The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

Leadership Academy grads now running the program

Senior Editor Regular News

Leadership Academy grads now running the program

Senior Editor

There’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, but the Wm. Reese Smith, Jr., Leadership Academy may come close.

In five years more than 200 academy graduates have already gone on to serve as judges, Florida Bar Board of Governors members, Young Lawyers Division board members, voluntary bar leaders, community organization leaders, and more.

Now, two academy graduates are about to command The Florida Bar’s Leadership Academy Committee — in a sense, leading the institution that honed their leadership skills.

John M. Howe “I really feel inspired by the fact that this program has had such a dramatic effect on the leadership of the Bar in the short time it’s been in existence,” said Co-Chair John M. Howe, a West Palm Beach attorney and Class I graduate.

“I’m extremely passionate about it, it was an amazing experience that I just can’t put into words,” said Co-Chair Anthony J. Visone, a Port St. Lucie attorney and Class II graduate.

The brainchild of former Bar President Gene Pettis, the academy was created to “enhance the leadership skills of a diverse and inclusive group of lawyers,” and to “identify, nurture and inspire effective leadership within The Florida Bar and the legal community and to enhance the diversity of leaders within The Florida Bar.”

Academy members must obtain signed permission from their employers, and pledge to attend six meetings across the state in a 12-month period. Tuition costs $500 and academy members pay their own travel and accommodations.

Anthony J. Visone CLE credit and scholarships are available, but every academy graduate, or “fellow,” is expected to put their new leadership skills to use, either through Florida Bar service, local bar service, or service with other civic organizations.

“We know that not every fellow will go out and be on the Board of Governors, nor do we need them to,” said Howe, who is a past president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. “But whether it’s leadership at the local bar level or leadership in civic organizations, that’s where we are needed and called upon to lead.”

Leadership Academy classes include team-building and public speaking exercises, and the Bar structure and function, all for good reason, says Visone.

“I’m transplanted from New York…and in the beginning, I had no concept of what The Florida Bar was and what it did,” Visone said. “I talked to an alum from Class 1, who I knew pretty well, and she said it’s going to be the best experience you’ve ever had, so I applied.”

Like most institutions, the academy had growing pains, Howe acknowledges. The initial class size of 60 proved unwieldy, forcing it to split into northern and southern groups.

But even the inaugural class proved to be an invaluable experience, Howe said.

“It was very, very productive,” he said. “It aided my development as a person, as a professional, as an attorney, and it also strengthened my contacts from around the state.”

Class size was cut to 30 and other adjustments were made following a Program Evaluation Committee review, Howe said.

President Michelle Suskauer, a strong supporter, told both co-chairs to raise the academy’s profile.

“She would like us to get a video going,” Visone said. “We’re trying to get an alumni newsletter together, so that alumni can share their experiences and news with other alumni, kind of like the ‘On the Move’ section of The Florida Bar News.”

And both co-chairs say they intend to ask the Board of Governors to commit to maintaining the current Bar spending level of $75,000 a year. That will assure current donors of the program’s viability and help attract more contributors, Visone said.

“Right now the way it works, whatever we raise, the Bar reduces its spending by that amount,” Visone said. “I’m excited for the year to come. I think we have a lot of work to do. And I want to make sure that this continues.”

For more information visit

News in Photos