President Tanner emphasizes professionalism
‘We’re going to look at how we teach it, how we define it, when we teach it, how we enforce it, how we promote it, what its relationship is to mental health and wellness’
Eager to move beyond the pandemic and pledging to reexamine and strengthen core values, newly sworn Florida Bar President Michael G. Tanner announced that he intends to pursue professionalism, access-to-justice, and career opportunity related initiatives.
“This is the time when our society has been under stress, when we need a truly robust third branch of government…a truly robust third branch of government,” Tanner said. “And this is a time when we should recommit ourselves to our core principles.”
Moments after taking his oath of office at a June 11 General Assembly in an Orlando hotel ballroom, the veteran Jacksonville civil trial attorney and Gunster shareholder praised the Supreme Court and his predecessor for keeping the courts functioning during a 15-month health emergency that claimed more than 32,000 Florida lives.
After thanking his wife, Dawna, Tanner turned to Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady and referred to the court’s extraordinary embrace of remote technology that facilitated the resolution of more than 3 million cases.
“I hope all of our members know that there were many places around the country that didn’t function nearly as well as we did, and we owe you a debt of gratitude for that,” Tanner said.
Then, turning to the year ahead, Tanner suggested that in a post-pandemic environment, lawyers will have to continue innovating to address long-standing challenges.
“The key challenge we are going to have over the next year, and probably beyond…is how do we strike the right balance between the way we used to do things 15 months ago, and the way we’re doing them now,” he said.
Meeting those challenges will involve a reexamination and renewed commitment to the profession’s core values, Tanner said, much in the way the Founding Fathers built the American experiment on a foundation of what they knew best.
“It may surprise you, as it did me, that after eight years of war with Britain, Alexander Hamilton still valued many of the traditions and principles of British law,” he said. “He said at the Constitutional Convention that the British government forms the best model the world has ever produced.”
The Founding Fathers were “tethered” to the past, but “incorporated radical new ideas, and formed a type of government never before seen in history and which remains the best… in history,” Tanner said.
“For us as Bar leaders, in looking at how we strike that right balance, some of the lessons learned last year are obvious to us, we know that we can use technology to do many of the things that we do more efficiently, cheaply, faster than before, we know that,” he said. “We know that we can be adaptive to new ways.”
Tanner suggested that the challenges are bigger than Zoom fatigue.
“And I’m not just talking about remote proceedings, and how the courts function, I’m talking about how we face all of the forces of change that we know are at work in our profession and our branch,” he said.
Tanner didn’t specify the challenges. But in his campaign for president-elect, he focused on lack of professionalism in the legal community, the growing unmet need for legal services and the inability of consumers to afford them, the rise of automated technology, and a need for more diversity.
Tanner told the audience that his plan to address the challenges centers on the Board of Governor’s May 21 approval of three key initiatives, including the creation of a “Special Committee to for the Review of Professionalism in Florida” that will be co-chaired by President-elect Gary Lesser.
The committee’s charge, Tanner said, will be, “a complete top to bottom review of the professionalism” in Florida.
“We’re going to look at how we teach it, how we define it, when we teach it, how we enforce it, how we promote it, what its relationship is to mental health and wellness,” he said, with the goal of creating “suggestions to the court for improvements in these areas.”
When he presented the proposal to the Program Evaluation Committee on May 20, Tanner said that while he was traveling the state for his campaign, lawyers at every stop approached him to discuss the subject.
“And we all know this is an issue that does need our attention,” Tanner told the audience.
Also, at the May 21 meeting, the Board of Governors approved a one-year extension for the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force that Tanner chaired before becoming president.
The taskforce’s new charge, Tanner told the audience, “is going to be a review of the potential for an online platform for the complete management and resolution of small-value civil claims, to be administered by our courts, and these are going to be claims of under $1,000.”
The goal, Tanner said, “will be ultimately, if such a system were deployed, for that system to be one that could be easily used by unrepresented citizens.”
And third, Tanner said, a newly approved “Special Committee on Opportunity in the Practice of Law in Florida” will “seek to enhance career opportunities and training for lawyers, particularly young lawyers”
The committee will be charged with producing “a set of recommendations, or best practices if you want to use that term, that employers of Florida lawyers can use in all practice settings — private law firms, government agencies, and corporate law departments,” Tanner said.
The goal will be “to increase their career development and training, their leadership opportunities, and in the case of private law firms, their economic participation,” Tanner said.
Combined, Tanner said, the initiatives will spark new ideas “that can improve who we are, what we do, and maintain our core principles.”
Stressing the importance of innovation, Tanner recounted a comment Franklin Delano Roosevelt once made in defense of Winston Churchill.
“You must remember that Winston Churchill has ideas, he has hundreds of them a day,” Roosevelt quipped. “And three or four of them are pretty good.”
Churchill didn’t accept every proposal, Tanner said, but his greatest strength was his willingness to “dispassionately assess new ideas and act on those that offered a possibility of improvement.”
“As we move off the pandemic, and as we face other forces of change on our profession, the key lesson I suggest to you this morning is, we need to be prepared to ask why we do things in our branch of government, and then be open to answers that may be different than what we’re used to, or what we expect,” he said.
Referring to the theme of the Annual Convention, “Here Comes the Sun,” Tanner said he sees a profession with a bright future.
“It appears that all of the signs are moving the pandemic out of our lives in the upcoming year,” he said. “We have young lawyers continually coming into our ranks, motivated to serve, pro bono is flourishing, community volunteerism is still flourishing, and did throughout the pandemic — we know that we can be more resilient beyond what we ever thought we could,” he said.
Tanner said that brighter outlook reminds him of a “quaint, evocative metaphor” from “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” by the celebrated writer, Zora Neal Hurston.
“Some people can look at a mud puddle and see an ocean filled with ships,” he said. “That’s the kind of spirit that I look forward to us embracing together in the upcoming year.”