Suskauer reviews a ‘connected’ Bar year
“People thrive on genuine connections,” said outgoing Florida Bar President Michelle Suskauer as she wrapped up her State of the Bar speech June 28 at the Bar Annual Convention General Assembly. “We are part of one community. We are all in this together and we must be here for one another.”
Suskauer summed up how she tried — based on her experiences when she campaigned for the Bar’s top spot — to improve connections between the Bar and its members, among members, and with lawmakers and the executive branch.
“As a small firm lawyer, my background and experiences led me to focus on two very important things — practice management assistance and health and wellness,” Suskauer said. “It’s not easy practicing law, we all know that. I know that many of our community are struggling every day to bring in business, deal with increased competition, and balance family life and Bar service. To keep the lights on.”
To help with that, last year the Bar revamped its Practice Resource Institute into LegalFuel — The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar. It offers a variety of practice assistance using how-to videos, online information, and chat, phone, and email advice. The LegalFuel Speaker Series provided videos of experienced lawyers talking about a variety of topics “like cybersecurity, starting a law firm, building a gold reputation, and more,” she said.
On health and wellness, Suskauer said the Bar’s sections and committees initiated several programs, particularly the Young Lawyers Division which oversaw a variety of efforts.
“Sharing personal stories of lawyers who’ve faced serious issues but who sought help and recovered, the Stigma Free YLD campaign was unprecedented and so well received by thousands of members who watched the videos,” she said.
New connections came from Suskauer spearheading the Bar’s first ever Criminal Justice Summit, held last fall, that brought together judges, lawmakers, public defenders, state attorneys, private practitioners, law professors, and others to discuss criminal justice issues and probe in detail data and testimony of those involved in the system.
“I was so thrilled that The Florida Bar was able to assist those who will make changes with resources and expertise and we will continue to do so,” Suskauer said. “And for the first time, we brought together Florida’s elected public defenders and state attorneys to collaborate on issues. An important connection. And they continue to do that today.”
With the support of new Bar President John Stewart, she said the Bar has established a special committee to provide the “resources and expertise” to the Legislature as it continues to explore criminal justice issues. The Bar also has continued its diversity efforts, and Suskauer said 52 percent of Bar committee leadership positions this year were held by women.
The Bar enhanced and streamlined its communications efforts with members, including bolstering its digital presence.
“We worked hard to make connections with key legislators and build relationships and increase their support of funding and other matters affecting our branch,” Suskauer said. “We worked closely with the Supreme Court and welcomed three new members during this exciting time.
“And I also appointed a liaison from the county and circuit judges’ conferences to the Board of Governors to improve communications. We met with the Governor’s Office and his new administration to continue to build our strong relations with the executive branch.
“Your Bar leaders have worked very hard this year to deal head-on with important issues and to bring our community together to help others, to better ourselves, and to support our justice system.”
After taking a moment to thank her law firm colleagues, fellow Bar leaders, and family for their support, Suskauer thanked Bar members “for welcoming me into your communities across the state, for emailing, calling, asking questions, and getting engaged in your Bar.”