Scott Westheimer sworn in as 75th president of The Florida Bar; emphasizes getting back to basics
'I am humbled and truly honored to be chosen to lead the Bar in these transformational times and for the trust you have placed in me. I am excited about the journey that lies ahead and to be able to work with and for you next year.'
Saying the core mission of The Florida Bar is to regulate the practice of law; ensure the highest standards of legal professionalism; support the court system as a co-equal and independent branch of government; and protect the public, F. Scott Westheimer pledged to focus on those elements as he was sworn in as president June 23.
Addressing the Annual Florida Bar Convention in Boca Raton, Westheimer said it is “critical” for the Bar to embrace its basic tenets and be innovative and forward thinking doing so.
“Our main focus, our basics, this year is to do everything we can to analyze, enhance, and improve our discipline system,” said Westheimer, the first Bar president to hail from Sarasota. “It is already one of the best in the nation, but we can do better. It includes improving communications about the system to both our members, and the public. It means investing in and empowering our more than 111,000 members by supporting them in meaningful, practical ways.”
That, he says, includes assisting lawyers with their daily practices, educating them about their ethical duties, providing tools and resources to assist them in complying with Bar rules, and supporting their health and wellness.
“I am humbled and truly honored to be chosen to lead the Bar in these transformational times and for the trust you have placed in me,” Westheimer, the Bar’s 75th president, said. “I am excited about the journey that lies ahead and to be able to work with and for you next year.”
Long-time friend and former Bar President Dori Foster-Morales of Miami introduced Westheimer to the General Assembly crowd and said the way he connects with people will ensure his robust agenda will be fulfilled.
“Leadership at its core is making those connections,” Foster-Morales said. “The Bar will be better and stronger as a result of Scott’s guidance.”
Westheimer thanked the members of the Florida Supreme Court in attendance for entrusting the Bar with the “monumental responsibility” of regulating the practice of law in Florida.
“The board and I understand the magnitude of this responsibility and we take it very seriously,” Westheimer said. “I look forward to working with all of you this year and continuing to improve our system and to protect the public.”
Westheimer also said he has never seen a more dedicated, hardworking group of individuals than those who sit with him on the Board of Governors.
“They tirelessly fight every day to ensure we have the best lawyer regulation and discipline system in the country that serves our members and all Floridians,” Westheimer said. “We have a lot to do this year and it is truly an honor to serve with you.”
To Westheimer, health and wellness means being grounded as a lawyer.
“If you’re not grounded as a lawyer, and if you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s hard to go help others and serve our clients — the public,” he said. “Sometimes, I think we get caught in a trap as a profession. We define ourselves by being a lawyer and not who we are as people and this leads to way too much burn out.”
Westheimer says being a lawyer is a profession, but should not define who a person is.
“I’m a husband, dad, son, and brother first,” he said. “That’s why I think health and wellness is so important. It makes you a better person and a better practitioner. Creating more successful, well-rounded, and professional attorneys, helps us better serve others and the public.”
Westheimer said it’s important for the Bar to help its members avoid the most common disciplinary problems and a “huge part” of that focus is being proactive in helping lawyers avoid the most common disciplinary violations, including providing them with practical education, tools, and resources early in their careers so they can more easily comprehend and comply with the Bar’s ethical rules. He praised the new leadership of the Young Lawyers Division for making education about the Bar’s discipline process a mandatory part of its Practicing with Professionalism program.
“The Bar must be more proactive in protecting the public and in helping members stay out of our discipline system,” Westheimer said.
The largest number of disciplinary cases stems from running afoul of the Bar’s trust accounting rules.
“To address this problem, I am proud to announce we are working with NOTA to provide our members a free cloud-based trust accounting solution/software using cutting edge technology,” Westheimer said. “The free NOTA platform is designed specifically for Florida attorneys and will comply with our Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. It will work with client trust accounts across multiple financial institutions or as a standalone trust accounting solution to cut down on these violations. You will hear a lot more about this amazing member benefit in the coming months with a full rollout in the Fall.”
Westheimer said another resource being developed is a financial literacy toolkit to assist new members, and especially government lawyers, in navigating assorted options for loan forgiveness, financial counseling, and a web-based benefits calculator.
Westheimer says technological advances are also transforming the practice.
“The legal landscape is rapidly evolving, and we must adapt to meet the needs of our clients and the demands of a digital age,” Westheimer said. “Its positive effects on increased access to the courts and lowering the cost of litigation to the public are immense.”
To that end, Westheimer noted the creation of the Standing Committee on Cybersecurity and Privacy Law tasked with developing resources for Bar members to achieve “cyber-resiliency,” and compliance with ethical rules.
“This is especially important for our solos and small firms, which make up an estimated 70% of our membership,” he said.
The Bar also must not ignore the impact “Artificial Intelligence” is having on the profession.
“You can’t talk tech today without AI,” Westheimer said. “Make no mistake, AI is not just impacting the future of the practice of law — it is here right now. It is being used as we speak and as it evolves, AI will impact every aspect of what we do.”
The new Board Committee on Artificial Intelligence Tools & Resources will spend the year looking at AI and take a comprehensive approach, Westheimer said, reviewing everything from regulatory aspects and ethical implications, to use by self-represented litigants to increase access, and its use as a tool to help Bar members.
Westheimer also plans to strengthen The Florida Bar’s relationships with the broader legal community, including local voluntary bars, noting he “grew up” and was “nurtured” by his involvement in the Sarasota County Bar Association.
“Voluntary bars across Florida do amazing work for their members and produce incredible programs focusing on topics like professionalism, ethics, health and wellness, and mentoring, which are right in our lane,” said Westheimer, harking back to his commitment to the Bar’s core mission. “One of my main priorities is partnering and collaborating with these valuable grassroots organizations to amplify their efforts and make the Bar’s service to members more effective. We don’t have to start from scratch all of the time, we can partner with sections and voluntary bar associations — who do yeoman’s work in serving their members and ours.”
Westheimer hopes his year as president will positively shape the future of the profession.
“It is through our collective efforts that we will positively shape the future of the legal profession and make a lasting impact on our community,” Westheimer said. “This position of president is truly not about me, but rather about all of us — The Florida Bar and its dedicated members.
Foster-Morales has no doubt Westheimer will accomplish his goals.
“Scott’s a unifier, and he brings folks together.”