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The Florida Bar Wm. Reece Smith, Jr., Leadership Academy, Class IX, Year in Review

Special to the News Columns

Class IX committed to dedicating service hours to pro bono, reduced-fee legal work, and general activities that improve Florida’s legal system, profession, and communities

Leadership Academy logoEach Leadership Academy class is tasked with completing a project that not only relates to the legal profession or community but promotes the leadership skill building of the Fellows, while assisting in helping to improve the legal profession for Florida attorneys and citizens. Class IX’s project aimed to highlight the importance of pro bono service in our profession and exemplify the spirit of servant leadership by setting a strong example for others to follow.

As part of our class project, Class IX committed to dedicating 500 service hours to pro bono, reduced-fee legal work, and general activities that improve Florida’s legal system, profession, and communities. Class IX also set out to prepare and produce a guidebook for statewide distribution highlighting attorneys who have exemplified pro bono service across the state, as well as listing pro bono opportunities within each judicial circuit for attorneys’ ease of reference. To complement these efforts, Class IX formed a public relations committee aimed at publishing articles on various service-related topics in News and other publications to encourage others to engage in pro bono and other service opportunities throughout Florida. The last — and most important — component of Class IX’s class project was community engagement through the support and involvement from attorneys throughout the state.

With Class IX’s graduation approaching on June 24, we are incredibly proud to share our accomplishments over the past year. As a class, we doubled our group service goal, completed the service guidebook which is on its way to distribution, published five articles in News and other publications, and engaged with Leadership Academy alumni and voluntary bar association leaders throughout the state of Florida to participate in service activities and/or make charitable contributions to local organizations. We sought out to make an impact in Florida and, together, we did.

The success of our class project would not have been possible without guidance from Arnell Bryant-Willis, The Florida Bar’s diversity initiatives manager, Tameika Gainous-Wright, program coordinator, and Class IX’s Leadership Academy Chairs Nicolas Johnson (Leadership Academy alumni, Class III) and Brittney J. Maxey-Fisher.

Class IX’s Service Hours

The following is a breakdown of Class IX’s impressive service numbers in various categories reported by Fellows as having been completed between October 2021 and June 2022 in furtherance of our Class Project:

Pro Bono Service Reduced-Fee Work Activity Aimed at Improving the Legal System & Profession Nonlegal Community Service Total Hours
392.48 28.5 516.65 79.11 1016.74

 

Class IX Fellows dedicated service hours in a wide-range of areas including, but not limited to, landlord-tenant disputes, probate, guardian ad litem programs, and family law issues.

Jesus Gonzalez

Jesus Gonzalez

Class IX would like to extend a very special shoutout to Fellow Jesus Gonzalez for having completed the highest number of pro bono service hours within Class IX. Gonzalez is a solo practitioner who practices criminal, immigration, and general civil law. Among his many other accomplishments, he has served in the U.S. Army, received multiple combat awards, and is an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, where he practices military law as a judge advocate in the Judge Advocate General Corps. Gonzalez’s pro bono service was geared toward criminal defense. We are all proud to call Jesus our Fellow and friend, and commend him for his dedication to the community.

Class IX’s Guidebook

Chante’ Jones

Chante’ Jones

Fellow Chante’ Jones led Class IX’s Pro Bono Guidebook Committee. Under Jones’ leadership, the Guidebook Committee solicited attorneys across the state to highlight within the Guidebook for their pro bono service, researched and compiled a listing of recommended pro bono opportunities for attorneys and law students to participate in, and compiled various resources to assist with maintaining and striving for work life balance and mental-health considerations.  The Guidebook will be featured on The Florida Bar’s website in addition to being circulated to the law schools in Florida.

Jones is the director of the Office of Public & Professional Guardians (OPPG) and is also a Florida Supreme Court Certified County Mediator. The OPPG, which is housed within the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, appoints local public guardian offices to provide guardianship services to persons who do not have adequate income or assets to afford a private guardian and for which there is no willing family or friend to serve. The OPPG is also responsible for the registration and education of professional guardians and regulates more than 650 professional guardians statewide. Jones volunteers as a guardian ad litem in the 13th Circuit.

Class IX’s Public Relations Committee

Akiesha Gilcrist Sainvil

Akiesha Gilcrist Sainvil

Fellow Akiesha Gilcrist Sainvil led Class IX’s Public Relations Committee, which was comprised of 14 committee members. Under Sainvil’s leadership, the committee published the following five articles, which can be found on the Florida Bar’s website: (1) Volunteer and pro bono opportunities for attorneys with the Florida ad Litem Program; (2) Giving the gift of time: Committing to increase pro bono service during the holiday season and year round; (3) Mentorship—Sharing the wealth of your knowledge and paying it forward for others; (4) The Power of Pro Bono—Leadership Academy interviews the Florida Bar President-Elect Candidates Lorna Brown-Burton and Scott Westheimer and (5) Getting real about mental health. Through these articles, Class IX achieved its goal of raising awareness for pro bono service and addressed other important issues faced by Florida’s legal community.

Sainvil is an associate at Greenberg Traurig and has a broad range of complex litigation experience in federal and state courts throughout the country. Her practice is focused on defending medical device, pharmaceutical, and consumer products manufacturers in high-stakes complex products liability and mass torts litigation. Sainvil devotes substantial time to her community, including through her service as city lead for the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s Success in Law School Mentoring Program.

Class IX’s Leadership Academy Alumni and Voluntary Bar Association Outreach

Sherea Randle

Sherea Randle

Fellow Sherea Randle was an instrumental member of Class IX’s Leadership Academy Alumni and Voluntary Bar Association outreach efforts to obtain external support and engagement for our class project. Through Randle’s leadership, Class IX invited Leadership Academy alumni (124, to be exact) and voluntary bar association leaders throughout the state to join us in our commitment to pro bono service and raising awareness for pro bono and other service opportunities. Alumni and voluntary bars were asked to pledge to complete 10 pro bono service hours before the end of June 2022 and/or to make a monetary contribution to a local non-profit/charity of their choice.

In just a few short months, nearly $10,000 was raised and more than 1,000 pro bono and community service hours were logged by Leadership Academy alumni and voluntary bar associations benefiting organizations throughout Florida, such as Big Brothers Big Sister Florida Education Fund, the Miami-Dade County Legal Aid Put Something Back Program, SCORE Broward, Orange County Dispute Resolution Services, Orange County Bar Association Legal Aid, Junior League of Tampa, Friends of Children of Brevard, Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, and Embrace Girls Foundation, among others.

Randle is the associate director of Career and Professional Development at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law and is board certified in juvenile law. She also serves as an executive board member and corresponding secretary of the TJ Reddick Bar Association, a member of The Florida Bar Student Education and Admission to the Bar Committee, the Public Interest Law Section Children’s Rights Committee, The Florida Pro Bono Coordinators Association, the National Association of Counsel for Children, and the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Bar Association. Impressively, Randle also completed the most overall hours of pro bono/other community service of all the Class IX Fellows.

Class IX’s Challenge to Class X and Beyond

To the incoming Class X Fellows and the Fellows of future classes, please know that your selection to participate in the Leadership Academy is an honor that should not be taken lightly. The roster of Leadership Academy alumni reflects the distinguished company you now keep and are a part of. As you will soon learn, past Fellows include judges, attorneys at all levels of local and state government, attorneys at law firms throughout Florida of all sizes and areas of practice, in-house counsel, and leaders in The Florida Bar and various other community organizations.  The Leadership Academy will provide you with the opportunity to network not only with your peer Fellows from across the state, but also these distinguished alumni. You will undoubtedly gain invaluable knowledge which can be applied in both your personal and professional lives.

You all will benefit greatly from this opportunity, but do not lose sight of the opportunity to GIVE in this program. With this incredible opportunity comes great responsibility. As you begin to discuss and plan your class’s project, remember the purpose of the Leadership Academy and the class project. Work together to implement a project that hopefully will have a lasting impact on the legal system and the state as a whole for everyone in Florida, not just those in the legal profession. As you can see from what Class IX accomplished, and the classes before us, you have a tall task ahead of you.  Good luck!

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