendly guy and all that. But I really wasn’t looking for someone to win a popularity contest. I wanted someone who would be a damn good lawyer. He had that zeal to learn. He was a heat-seeking missile who was going to do the best he could.”

One memorable case they worked on together involved representing a salvage company that did treasure hunts on Spanish galleon shipwrecks. Their client had been sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging stock price manipulation.

“It was as exciting as could be,” Schifino said, describing how the commission wouldn’t settle, so they took the case to the multi-week jury trial before U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo that ended in a complete defense verdict. “What a professionally thrilling moment!”

“It was the first time in a long time that private litigators beat the government,” Williams said. “Our client had everything at stake, and it was a big roll of the dice.”

In 1991, when Schifino and a couple of colleagues wanted to start their own firm, Williams joined them at Williams, Schifino, Mangione & Steady. Schifino was a founding shareholder, president, and then managing director before the firm combined with Burr Forman in 2012.

Williams said Schifino enjoys the managing director role.

“More than anything, he knows how to bring people together and build a consensus,” Williams said, and that will be his hallmark as president of The Florida Bar.

“No bromides or political baloney: He will roll up his sleeves and work his butt off to make the practice of law better for everyone,” Williams said. “This guy is really trying to help you and me and everybody else make more money, be better lawyers, and have the level of professionalism that will elevate the reputation of lawyers. It’s important that the lawyers around Florida know this guy is not a Bar politico. He cares about the profession with a passion.”


Coach Bill

Known for his fierce competitive attitude as a Little League coach, Bill Schifino pays a visit to his daughter, Amanda, on the mound, urging her to play her best, in a photo they’ve dubbed “tough love.”

On a rainy Saturday years ago, before his daughters were old enough for kindergarten, Bill Schifino belted out in a bright, chirpy voice: “Girls! What do we want to do today?”

“Daddy, let’s paint our nails!” came the giggly reply.

“I looked at my wife and said, ‘This is not working for me.’ I want to have a relationship with my daughters. But I’m not getting on the ground and playing with dolls. And I’m not ever once going to do my nails,” Schifino recalls with a laugh.

So Schifino got his girls (and later, his son, too) involved in soccer, basketball, and Little League softball and baseball. Really involved.

For 16 years, until 2015, Schifino has coached Little League softball, and countless kids and their parents in the Tampa area know him as Coach Bill.

His signature coach outfit is tan shorts with a matching team shirt and a visor.

Daughter Amanda Schifino, an economics major at Vanderbilt University, said there was another girl on the team whose dad also coached.

“They quickly figured out if her dad talked to me and my dad talked to her, fewer problems would arise. It was so competitive!”

Her favorite softball story is remembering how her dad taught “a bunch of little girls in skirts” how to “fly,” when sliding into second or third base.

“It kind of hurt and we’d get dirty. So one year, Dad decides we’ll have a day of it. He brings a Slip-and-Slide, and we all take off our shoes. Dad announces he will show us how to do it on the dirt. He shows us how to slide, and he threw out his back!” Amanda says, unable to stifle her chuckles.

“What’s really great about that story, although he is competitive and wanted us to be our best, he brought a lot of fun to everything. He taught us the importance of competition and all my friends still call him Coach Bill.”
Daughter Julia Schifino said she shares a special bond with softball and her dad, who trained her to become her personal best and come together as a team. She played second base, the same position her dad once played — a “nice scrappy position.”

And she was so good that several colleges tried to recruit her. She loves the game, but she was hit in the head three times with balls and suffered three concussions.

“Dad begs me to try out, but I am very swamped with my pre-med life,” says Julia, a freshman at Florida State University who hopes to become an obstetrician/gynecologist.

Playing softball competitively with her dad as her coach, she said, has taught her how to be committed, disciplined, dedicated, and willing to sacrifice for the team. She remembers having to miss “two massive field trips” in the fifth grade because practicing for a Little League tournament came first.

“That was a heartbreaker,” Julia said, adding she missed half of a family vacation and a concert because of softball team commitments.

Discipline she learned from playing competitive softball is coming in handy as a college student studying to make good grades. Recently, she proved she’s not a quitter when she danced in a marathon for 20 hours to help raise $1.4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network.

Youngest child Will Schifino is an avid lacrosse player, and he is training to be on the high-school football team, where he hopes to play safety.

“My dad can get too competitive. He’s always very serious about it, telling me to always keep trying to do my best and never give up,” Will said. “He is mostly right.”

Carter Anderson, a partner at Bush Ross in Tampa and current president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, first met Bill Schifino on the Little League field. They had kids around the same age and coached together.

“He has a healthy competitive attitude of a coach. We have a picture of him and his oldest daughter, Amanda, and he’s visiting her on the mound. We call the picture ‘tough love,’ and my daughter got the tough love once or twice. She was at bat and not giving her best effort.”

Schifino not only coached, he served as president of the Tampa Bay Little League Board of Directors.

“I have teased him that his tenure as president of the Tampa Bay Little League board has helped him become a better Florida Bar president,” said John Kynes, executive director of the Hillsborough County Bar Association.

“Because if he can deal with Little League parents, with their strong opinions about coaches and umpires and anything else related to their children playing ball, Bill can deal with most any situation that arises with The Florida Bar,” Kynes said with a laugh.

Kynes’ son is the same age as Schifino’s son, and they played on the same team.

“I can attest to Bill’s enthusiasm and competitiveness. He also was encouraging the boys.

“He did a fantastic job trying to make sure the boys had a positive experience and got the most out of their abilities. He made it a lot of fun,” Kynes said.

Bill Schifino had a lot of fun, too.

“If I wasn’t practicing law, I’d teach and coach. Oh, yeah, no doubt. Love working with kids,” Schifino said.

“Coaching gave me balance, because my energy was totally focused on the children. And you didn’t sit in the dugout and think about that Supreme Court case that just blew your case.

“You thought about, ‘How’s little Susie doing over there? She’s got a tear in her eye, because she just struck out, and you’ve got to build her back up.’”

 Schifino’s Goals

Bill Schifino laughs that he barely strapped on his training wheels as president-elect when the “r”-word — reciprocity — took the Bar membership by storm.

The controversial idea bubbled up from the Vision 2016 Bar Admissions subgroup, and 2015-16 Bar President Ramón Abadin challenged everyone to have a vigorous debate about reciprocity (along with other topics) — that would have allowed admission in Florida for out-of-state lawyers as long as Florida lawyers had reciprocity for admission to practice in other states. In addition, Abadin pushed many lawyers outside their comfort zones talking about many technology-driven forces dramatically changing the legal profession.

“Ray screamed from the top of the mountain: ‘Wake up, everybody!’ Who could fault him for that? It needed to happen,” said Schifino, who has known Abadin since 1978, when they were both students at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“I’m very proud of him because he has met a lot of headwind. He has not been afraid to meet some tough issues head-on. He has not been afraid of some negative blowback.”

While Schifino does not support reciprocity, his role as president-elect was to support the Bar president, so he traveled the state with Abadin at public hearings and kept the lively debate going.

In the end, after a groundswell of opposition, the Board of Governors voted down reciprocity. But during Schifino’s term as president, one of his major goals will be bringing in for a landing other recommendations from Vision 2016 in four main areas: technology, legal education, bar admissions, and access to legal services.

“We have to take action on all of these issues coming out of Vision 2016. Whether we’re going to recommend them to the membership or to the court, I’m not judging. But we have to analyze, debate, and take action — one way or another,” Schifino said.

“It’s a wonderful profession. Ray loves it. I love it. But any business, any team needs to be in perpetual motion,” Schifino said. “I’ve served on the boards of various companies. You always, always have to be looking and saying, ‘How can we be better?’

“We can’t be complacent. If we get complacent, we’re getting passed by. So complacency has not been acceptable to Ray. And it’s not to me.”

Hard decisions will not be top-down during Schifino’s presidency.

“We have 52 Board of Governors members. We will have an excellent executive committee. We are all working together to look at these issues,” Schifino said. “Boards are best when members can freely discuss, debate, and analyze. I’ve been in those meetings over the years, and I’ve walked into a Board of Governors meeting thinking, ‘I’m voting A.’ And I have voted B, because my mind was changed by the good debate and arguments from my fellow Board of Governors members.

“You have to, in my opinion, keep an open mind until you have the opportunity to listen to your fellow Board of Governors members. I learn from them. They are some of the brightest men and women I have ever met in my life. These men and women were elected by their constituents because they are bright people. I look forward to continuing to work with them. Once we as a board agree upon a position, then we go to the Supreme Court, and then we go to the membership. And part of that is getting input from our membership. We represent 100,000 lawyers.

“Let’s listen.”

Access to Legal Services
Three years ago, while a Board of Governors member, Bill Schifino pinpointed an issue important to him: Find a way to connect lawyers who are unemployed or underemployed to citizens who don’t have access to legal services.

Now that he’s Bar president, Schifino said, “We are going to continue to focus hard on access and pro bono. We have to.

“How do we make certain the citizens of this state are getting the legal services they need? We are a membership-driven organization at the same time. How can we help our membership? How can we help those lawyers in rural areas, in small firms, younger lawyers, older lawyers connect with clients? How can we make the system work better?”

Not only is Vision 2016 looking at the access issue, but so is the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice, created by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

Parts of the access solution are proposed amendments to Rule 4-7.22 (Lawyer Referral Services) and 4-7.23 (Lawyer Directories) to make the rules less restrictive, designed to open up more opportunities for lawyers to participate in matching services, while promoting access to the civil justice system. Lawyers are invited to weigh in with their comments, and the Board of Governors will vote on the proposed amendments at its July meeting in Miami.

Constitution Revision Commission and the Legislature
Once every 20 years, Florida’s Constitution provides for the creation of a 37-member revision commission to review Florida’s Constitution and propose changes for voter consideration.

The last comprehensive review of Florida’s Constitution occurred in 1997-98. The next comprehensive review begins in 2017, during Schifino’s term as Bar president.

“We’ve got legislative issues we are going to be dealing with, like term limits for appellate judges,” Schifino said, referring to a proposed constitutional amendment that failed to gain support during the 2016 legislative session. The Florida Bar opposes term limits for the judiciary, either on the trial or appellate bench.

Perennial legislative issues will also demand Schifino’s attention, including promoting adequate funding for the courts and protecting the independence of the judicial branch.

Diversity on the Bench
“We will not lose sight of the need for diversity and inclusion in the profession. Our profession needs to lead the charge,” Schifino said. “We need to be the benchmark in that arena.

“We could do better with our judicial nominating commissions and our bench, from a diversity standpoint. We need to do better.”

Schifino served on the diversity commission created by Bar Past President Eugene Pettis.

“We identified the issues and the ways to resolve them. Also, as a board, we went out and recruited a lot of diverse candidates for the JNCs and the bench. And you saw an uptick. We need to continue to do that.

“Before you can lay blame elsewhere, we’ve got to make sure we are sending over good-quality diverse candidates. We’re doing better.

“We need to continue to improve on that. Then we need to continue to have a good dialog with Gov. Scott and his office, and whoever the next governor is going to be.

“I think it is much better to look at our different branches and work with them and not against one another.

“ Yes, there are going to be healthy issues to debate. We’re not always going to agree. But I think we are going to get a lot farther by sitting down with some good conversations.

“If you asked Gov. Scott, ‘Hey, are you anti-diversity?’ he is going to say, ‘Of course not.’ So let’s look at how we are doing collectively. The proof is going to be in the numbers.

“Then we need to collectively work together to find ways to improve it, but not in an adversarial way.

“Because we’re all going to agree that diversity and inclusiveness are positive attributes.”

Schifino’s Kitchen Cabinet

These four members of The Florida Bar Board of Governors, dubbed Schifino’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” urged him to run for president:

“Bill’s passion for whatever he undertakes was evident to me from the very beginning, watching him take responsibilities. But he doesn’t let his passion for people or issues blind him, with respect to the realities of the situation. Some people are so passionate about an issue that they are blinded about how to effectuate the resolution or effectuate change. But Bill has this reality check in everything he does that enables him to be very successful. His style is one of engagement.”
—Jay Cohen, Ft. Lauderdale

“Bill is one of those special leaders who has vision, leadership skills, is a listener, and loves the legal profession. If you want to lead, you have to listen. Leadership is listening and building consensus, and it’s not a one-person show. building relationships, you can get so much more done. Bill will lead with a shared vision that he seeks with other people.”
Gary Lesser, West Palm Beach

“Bill is the most optimistic person I have ever been with. He doesn’t just look at things as the glass half-filled; he sees everything 90-percent filled. He likes to hear everyone’s input before making a decision. He gathers people around him. We will have lively debate. We will still talk about weighty issues, but all members of the Board of Governors learned a great lesson on what happened this year with reciprocity. The membership has insisted that they be heard. And I think it is very consistent with how Bill has always perceived the role of the Board of Governors and his own role.”
—Carl Schwait, Gainesville

“Bill is a very passionate guy and a very thoughtful guy. The defining quality overall is his optimism and his sense of what’s possible and seeing the good and seeing the opportunities.”
— Michael Tanner, Jacksonville


Biography of William J. Schifino, Jr.

Managing Partner, Burr Forman, Tampa

Practice Area:

Board certified in business litigation. His practice focuses on a variety of litigation and trial practice, including securities litigation and arbitration, professional malpractice litigation, employment litigation, and intellectual property litigation.

Legal Experience:

Taub & Williams, P.A. (1985-91)
Williams, Schifino, Mangione & Steady, P.A., founding shareholder, president, and managing director (1991-2012)
Burr Forman (2012-present) (previous law firm combined with
Burr Forman)

Professional and Civic Activities:

The Florida Bar
Florida Bar President (2016-17)
Board of Governors, 13th Judicial Circuit (2008-present)

Board Committees:
Executive Committee, chair-elect, (2016)
Strategic Planning, chair (2016)
Special Committee on Legal Education (2016)

Business Law
Real Property, Probate and Trust Law
Trial Lawyers

Other Bar Service:

American Bar Association
Florida Bar Foundation, fellow
Florida Justice Association
Hillsborough County Bar Association, president (2004)

  • Trial Lawyers Section (1986-present)
  • Racial, Ethnic & Gender Bias Committee
  • Young Lawyers Division, president (1994)

Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, president (2014)
Tampa Bay Inn of Court

Community Service:

University of Florida Levin College of Law, Board of Trustees
Florida Guardian ad Litem Association
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Tampa
Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay, Inc., director of corporate board
Tampa Bay Little League, Inc., coach, president, and director

Professional Recognition:

Hillsborough County Bar Association Outstanding Lawyer (2014)
Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite”
Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent-rated lawyer


Bachelor of Arts, Public Policy, Tulane University (1982)
Juris Doctor, University of Florida College of Law (1985)