Chief Justice Ricky Polston at Bar luncheon (Melanie Bell)
The 66th annual Florida Bar convention, which starts Wednesday, will tackle some weighty issues, such as how elderly lawyers can wind down their practices, generational issues among lawyers, how to eliminate bias in the legal field and how graduating lawyers who can’t find jobs can launch practices.
Sandy Upchurch, an Ormond Beach mediator who is chairing the convention, said she and outgoing president Eugene Pettis strove to include meatier topics than usual to attract a diverse audience and boost attendance.
“We wanted to have offerings that would feed lawyers’ souls and intellect and curiosity,” she said. “We wanted to reach out to a broad spectrum of people—to older members of the Bar, to brand new lawyers who may only have the option of opening their own law firms, to minorities. That’s why we did it, and we hope it pays off in attendance.”
At Friday’s general assembly, West Palm Beach litigator Greg Coleman will be sworn in as president of the Bar, the nation’s third largest with nearly 100,000 lawyers. Miami litigator Ramon Abadin will become president-elect, taking over in 2015.
At a lunch afterward, the Bar will honor 203 attorneys who have served for 50 years as lawyers, including 60 from South Florida.
Outgoing Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston will deliver the annual State of the Courts address at a luncheon Thursday. Also speaking at the luncheon will be Fred Gray, a prominent civil rights attorney who once represented the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Attendees have 20 continuing legal education seminars to choose from on a variety of topics, some of which are being offered for the first time. Other hot topics sure to pop up, without formal sessions, are the use of coverage attorneys—a hot-button issue as of late—and a proposal to raise Bar dues $100 to fund decimated legal aid programs.
The most popular seminar, which 500 lawyers signed up, is “A Transforming Legal Environment: Setting a New Course for Success.” The Friday session, which will also be available as a live webcast, will examine forces transforming the legal market and provide attorneys with better strategies and tactics to serve clients.
A “Masters Seminar on Ethics 2014″ on Friday will explore issues faced by lawyers in the areas of civility, candor and how technology affects ethical decisions.
Acknowledging the growing number of baby boomers facing retirement, the Bar will tackle a touchy subject with the Wednesday seminar, “Disconnecting from Your Practice: A Primer for Those Considering Retirement.”
Panelist Michael Cohen, former director of the Florida Lawyers Assistance program, will discuss the impact of stress on middle age and elderly lawyers and the effect of the aging process on cognitive thinking, while Patricia Savitz, a senior attorney in the Bar’s regulatory division, will talk about Bar grievances related to age disorders, diversion programs for elderly lawyers and the role of the inventory attorney in winding down a practice.
On the other side of the spectrum, panelists will explore “Understanding Generational Expectations,” identifying five generations. Three judges will discuss generational differences they experience in the courtroom and in pleadings from millennials to Generation Xers to baby boomers, and help attorneys understand the effect of their differences on the bench.
Another topical seminar, “Leaning In to the Legal Profession,” will explore family and work balance issues women face and identify obstacles they must overcome to succeed in the legal profession. Panelists include Kimberly Sands, a Maitland mediator with Upchurch, Watson, White & Max; Administrative Law Judge June McKinney, who was the first black woman elected president of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers; Fort Lauderdale attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks; Kelly Overstreet Johnson, Tallahassee managing shareholder of BakerDonelson and former Florida Bar president; Mayanne Downs, a shareholder in GrayRobinson’s Orlando office and former Florida Bar president; and state Sen. Maria Sachs.
Wednesday’s session, “Bias Elimination in the Legal Field” will feature panelists Brittany Maxey, president of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers; Miami lawyer Khurrum Wahid, former president of the Florida Muslim Bar Association; Kathleen Koch, associate general counsel at Bank of America and executive sponsor of the Tampa Bay LFBT Pride Employee Network; Orange Circuit Judge Sally D.M. Kest; and Miami lawyer Ricardo Martinez-Cid, president of the Cuban American Bar Association.
“First Things First: Practical Considerations for Establishing Your First Firm” is geared to the growing legions of graduating lawyers unable to secure law firm jobs, with little knowledge of opening and operating a standalone law firm.
The Henry Latimer Inclusion Luncheon on Friday will accommodate all disabled people with wheelchair accessible ramps and real-time translators providing scripts for the hearing-impaired. The invocation will be made by Aaron Bates, an Orlando lawyer with muscular dystrophy who helped get legislation passed to provide funding for an attendant for disabled people who have jobs.
Matthew Dietz, a Miami lawyer who specializes in representing disabled people, applauded the Bar for tackling meaningful and topical issues this year and for making the diversity luncheon accessible. He complained last year when it was not.
“As time goes on, issues become more and more acceptable and less divisive,” he said. “The fact that the Bar is tackling these weighty issues means they are more accepted by the mainstream and need to be addressed. It’s nice to see these issues do get the spotlight.”
More than 1,200 lawyers plan to attend the convention, which runs through Saturday at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando.