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Presidential Perspectives: Greg Coleman — 2014-2015

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Greg ColemanAs part of a project to document the history of The Florida Bar, the former presidents were asked to comment on the same three questions. In this series, the News will share their answers, some of which were edited or condensed.

Q: How would you like to be remembered as a lawyer and a former Bar president?

Coleman: As a lawyer, I would love to be remembered by my clients as a diligent, compassionate, and thoughtful advocate for them. I would like to be remembered as an attorney who is assertive, always maintained decorum, and practiced law with the highest ethical and professional conduct.

As a Florida Bar president, I think I would reflect on two things.

First, during my term as president, we were fortunate to be able to implement the Practice Resource Institute [now rebranded as LegalFuel: The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar]. This project was completed in a period of six months, which in the world of Bar work, is virtually impossible. Obviously, I cannot take full credit for the project, as the chair of the committee who initiated and implemented the project, Kevin Johnson, was instrumental in its development.

The Practice Resource Institute was created to help lawyers enhance their ability to practice law. It provides technological tools and solutions for lawyers, as well as free continuing legal education and guidance in every aspect of their practice from beginning to end. It is literally a treasure trove of knowledge for any lawyer at any level in our state.

Second, probably the most important accomplishment during my term as Florida Bar president was working with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga to create and form the Florida Supreme Court Commission on Access to Civil Justice. This commission, which is unique in Florida due to its ties to the business community, is an ongoing project designed to provide access to civil justice for the indigent and working middle class. This concept is not unique to Florida, although I think our approach will be unique. This commission, I believe, will be a long-standing legacy for the chief justice and for The Florida Bar.·

Q: How do you think the legal profession has changed over the years?

Coleman: When I began practicing law in 1990, the legal profession had basically operated in the same manner for hundreds of years. Probably the most significant change over those years would have been the transformation of word processing from onion skin and carbon paper to a computer processing format. This obviously made everyone’s lives much easier. As technology has taken over our lives, both within the practice of law and outside the practice of law, it has and will continue to drastically change the way we work, the way our clients expect our work to be done, and ultimately the legal profession in general.

As I travelled the state from June of 2014 through June of 2015 and spoke to virtually every Bar association known to man, I kept reiterating the same message. Our profession is changing at a pace more rapid than any of us realize and no one is paying attention.

Although I believe some are paying a little bit more attention now, I still do not think it is enough. As technology changes our lives, changes the way we do basically everything, it will ultimately change the way legal services are delivered, whether we like it or not.

There is an inherent struggle currently between the infusion of technology into the legal profession and rules that were written in the 1950s at a time when we all used rotary phones. The biggest challenge and hurdle for our mandatory Bar and quite frankly for the country will be how to deal with these changes in a more rapid fashion in a rules process where it takes years to change the most simple concept.

It will be imperative for The Florida Bar to figure out a way to deal with these issues so that technology can enhance the delivery of legal services and ultimately access to justice for our citizens, while still protecting our citizens as The Florida Bar has done so well for so many years.

Q: What suggestions do you have for improving the profession or for young lawyers?

Coleman: I figured out a long time ago that approximately 25% of our members are engaged in The Florida Bar in some form or fashion. Approximately 25% look at The Florida Bar as the police department, and the other 50% wander in and out.

We need to figure out a better way to engage our 100,000 plus lawyers in the conversation I described above. The fact of the matter is our profession is changing and will continue to change in ways we cannot even envision as we sit here today.

This conversation needs to be a conversation for all, not just for the leadership of the Bar. When I was communications chair, I really tried to engage the attorneys in the state. Unfortunately, it is not a task that is easily accomplished.

The good news is, we have a Young Lawyers Division that is very, very engaged and enthusiastic about the practice of law and these new changes. I think the more seasoned lawyers are going to have to look to them more than ever to help us solve this ever­ growing problem.

In general, I am blessed. I was fortunate enough to serve as president of the third largest mandatory Bar in the country, during a time when we had 52 members of the Board of Governors who were all very special people.

We were transitioning from a 36-year executive director, my good friend and mentor, Jack Harkness, to the new and improved Jack Harkness (that’s you, Josh Doyle).

It is an exciting time. It is an invigorating time. It is a time to embrace change. It is a time to accept the fact that onion paper and carbon copies are never coming back. Fax machines will be gone forever and soon everything we are using today will be obsolete.

I look forward to tracking the progress of The Florida Bar. It is a very special place with very special people and I am as proud as I can be to be a member.

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