Newly-inducted Florida Bar President Bill Schifino conducted a series of state-wide interviews to share the Bar’s vision for the year ahead and the challenges he believes the legal community is facing. Below is an excerpt from his Q&A with the Tallahassee Democrat:
Q&A: Florida Bar President William Schifino Jr. addresses challenges
William Schifino, Jr., President of The Florida Bar and Managing Partner of Burr Forman’s Tampa office, was sworn in as the 68th president of The Florida Bar at its Annual Convention in Orlando. He took some time out for a little Q&A in regards Florida, its legal system and his role as Bar president. Here are his thoughts.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Florida’s legal community?
A: The legal profession certainly faces its fair share of challenges but when addressed appropriately, they can also become significant opportunities for both attorneys and all Floridians. These challenges are many and far-reaching, including but not limited to ensuring our judiciary remains independent and adequately funded, both of which are critical to preserving the third branch of our democracy.
Additionally, we must address changes in the profession including the advancements in technology, and channel these advancements to assist our fellow practitioners so that we may all better serve our citizens and manage our practices. Technology impacts everything that we do, and while this revolution has created greater efficiencies and access to real-time information, the experience and counsel of an attorney and the attorney-client relationship is still paramount to providing justice.
Achieving greater diversity within the ranks of the Bar and in the judiciary are also necessary, because in order for a justice system to work, it must be reflective of the people it is sworn to serve. One of the ways The Florida Bar is working to increase diversity in the profession is through its Wm. Reece Smith Jr. Leadership Academy, which just kicked off its fourth year. Founded in 2013 by the Bar’s first African American President, Eugene Pettis, the program is designed to foster diversity and pipeline future leadership. To date, more than 160 attorneys have completed the Leadership Academy and many of these bright young men and women have since gone on to hold leadership positions – both in the Bar and in their own communities.
Q: What are your priorities as this year’s Bar president?
A: My plan as Florida Bar President is to make every effort possible to serve our fellow members and the citizens of Florida in a manner that brings value to their practice and daily lives. This means working to embrace technology to better serve our citizens and fellow practitioners; promoting diversity and inclusion at all levels within the judicial system; narrowing the justice gap so that those who cannot afford civil representation have the access they deserve; identifying new ways to support our 103,000+ members; and supporting the Constitution Revision Process that will kick off in 2017.
The importance of the CRC cannot be overstated, as this 37-member yet-to-be-appointed commission will be tasked with making a thorough review of Florida’s Constitution, holding public hearings throughout the state and recommending changes for voter consideration. Taking place only once every 20 years, the Constitution Revision Commission is an opportunity to be a part of shaping Florida’s future, and is why The Florida Bar will be working to help inform and empower its members and citizens ahead of what will be proposed on the 2018 ballot.
Beyond these priorities, which are outlined in The Florida Bar’s strategic plan, we will continue to look for solutions to eliminate gender bias so that no attorney – male or female – feels disenfranchised or disempowered.
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