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Mentoring and access committees receive President’s Awards of Merit

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The Special Committee on Mentoring New Lawyers and the Special Committee on Greater Access to Legal Services were honored with President’s Awards of Merit at the Annual Florida Bar Convention in Boca Raton.

Zack Zuroweste, Gary Lesser, and Katherine Hurst Miller

Zack Zuroweste, Gary Lesser, and Katherine Hurst Miller

Outgoing Bar President Gary Lesser said when he was sworn in a year ago that he wanted The Florida Bar to have “the best mentorship program in the country,” and Bar leaders have been working toward making that a reality since.  The Special Committee on Mentoring New Lawyers, that became the Standing Committee on Mentoring on Mentoring New Lawyers July 1, spearheaded the effort to create the just launched Counsel to Counsel, a unique mentorship program facilitated virtually through the MentorcliQ software.

“Creating a mentoring program for newer lawyers had long been a goal of mine, and I knew I needed the right leadership, the right partners to make that happen,” Lesser said. “And I chose very wisely when I asked my friends Zack Zuroweste and Katherine Hurst Miller to help lead this effort. We conducted a lot of research and homework during my year as president-elect. Then, together, we picked the members of the special committee and really had a dream team of lawyers dedicated to professionalism and mentoring.

The members of the Special Committee included Co-Chairs Hurst Miller and Zuroweste,  and:

  • Cristina Alonso
  • Jason Berger
  • Simone Marstiller
  • Elizabeth McCausland
  • Travis Mydock
  • Clinton Paris
  • Jorge Piedra
  • Michael Sasso
  • John Schifino
  • Grasford Smith
  • Ashley Sybesma
  • Ciara Willis

“Please understand that when the special committee started its work, there was nothing, and an entire mentoring program was built from scratch from the ground up,” Lesser said. “Researching the right app, working on overseeing the build out of the app and website, coming up with a name and choosing color schemes and layout choices. The creation of a robust and meaningful curriculum called milestones that will make for real conversations between the mentor and mentee.”

Jay Kim, Gary Lesser, and Wayne LaRue Smith

Jay Kim, Gary Lesser, and Wayne LaRue Smith

Lesser said the Special Committee on Greater Access to Legal Services “worked harder” than any committee he’s seen.

“The work started when we received a letter from the Supreme Court of Florida in April of last year asking us to tackle the greatest challenge to the independent legal profession and the independent judicial branch — the problem of decreasing accessibility and affordability of legal services,” Lesser said. “This has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that increasingly the general public thinks they are having a life moment they can figure out, and not a legal moment where a trusted lawyer can help them.”

The panel gathered data from The Florida Bar Foundation, the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, and the Office of State Courts Administrator. It studied the highest-ranking jurisdictions listed in the Justice Index of the National Center for Access to Justice, which puts Florida at No. 34 on a list that includes other states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The panel identified three “distinct areas” to study and formed “Pro Se,” “Pro Bono and Legal Aid,” and “Affordability of Legal Services” subcommittees. In the end, the committee submitted a 274-page report to the Supreme Court that sets forth “pragmatic and realistic efforts that can be implemented with relative ease and speed to make meaningful progress on access issues in the near term,” the report states.

Jay Kim and Wayne LaRue Smith co-chaired the special committee, which also included:

  • Jeremy Branning
  • Robin Bresky
  • Hilary Creary
  • Sandy Diamond
  • Amy Farrior
  • Julie Frey
  • Giovanni Giarratana
  • Gordon Glover
  • Linda Goldstein
  • Robert Johnson
  • Maria Pecoraro-McCorkle
  • Jeffery Rynor
  • Alice Sum
  • Donald Workman

“We are grateful that the court gave the Bar this opportunity and the Special committee led by Jay and Wayne produced a work product that has real solutions which the Bar and the court can work on increase access to legal services here in Florida,” Lesser said.

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