The Bar ‘maintained a position of strength and stood resilient’ during the pandemic
The Florida Bar and its “justice partners” withstood the test of the COVID-19 pandemic, and emerged stronger than ever, said Immediate Past President Dori Foster-Morales.
Quoting Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady, Foster-Morales called it a “transformative experience,” and said serving as president “during this time of rapid change and strife was both incredibly challenging and entirely rewarding.”
“Looking back on the past year, many feelings come to mind, but foremost is my great pride in being a lawyer, a Florida lawyer,” she said.
At a June 11, 2021, State of the Bar Address at the Annual Convention in Orlando, Foster-Morales acknowledged that the pandemic took a toll — but also gave the Bar an opportunity to demonstrate what it does best.
“I am pleased to say that The Florida Bar was more proactive than ever and seized every opportunity to support the judiciary, our members, and the public we serve during these trying times,” she said.
Lawyers across the state harnessed their “collective commitment to justice, our problem-solving skills, our ingenuity, and used them in ways that we likely never thought imaginable,” to meet the challenge, Foster-Morales said.
“We maintained a position of strength and stood resilient in our efforts to serve our clients and uphold our legal system,” she said. “Simply put, we soldiered on.”
The collaboration required navigating a “maze of restrictions, special rules, and use of new technology, along, really, with all the many personal difficulties constantly presented to us as a result of this pandemic,” she said.
“While guarding the tenets of justice for all, we quickly pivoted from our traditional ways, tried new things, and picked up new skills, all so as to allow us to practice law, while also looking out for the safety and security of others, as well as ourselves and our families. It was a tall order this year.”
The effort transformed the legal system, she said.
“While guarding the rule of law, we seized many opportunities that will forever benefit our society,” she said. “Opportunities like employing available technology for virtual client meetings, mediations, hearings, and trials.”
Foster-Morales urged her colleagues to build on the lessons that “will forever alter the administration of justice, our law practices, and frankly, our lives and we will meet challenges ahead with a confidence born of experience.”
“As we move forward, it is my hope that as lawyers we will continue to be flexible, that we’ll be willing to look at new ways of doing things, and we’ll be open to considering and respecting viewpoints that are different from our own,” she said. “And hopefully we will be more receptive to change and adaptation, even when it is not forced upon us by a pandemic.”
Foster-Morales said two Bar panels, the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, and the Board Technology Committee, deserve special recognition for “responding to the pandemic in real time.”
Local bars did much of the work, Foster-Morales said.
“Voluntary bars and voluntary bar leaders at the local and state level never hesitated to step up to help colleagues adjust to the changes, deal with stress, and identify what is really important in their daily lives,” she said.
Nonlawyers played an important role, Foster-Morales said.
“Not to mention the great work of our Citizens Advisory Committee members who launched a project to recruit more nonlawyers as volunteers in the legal and justice systems,” she said. “They were also instrumental in our efforts to educate Floridians about judicial and merit retention elections.”
Describing herself as a “people person,” Foster-Morales acknowledged that when she became president-elect in 2019, she was looking forward to traveling the state and meeting her colleagues.
Sometimes, she said, “I must admit, there were days that I did feel a loss,” she said. “Reflecting on this year reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
“But I can assure you that, as I look back at this year, I liked the chocolates that I got, I have no regrets and have no feelings of disappointment,” she said. “I believe that my year as Bar president was full of silver linings, strange but yummy chocolates that made the year more than worthwhile for me personally, and I hope for you.”
One of the biggest “silver linings,” she said, was the opportunity to harness technology to conduct 20 virtual circuit town halls, and a statewide follow up, that “engaged members from Pensacola to the Keys as never before.”
“Bar leaders heard about the challenges of the pandemic first-hand and very quickly worked to find solutions,” she said. “The town halls served as a sounding board and as a human connection during those isolated times, albeit a virtual one.”
Without leaving Miami, Foster-Morales said she was able to visit thousands of Bar members and attend more than 80 meetings and events, “probably more than any other president.”
“I have no doubt that I virtually connected with more lawyers and judges than would have been possible if I had traveled the state,” she said. “I will never forget those Zoom meetings.”
Another silver lining to the pandemic, Foster-Morales said, was the opportunity for lawyers to “simplify” their lives.
“Without the massive amounts of time spent commuting, for example, we found a new appreciation for having meals at home with family, exercising, binge watching the Game of Thrones, enjoying the outdoors,” she said. “At the same time, we experienced personal and professional growth by acquiring new skills, becoming more efficient, and developing, yes, crisis-oriented coping mechanisms.”
Foster-Morales recited a list of her favorite “silver linings” that members shared with her.
• Caring for and protecting my family, including working remotely to help them attend school remotely was a silver lining.
• Learning to slow down and savor the present moment was another silver lining.
• No commuting, especially in Miami. Got to see sunsets. Lunch is a few feet away. Attended hearings, mediations, and depos all from one (comfortable) chair.
• Finally, the pandemic forced me to get comfortable with using technology, which I railed against in the past. It has made my practice more efficient.
“In closing, I have many, many more people to thank for their support and work this year,” she said. “This is a big shout out and thank you all for your hard work, dedication, education, love, support, advice and guidance, which allowed me as president, make decisions I felt were best for the Bar.”
She thanked the Florida Supreme Court, “for all that you’ve done to support me in this position, I value your friendship, thank you so much.”
She thanked the sections and the committees, “especially the Family Law Section, where I got my start, thank you for soldiering on during this difficult year,” past presidents, and Bar staff.
“To my clan and my crew, they have been my rock, thank you guys. To my family, my two unique and amazing kids, Nora and P.J. I like you and I love you. And to my husband Jimmy, with whom I have been blessed in marriage for almost 32 years, you know how much I love you.
“Experiencing this year with both the hardships and triumphs made me a better leader, a better person, and made the Bar a better organization. And I have all of you to thank for that. In closing, may God bless America and the great state of Florida,” she said.