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Sjostrom, Inman, Eighth Circuit Bar receive professionalism awards

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Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom

Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom

“The official professionalism motto is: Serenity now. If it’s not the official motto, it should be.”

Second Circuit Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom jokingly offered that suggestion as he accepted the William M. Hoeveler Judicial Professionalism Award — one of the Bar’s three annual professionalism awards — at an online ceremony June 7 as the Bar’s 2021 Annual Convention got underway.

The suggestion, he explained, stemmed from arriving at the courthouse that morning and finding none of the technology was working and 113 cases waiting on his morning docket.

Rachel Inman

Rachel Inman

He finished about 45 seconds before he joined the awards ceremony, which also honored the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association with the Group Professionalism Award and Rachel Inman, the associate dean for student affairs at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, with the Law Faculty/Administrator Professionalism Award.

Those honored show “the social ingredients of professionalism — character, competence, commitment, and civility — serves as a model for the entire legal profession,” said outgoing Bar President Dori Foster-Morales.

She also linked professionalism with the mental health and well-being of lawyers — perhaps another way of approaching the serenity that Sjostrom cited.

“Lawyer well-being influences ethics and professionalism, and we know that,” Foster-Morales said. “It’s clear that maintaining a high level of professionalism requires us to take care of ourselves physically and mentally. However, because the legal profession is in the business of solving everyone’s problems, we often ignore our own.”

She said the Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism, the Ethics Hotline operated by the Ethics Department, and LegalFuel program all helped lawyers cope with the coronavirus pandemic by offering practical programs, services, and advice that helped lawyers with their practices and also boosted professionalism.

“Professionalism is totally critical to the future of our profession,” Foster-Morales said, “because it is what distinguishes lawyers as professionals.”

President-elect Designate Gary Lesser said speaking about professionalism at the awards event was like preaching to the choir, but added, “We should never stop singing and never lose track of the melody. Because the truth is, and we know this, professionalism is an everyday matter. And with COVID hopefully making its way to the rearview mirror and with rapidly changing technology, the emphasis on professionalism is needed now more than ever.…

“There’s an old saying about raising children. Our children will hear what we say, but they’ll learn the most from watching what we do…. Our actions and statements set the tone for professionalism and the reputation of the legal profession.”

He noted that incoming President Michael Tanner has created a special committee to examine the Bar’s professionalism efforts, including in the practice of law and how it’s taught in law schools. That will boost professionalism in the coming year, he said.

Tanner did the virtual presentations to the award recipients. He noted Sjostrom has been on the bench since 2002, served in every division of the Second Circuit, and was unanimously elected as chief judge in 2015. In addition, he is a past chair of the Judicial Administration Committee, made up of the 20 circuit chief judges.

Sjostrom said professionalism allows lawyers and judges to cope when they run into difficulties, such as he encountered that morning.

“Professionalism is the lifeblood of us as lawyers,” the judge said.

The Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association was recognized, for among other things, its long-standing annual professionalism seminar, which began in 1996, Tanner said. The program includes judges, lawyers, and law professors, and has a keynote speaker followed by breakout groups according to areas of practice.

Ray Brady, who has chaired the association’s Professionalism Committee for several years, explained how it has maintained the success of the program.

A key is the participation of local judges. Every year, Brady said he writes to the chief judge (currently Chief Judge Mark Moseley) with the result that a flood of local judges volunteer to be small group leaders for the seminar’s breakout sessions.

“Without the judges, the lawyers wouldn’t show up because it’s that opportunity to roll up their sleeves in small group discussions and speak with the heads of their [court] divisions on their legal specialties and iron out local professionalism problems,” Brady said. “That’s where a lot of the work is really done.”

Association members are also willing to put in the work to organize the event, and the association also has been able to attract excellent keynote speakers that help boost attendance. Two, Brady noted, were in attendance at the ceremony: U.S. Northern District of Florida Bankruptcy Judge Karen Specie and former Bar President Hank Coxe.

Finally, the association is able to draw on the expertise of the UF law school, with professors participating in the program, Brady said.

Tanner, in presenting the faculty/administrator award, noted that Inman has been at the law school since 2006, and worked to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity in the law school, and oversees faculty who run a Wellness Wednesday program where law students can discuss their challenges and problems.

“At UF law, our efforts every day involve training students to exhibit excellence in all areas of the legal profession,” Inman said. “Professionalism is at the top of that list…. We recognize that the skills they will leave the college of law with will make them exceptional lawyers and wonderful members of The Florida Bar.”

UF Law Dean Laura Rosenbury underscored Foster-Morales’ point about the link between professionalism and mental health.

“One thing that I learned from Dean Inman is that mental health is a vital part of professionalism,” she said. “If we cannot help our students develop the tools to take care of themselves and others while in law school, then they will not become the type of lawyer we want them to be. Every day we seek to instill the values of professionalism in our students, including the values of self-care and looking out for other students’ mental health.”

Which can provide that serenity on those no-technology, 113-cases-on-the-docket mornings.

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