Foster-Morales: Town Halls are about listening and recovery
2020 has certainly been a year of disruption for the legal profession, but Florida’s lawyers are resilient and have found new ways to communicate and keep the wheels of justice turning.
“Everyone asks me what this year is going to be about,” Bar President Dori Foster-Morales told those Zooming in to this year’s Virtual Section Leadership Conference on July 23. “It’s pretty obvious what it is going to be about; it’s going to be about survival. How do we as a profession survive?”
At a time when many are working from home or the office part-time and courthouses are open for only the most essential operations, a sense of isolation can set in.
Foster-Morales jokes that sometimes she feels like she is the president of her kitchen.
But, Foster-Morales told the leaders of the Bar’s 23 sections and divisions, technology can bridge that divide and that’s why she is embarking on a series of Virtual Town Hall events over the next two months where she will lead panels of Bar leaders, judges, and local voluntary bar leaders in forums in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits to discuss how Florida attorneys are coping during the pandemic and what the Bar can do to assist members in their legal practice and beyond.
Foster-Morales said she is focusing on rebuilding and listening to the membership and will forward any helpful ideas and concerns gleaned from the forums to the Bar’s COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, which is studying the impact of the health crisis on Florida’s legal profession and will advise how to best address key issues. The virtual forums, she said, will allow lawyers to talk openly about how they are feeling, about recovery and relief resources, and how they are adjusting to this new normal.
The first in the series of forums is set for the 11th Circuit on August 5 beginning at noon. Bar members are able to view schedules and registration information for all the planned forums on the Bar’s website at www.floridabar.org/virtualtownhalls.
“With COVID, I think people are edgy, they are nervous about their practices, even practices that are going well,” Foster-Morales said. “I think what we can all do for our members is let them know we are listening and that we understand.”
It was that concern about the psychological toll the pandemic is having that led Foster-Morales and former President John Stewart in June to accelerate the launch of the Florida Lawyers Helpline, a confidential, toll-free line staffed by mental-health professionals who serve as a gateway to free mental-health counseling, financial counseling, elder and child-care services, and a host of other resources (833-FL1-WELL).
“I think most of you know how much mental health and wellness mean to me,” said Foster-Morales, adding that the mental-health professionals who staff the helpline can provide crisis intervention and a referral for up to three free visits with a locally based, licensed mental-health professional.
Given the current environment, members will be able to get telehealth therapy sessions until it is safe to go back to in-person sessions.
“I scan what is going on on Facebook and I hear from people,” Foster-Morales said. “People I know really are struggling and suffering and I pray that you, as leaders, push out to your members that it is OK to get help,” she told the section leaders.
Foster-Morales admits this year will be challenging and different and many of the normal Bar and section events — “the things we really enjoy doing with our peers” — aren’t going to happen. But the profession should embrace what Chief Justice Charles Canady said when he recently spoke to the Board of Governors about the “virtue of patience” and avoiding “unnecessary risk.”
“We all need to be patient and follow the rules so we can make it to the other side,” Foster-Morales said.
“It’s going to be a great year, it’s going to be different, but it is going to be a great year, and I’m super excited.”