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Lesser bestows Florida Bar President’s Awards of Merit

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At the Annual Florida Bar Convention’s General Assembly, outgoing Bar President Gary Lesser presented the following President’s Awards of Merit:

Sia Baker-Barnes and Gary Lesser

Sia Baker-Barnes and Gary Lesser

Board of Governors member Sia Baker-Barnes: “This award recognizes Sia for her exemplary leadership and service as chair of the Program Evaluation Committee, which is a very heavy lift generally speaking. This is the primary vehicle for reviewing proposed new programs and evaluating current Bar programs and much more. In all of my years on the Board of Governors, I have never seen such a full load and heavy carry as PEC managed this year under Sia’s leadership. This is just a sample of her year as chair:

  • Six sets of Section/Division bylaws revisions reviewed;
  • 12 program evaluations/reviews conducted;
  • A total of 39 PEC full/subcommittee meetings. This of course does not include the numerous additional Zoom calls and phone calls that happen before and after these meetings;
  • 65 rule amendments reviewed for strategic plan adherence;
  • 33 rule amendments substantively reviewed;

Sia captained the ship, managing the details and the big picture with just absolutely amazing leadership.”

W. Braxton Gillam IV and Gary Lesser

W. Braxton Gillam IV and Gary Lesser

Board of Governors member W. Braxton Gillam IV: “This award recognizes Braxton’s service as Legislation chair this Bar year, which was remarkable. Let me tell you some key facts about the last legislative session:

  • There were 1,826 bills filed for consideration during the 2023 Legislative Session. That’s a lot;
  • Of those, 356 bills ultimately passed both chambers. That’s an increase of 71 bills from the last year’s session;
  • And we also had two Special Sessions while Braxton was chair

But none of that really matters because none of those bills were really Florida Bar issues. Our only issue in the State Capitol is the proper funding of our independent third branch. That’s all. I can tell you that this is not always as easy as it sounds. We have to be focused on our goal, avoid distractions and potential landmines, and advocate for the priorities outlined by our Florida Supreme Court. At all times, Braxton was a great leader, a great resource, and a great partner in our efforts to help support the Court. I want to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to work with you this year Braxton for our judicial branch.”

Josh Chilson, his daughter, Olivia, and Gary Lesser

Josh Chilson, his daughter, Olivia, and Gary Lesser

Board of Governors member Josh Chilson:  “Josh is being honored for his dedication and hard work as chair of the Communications Committee. This is another ‘big lift’ position, with many moving parts in any ordinary year. There is review and evaluation of all of the Bar’s communications tools, including the Bar Journal, The Florida Bar News, all of the social media platforms (and there are many),  and much more. That would have been enough to keep Josh Chilson and the members of the Communications Committee very busy. But there was more, because I had two big plans…. That resulted in a significant amount of additional work. First there was the new mentoring program, and the Communications Committee under Josh’s leadership had to create, maintain, and evaluate a communications plan for the mentoring program  . . .  while people were working very hard to create the program at the same time. A good analogy would be trying to paint a moving car. But we knew what we wanted the car to look like, and with hard work and great efforts, Josh helped spearhead that communications effort. The second big lift which we rolled out this last Bar year was something I had in mind for many years. A communications plan aimed at the general public about the importance of hiring a lawyer for important times – ultimately called Life’s Legal Moments. This was brainstormed with Josh during my year as president-elect, and pushed hard under Josh’s leadership this past year. Creating a website – – was not enough. We had to push it out through SEO and banner ads. We collaborated with local Chambers of Commerce and the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers, who shared our tools and resources for the general public with their 67 independently elected clerks across the State of Florida. Talking to the public – and not just to other lawyers – about the need for legal representation for important times is something that is essential. Josh worked very hard on all of these issues with the Communication Committee, the Special Committee on Mentoring, and many other entities.”

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