Foster-Morales sworn in as president of The Florida Bar
'Our Florida Bar will be more proactive than ever, listening to you — our members — and doing what we can to meet your needs and the needs of your clients'
Citing the COVID-19 pandemic and recent civil unrest, new Florida Bar President Dori Foster-Morales said she will forego a theme for her presidency and focus instead on rebuilding.
“This year is going to be about rebuilding, becoming stronger, and making ourselves, our profession, and The Florida Bar truly resilient,” she said via a pre-recorded message at the Bar’s first Virtual General Assembly June 19.
“Our Florida Bar will be more proactive than ever, listening to you — our members — and doing what we can to meet your needs and the needs of your clients as the profession continues to shift to the new normal,” Foster-Morales said.
But when it comes to the issue of “equality and fairness for all of our citizens,” there will be no going back, Foster-Morales vowed.
“It will be up to The Florida Bar and our partners — the courts, our voluntary bars, and the Bar’s sections and committees — to ensure that the phrase is ‘meaningful’ and not ‘meaningless,’” she said.
Foster-Morales urged Bar members to redouble their efforts to devote their training, skills, and positions of leadership to the betterment of society.
“Now, more than ever, as our society struggles with fear, anger, and frustration, we will continue to collaborate with our legal partners — to keep our justice system solid and accessible to everyone, and assuring that full exercise of every American’s constitutional rights.”
Marveling at the breathtaking change that has occurred in the past four months, Foster-Morales said she could never have predicted the theme of her inaugural address when she became president-elect only a year ago.
“In a relatively short period of time, my life and everyone else’s lives have changed,” she said. “It’s like we’re in a maze, and we have to figure out a way to get out of it — as a society, as a profession, and as individuals.”
Fortunately, Foster-Morales said, Bar leaders with “great wisdom and forethought” have emerged over the past 70 years to keep the profession moving forward.
“Over the decades and especially during the past several years, our progress in diversity and inclusion, in applying technology to the practice of law, and on focusing on mental health and wellness, has put us in a position of strength in dealing with the crisis at hand.”
Lawyers have done a good job mastering Zoom, WebEx, Go-to-Meeting, Facebook live, and other remote platforms, Foster-Morales said. Much of the credit, she said, goes to Chief Justice Charles Canady, the Florida Supreme Court, and the “state and county judiciary.”
But the technologies, Foster-Morales said, “require a different level of concentration.”
“They also cause additional strain as we learn how to lawyer remotely while being effective advocates for our clients,” she said.
The additional stress makes it more important than ever, Foster-Morales said, for lawyers to safeguard their physical, mental, and fiscal health — issues she has championed over the past several years.
“If asked today what advice I’d give my younger self, I’d say to expect that no matter how much you plan and focus and learn and work really hard, nothing is more important than taking care of yourself and keeping your family safe,” she said.
Foster-Morales was typically self-effacing when describing her path to the top.
“What you may not know is that while you know me as a relatively successful lawyer and now the Bar president, I wasn’t a particularly ‘gifted’ law student, I wasn’t on law review, I didn’t go to an Ivy League law school, and I never worked in a big fancy firm,” she said. “Heck, at one point, I wasn’t even sure if it made sense to finish law school.”
The path, she said, took her from her native Miami Beach to earning undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida, to launching her legal career as an enforcement attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.
From there, Foster-Morales returned to Miami to become an assistant state attorney, and finally, to matrimonial law, which she practices today.
The same journey “includes marrying my husband Jimmy, which is one of the best decisions I ever made — just ask him,” she joked. “And then came our two children, Nora and P.J., who each brought their own special qualities to our family.”
Like many Bar members, Foster-Morales said, she has had to adjust to new technology — and working in a household filled with family members who are also dealing with the fallout from the pandemic.
“But now I’m dealing with the new and added stress that most, if not all of my fellow lawyers are experiencing — working from home with my husband who is now a city manager, one child who had to return from college early to finish his first year online, and another, who because of the pandemic, was furloughed,” she said.
But Foster-Morales said she is confident that the profession will recover.
“Abogado, avoka, avvocato, lawyer — regardless of the language, we are in a better position to withstand these problems than any other profession or business,” she said. “These are such difficult times, but I have no doubt that we can and will seize every possible opportunity and face the future unafraid.”