Tanner, Thompson vie for Bar president-elect
Board of Governors members Michael Tanner of Jacksonville and Renée Thompson of Ocala have qualified to run for Bar president-elect.
The winner will be decided in March balloting and sworn in as president-elect at the June Annual Convention, when current President-elect Dori Foster-Morales is sworn in as president, and for his or her own term as president in June 2021.
Platform statements from Tanner and Thompson will be in the February News, along with a Q&A with the candidates.
“Our profession is going to experience challenges in the coming years and will need experienced leadership for those,” Tanner said. “I had not planned to seek this office when I came on the Board of Governors, but I was approached and asked to consider doing so by several past and present Bar leaders whose opinions I respect. I ultimately concluded my background and experience would enable me to make a contribution.”
Thompson said, “I was encouraged to run for president-elect by friends and colleagues within the Bar, and it was a natural progression with my service to the Bar. I have placed a special focus during my Bar service on technology and practice management issues and leadership development. I chose to run this year because I believe my experience and talents are specifically suited to address the current needs of Florida Bar members in today’s legal marketplace.”
Tanner’s top priority is to “maintain the integrity of our branch of government with adequate sources of funding and maintaining the Supreme Court’s regulation of our profession. Related to those is securing the significant benefits our members have enjoyed through the unified bar structure. There are challenges to our unified bar status, which could ultimately change the court’s regulation over us.”
Next, Tanner wants to “ensure quality in all aspects of our profession. That means in our profession as lawyers, in our selection of judges, and how we practice law.”
Included in that goal is, he added, “equality without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, or any factor other than merit. I think we have made progress, certainly over the course of my career, but I think we have more work to do and that is a priority of mine.”
“My third priority is the level of professionalism in the practice of law in Florida. It is a component of the health and well being of our members, as well as professionalism is a necessity for the integrity of our system of justice.”
Tanner said he will bring experience representing clients in court — as an attorney in large and small law firms — to the vicissitudes of Bar leadership.
“Through that lens, I personally believe in the necessity of top-quality, diverse judges on our bench, and a well-funded judiciary. That’s number one,” he said.
Next, Tanner points to his own experiences, rising to become an equity partner at Holland & Knight, leaving to found a boutique litigation law firm with a partner that employed between three and seven lawyers, and then, early in 2019, becoming an equity partner at the Gunster Law Firm.
“I know what it is to meet payroll. I know what it’s like to shop for health insurance. I know what it’s like to shop for liability insurance,” he said. “In addition to that, I’ve been a partner in a big law firm.
“Both models have pressures, but they are different pressures.”
Thompson’s top priority is “helping Florida lawyers thrive,” pointing to a changing legal marketplace and the difficulty many lawyers have finding enough work.
“Working alongside current Florida Bar President John Stewart and former Young Lawyers Division President Gordon Glover, we helped to transition the Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service from a mere telephone bank system to its present form: a robust online platform, powered by AI technology, assisting Florida lawyers with connecting with clients across the nation,” Thompson said. “My background working with legal technology gives me a unique perspective to further enhance this project to help our lawyers get work and help our voluntary bars who want to participate and give back to their membership.”
Next, Thompson wants to see that lawyers get the practice resources they need, particularly related to technology needs and would like to see a comprehensive trust accounting program that ensures compliance with Bar trust accounting rules. Better compliance also helps lawyers avoid the Bar’s disciplinary system, Thompson said.
“Equipping our lawyers with the proper tools not only helps our attorneys properly manage their practices, it can help the Bar’s bottom line,” she said.
Third, Thompson wants to promote inclusion and expand opportunities within the Bar, in addition to traditional efforts focused on gender, ethnicity, and race.
“For example, government attorneys, solo and small-practice attorneys, practitioners in rural areas, public sector, and young lawyers [who make up almost a quarter of the Bar] in general must be included and involved in shaping the future of the Bar, otherwise the needs of only certain groups and more powerful interests will be served,” she said. “More than 70% of Florida lawyers work in small firms of under 10 lawyers or less, however, the focus of Bar policy often seems driven by the needs of those already at the table. Our Bar needs to help all lawyers find a meaningful place in our profession….”
Thompson works as a mediator with Upchurch, Watson White & Max Mediation Group and also operates her own small litigation practice, Thompson Law Center. That helps her understand the needs of small firms, and her husband, a Marion County judge, gives her insight on the needs of the judicial branch, she said.
As a former president of the Young Lawyers Division and through serving and chairing several Bar Board of Governors committees, among other activities, Thompson said she has gained experience and perspective.
“These roles have provided me with unique opportunities to connect with leaders from across our state, and I intend to call upon this truly talented and diverse network of leaders in helping us lead our profession, should I be fortunate enough to be elected to this position,” she said.
Tanner, who practices business commercial litigation and “some election law,” has served on the Board of Governors since 2011, including service on the Legislation Committee since 2013 and has chaired or co-chaired that committee three times. He has also served on the Program Evaluation Committee, was chair for the 2016-17 Bar year, and chaired the board’s Constitution Revision Committee during the CRC’s recent deliberations.
Tanner served on the Trial Lawyers Section Executive Council from 1992-99 and served as section chair in 1999-2000. He also spent five years on the Board of Legal Specialization and Education, including one year as chair.
Tanner has received awards, recognition, and membership from many peer-evaluated organizations. He is board certified in both civil trial law and business litigation. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a member and past Jacksonville branch president of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Tanner has been named as a “Legal Elite” by Florida Trend since 2006 and in its Hall of Fame since 2014, and listed in The Best Lawyers in America’s Bet-the-Company Litigation, Commercial Litigation, and Appellate Law categories since 2006. He has been designated among Florida Super Lawyers since 2007, including several years in the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida and Top 25 Lawyers in Jacksonville.
Tanner is a graduate of the University of Florida Frederic G. Levin College of Law and has been a Bar member since 1978. He is a member of the Appellate Practice, Real Property, Probate and Trust Law, and Trial Lawyers sections.
He is married and has two daughters and three grandchildren.
Thompson was president of the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division in 2010-11 and has spent eight years (including as YLD president-elect and president) serving on the Board of Governors. She was the inaugural chair of the Bar’s Leadership Academy Committee and served numerous times on the Board of Governors Executive Committee. She chaired the Budget, Program Evaluation, and Communication committees, and served on several other board committees. She is the current chair of the board’s Technology Committee.
Aside from her civil litigation practice in her solo firm and mediating with Upchurch, Watson, White & Max Mediation Group, Thompson has taught practice management and technology at the University of Florida Frederick G. Levin College of Law, where she graduated in 1999.
She is a former president of the Marion County Bar Association and a member of the American Inns of Count, the D.R. Smith American Inns of Court, and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers. Thompson has also been named as a Florida Trend “Legal Elite” in 2015 and 2016 and has been named a Florida Super Lawyer from 2015-19.
Thompson is a member of the Bar’s Solo & Small Firm, Animal Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution sections.
She is married to Marion County Judge Thomas “Tommy” P. Thompson III.
Ballots will be emailed or mailed to Bar members around March 2. As in past years, members will have the option of casting a paper ballot or voting online with the Bar’s election company. Instructions will be included with the ballot. Votes must be cast by 11:59 p.m. March 23.