Michael J. Higer. J. Albert Diaz

Newly installed Florida Bar President Michael Higer outlined five priorities for the bar’s coming year, including a focus on lawyer mental health, as he took the oath of office on Friday.

Higer, a Miami litigator, identified the priorities as communicating member benefits and resources to lawyers, expanding member resources in the area of technology, continuing to eliminate bias and promote diversity within the legal community; supporting lawyer well-being, and educating bar members and the public about the Constitutional Revision Commission. His speech concluded the general assembly of the annual Florida Bar convention held in Boca Raton.

“Because 75 percent of our lawyers practice in solo or small firms of ten lawyers or fewer, it is critical that we provide our lawyers with the resources they need to effectively represent their clients,” Higer said. “We need to identify what tools and services our members require most, and then we need to be able to effectively communicate the availability of these tools and services to our members.”

Higer said the bar needs to educate small firm members about technology tools to effectively represent their clients without compromising client confidentiality and privileged communications. Providing those tools to members is also part of the goals.

But in the wake of the recent suicide of high-profile litigator Ervin Gonzalez, Higer indicated that the organization would also focus on mental health, and said the bar must make it a priority to focus “on the lawyer as a whole person.” The general assembly held a moment of silence in Gonzalez’s honor.

“Today more than ever our hearts are heavy and our prayers are with Erv Gonzalez and his family,” Higer said. “Erv was a good friend of our bar, he was a good friend of mine, and he was a good friend of justice; so we know all too well the enormous day-to-day pressures that our lawyers are facing. It will now be a priority for our bar, for us, to help our members achieve a work-life balance, mindfulness, healthy lifestyles and develop a support system for our lawyers in need.”

Higer was certified as the Florida Bar’s president-elect in 2015. Higer was elected to the bar’s board of governors in 2008, representing Miami-Dade Circuit. He also chaired the board’s budget committee in 2014-2015.

Higer succeeds Tampa attorney William Schifino Jr. of Burr & Forman. Schifino, who said he visited 49 bar associations, gave 75 speeches and spent 150 nights at hotels around the state in the last year, said he was pleased with what board members had accomplished this year. Among the projects he named were trust accounting software that benefits bar members and the Florida Bar Foundation, a Constitutional Revision Commission education campaign and Florida Bar Free Legal Online Answers­, which offers a way to deliver pro bono legal services.

West Palm Beach lawyer Michelle Suskauer was inducted as president-elect. She will lead the Florida Bar as president starting in June 2018.