Presidential Perspectives: Terry Russell — 2001-02
As 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?
Russell: I can’t express how proud I am at being a lawyer, a member of The Florida Bar, and a former president.
As I think back on my term, 2001-2002, I remember so well the decision taken by Herman Russomanno during his term to bring Steve Metz on board as our legislative liaison. As time would tell, that decision would enable us to pass the Civil Legal Assistance Act during my term. That legislation was my priority and with Steve and his firm’s assistance, we passed the bill by a combined count of 159-1. Funding soon followed and in the first year, the state provided $2 million for civil legal services and for several years thereafter.
Every president is called upon to visit the Supreme Court at least once during their term. So it was that than Executive Director Jack Harkness and I found ourselves in the court’s conference room on a beautiful September morning awaiting the court’s entry to hear my report on the state of the Bar. It was September 11, 2001, at 9 a.m. As events unfolded and it became apparent the enormity of events unfolding in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, Chief Justice Charlie Wells recessed the meeting to another time. Jack and I returned to his office and watched events unfold on TV in stunned silence. We talked about what the Bar could do to help. I remember comparing the attacks to Pearl Harbor. Another day of infamy. I drove my rental car home to South Florida and thought about what to do. It turned out that the Bar had no disaster relief funds from which we could render assistance. We created ACT (Attorneys Charitable Trust) funded by our members and for our members, ACT was used for not only 9/11 but in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. In the October edition of the Journal I opined the the events of 9/11 evidenced a monumental intelligence failure. History has proven that assessment correct.
I would like to think that I will be remembered first as a solid lawyer, with a strong love of our profession, and as a leader who advanced our ideals of professionalism, compassion for those in need, and public service.
Q. How do you think the legal profession has changed over the years?
Russell: When I joined the legal profession in 1969, the times were astoundingly different. I had the good fortune to clerk for a fine U.S. district judge in the Southern District. Chambers were in the historic post office in downtown Miami. There were no security measures in place. The court’s chambers were accessible to the public. Motion calendar was held every Friday. Cases were tried regularly. Mostly jury trials. Contrast that to today.
Consider also how constricted the definition of the practice of law has become. Opportunistic enterprises continue to successfully encroach on our profession and the courts have been of little help to us.
Q: What suggestions do you have for improving the profession or for young lawyers?
Russell: I still encourage young people to pursue a legal career but with their eyes open to a much narrower playing field. With a need to fully grasp the benefits of technology and the implications of artificial intelligence. AI may well be our biggest competitor in the not to distant future.
Still, I would like to see our profession recenter on public service and move away from the identity politics that seems to dominate our institutions today. Our claim to our unified status is only justified by our commitment to public service. We need to rededicate ourselves to that goal.