Davis, Lesser vie for Bar presidency
Board of Governors members Steve Davis of Miami and Gary Lesser of West Palm Beach have qualified to run for Florida Bar president-elect in the Bar’s 2021 elections.
The two candidates submitted the required petitions by the December 15 filing deadline. Voting in this race and for Board of Governors elections will be in March.
The winner will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s June Annual Convention — when current President-elect Michael Tanner becomes Bar president — and then will become Bar president in June 2022.
“I am running for president because I have a passion for our profession.… It is my genuine and deep desire to work to improve how The Florida Bar helps all Florida lawyers succeed,” Davis said. “The Bar must serve all of our members: government lawyers, solo practitioners, small firm lawyers, larger firm lawyers, and in-house lawyers. This is truly a critical time for all of us, and we must consider what happens to our profession after we get through the pandemic. The Bar needs strong leaders as we navigate the post-COVID world to take advantage of the real opportunities for the Bar to do more to help our members.”
“I’m a big believer in service to the legal profession and have been involved for over 20 years,” Lesser said. “I’ve been very involved with The Florida Bar’s efforts to protect the independent judiciary and the independent legal profession. But what especially motivated me to run for Florida Bar president is the role The Florida Bar plays in providing resources and services to help our lawyers with their daily practice. I especially understand this as a small firm lawyer myself. It’s important as 60% of our lawyers are in small firms and solo practitioners. I want to see more interaction with The Florida Bar and our lawyer members and this will be a major focus for me should I get elected.”
Davis cited access to justice, diversity and inclusion, and improving professionalism as his top goals.
Access, he said, includes necessary funding for the judiciary and building on the greater use of technology brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic to improve access to justice while protecting rights.
“Another aspect of access to justice is safeguarding the significant benefits our members have enjoyed through the unified Bar structure. There remain challenges to our unified Bar status, which could ultimately change the court’s regulation over us,” Davis said. “Access to justice means we need to support the legal aid and legal services providers in Florida through our continued pro bono work and support for those organizations.
On diversity, “The Bar must advance the opportunities for inclusion for all lawyers in our profession. This means there must be equality without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, or any factor other than merit,” Davis said. “It also includes ensuring that government attorneys, solo and small-practice attorneys, practitioners in rural areas, the public sector, and young lawyers have a meaningful voice in all aspects of Bar governance and leadership, including service on our committees and in section leadership. We will use technology to increase opportunities for participation, but our diverse Bar must be inclusive of all our members.”
Finally, improving professionalism involves many factors, he said, including supporting health and wellness programs for Bar members.
“The Bar must also connect resources that are tailored to each lawyer’s practice area and interests. The Bar will allow greater connection to the professional programing to meet our member’s needs,” Davis said. “Professionalism means protecting the independent judgment of lawyers by safeguarding the lawyer ownership of law firms. Florida lawyers’ professional judgment must be paramount for serving our clients. Florida lawyers need to represent Florida clients and I remain opposed to reciprocity.”
Lesser said within the overall premise of protecting the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, which he called “our 24/7 mission,” he has three goals.
The first to both improve Bar services — such as free CLE, the Member Benefits Program, and mentoring opportunities — for members and make those members more knowledgeable about those resources.
“I would promote direct and regular communication of these member benefits and services to our Florida Bar members, and push out this information directly and regularly to our members, working with our great voluntary bar associations,” Lesser said.
Next, “I’m a big believer in providing equal opportunity in our profession for all lawyers regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or geographic location. Words like diversity and gender bias are not just slogans to be repeated, but require constant analysis and conversation to make sure that we are doing the right job, to make sure that everybody has a seat at the table,” he said. “We need actual plans that can be discussed meaningfully and implemented in a real way to make a difference. Meaningful discussion will get us to the policy that we can implement as The Florida Bar and make a difference in diversity and inclusion.”
Finally, Lesser wants to improve access to justice by helping many of the 80% of the public who think they cannot afford an attorney but do have the resources. He also wants to help lawyers meet those needs.
“Many people have their first and sometimes only exposure to the rule of law by dealing with a lawyer, and being deprived of that opportunity is a real loss for the population and for our lawyers,” Lesser said. “Our Florida lawyers are facing real challenges with competition from nonlawyer entities who can advertise on billboards, online, and elsewhere and they are not governed by our ethics rules. I would support a public education program on the benefits of hiring a lawyer versus trying to handle things on your own.
“This would be an important piece of the larger ‘Access to Justice’ issue that needs to continue to be a priority.”
Both Lesser and Davis cite their practice, local bar, and Bar experience in preparing for presidential duties.
Davis is a former president of the Dade County Bar Association, where he also served as a committee chair and a member of the board of directors.
“As president of the DCBA, I actively recruited a diverse cross section of lawyers to serve on our board,” he said. “I was recognized for that effort by the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers in 2011 when they honored me with the Honorable Theodore Klein Award, which ‘recognizes a male member of MDFAWL who has demonstrated initiative and dedication to women’s issues.’”
A Board of Governors member for eight years and a lawyer for more than 30, Davis has served on the Executive Committee since 2016 and has twice been chair of the Budget Committee. He is the current chair of the Communications Committee and has served for the past four years on the Strategic Planning and Program Evaluation committees, among others.
Lesser has been a member of the Palm Beach County Bar Association since 1992 and has chaired its Professionalism and Medical Legal committees. He is finishing his 10th year on the Board of Governors where he has three times chaired the Legislation Committee and served on the Executive Committee since 2015. He has also served on several other board committees including the Constitution Revision Commission and Strategic Planning panels.
“My leadership style is very collaborative, which is the best way to get the best solutions and results,” Lesser said. “While I have some things I definitely want to get accomplished as Florida Bar president, this will only happen by working with and listening to other lawyer leaders and working with voluntary bar associations.”
Davis, who has been a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP for 19 years, received his undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Florida and his law degree from the University of Miami, where he was articles and comments editor for the Law Review.
He practices in complex commercial litigation, especially in antitrust, real estate, and class action cases. Prior to joining Boies Schiller, Davis was a Florida special assistant attorney general in a complex antitrust case, and he has handled several other complex cases in state and federal court.
He is a member of the Business Law, Trial Lawyers, and Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections, and is the board’s liaison to the latter.
Davis is married with three daughters, one granddaughter, and two sons-in-law.
Lesser, the managing partner of Lesser, Lesser Landy & Smith PLLC, a 10-attorney personal injury firm, received his undergraduate degree in 1989 in international affairs from The George Washington University, and his law degree in 1992 from the University of Miami, where he was editor-in-chief of the law school newspaper.
Prior to joining his present firm, Lesser was an intern while in law school at Aronovitz Trial Lawyers and he also worked with the Miami-Dade County Homeless Legal Project.
He has handled personal injury cases ranging from motorcycle accidents and motor vehicle wrongful deaths to pedestrian deaths and damages in a sexual abuse of a minor case.
Lesser belongs to the Health Law Section, where he also serves as board liaison, and to the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law and Trial Lawyers sections.
He is married with three daughters.
Ballots for the race, along with Board of Governors and Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors contests, will be mailed around March 1 and are due back to the Bar’s elections company by 11:59 p.m. on March 22. Bar members will again have the option of casting a paper ballot or voting online.