Miami attorney Michael J. Higer was sworn in as The Florida Bar’s 69th president at the organization’s Annual Convention this month in Boca Raton. We sat down with him during the convention to talk about what drives him, why he chose to become an attorney, and what he hopes to accomplish as Bar President.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I used to love watching old courtroom dramas and reading about both real and fictional lawyers. Clarence Darrow. Atticus Finch. Those were my heroes. While other kids my age may not have known what they wanted to be, I had no doubt that I wanted to become a lawyer. I began my career as a criminal lawyer, which I thought really fit with my belief that everyone deserves a fair trial in the name of justice. But I found it difficult to sleep at night with the weight of someone’s life in my hands, and ultimately made the transition to commercial litigation.
Are there any memorable cases that stay with you today?
Absolutely. I will never forget my first meeting with a grieving mother whose son was killed after brushing against a live electrical wire that fell during Hurricane Irene. He was on his way with his younger brother to the convenience store to get some snacks, and never came home. She was so grief-stricken that she didn’t even want to take action against the wrong doers, but ultimately contacted me right as the statute of limitations was to run out. I fought the case for years and was ultimately able to reach a substantial settlement that helped her open her own hair salon and send her youngest son to college. Throughout my representation, I kept a picture on my desk of the young boy kneeling on one knee in his football uniform to remind me, each moment, that I was fighting for him.
What are some of the key priorities the Bar plans to focus on this year?
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but fortunately, through the Bar’s strategic plan, we have a roadmap for how to accomplish it. This year we will continue to promote inclusion in all aspects of the legal and justice system, so that no one feels excluded or left behind.
We will also use technology to better connect resources with the public and members who need it. There is a common misconception that all lawyers hail from big corporate law firms, but the reality is that an overwhelming majority of our members are small/solo practitioners, rural attorneys and government lawyers. In fact, slightly more than 75% of Florida Bar members come from solo or small firms of ten lawyers or fewer. We have a responsibility to support these members with the technology that can help them compete in the local and global markets.
Technology will also drive how four out of five citizens who need a lawyer but cannot afford one will be able to connect with a lawyer. And technology will fuel our court system to more effectively and efficiently deliver justice.
Additionally, we will prioritize the health and wellness of our members. As lawyers, we are no strangers to conflict and high pressure situations. But without the right resources and coping strategies, this level of intensity can be debilitating for our physical and mental health. In fact, according to the American Psychology Association, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. We have already begun to explore ways we can better support our members who need our help, but may be unable or uncomfortable seeking it out themselves.
The Constitution Revision Commission, which meets once every 20 years to review Florida’s Constitution and propose amendments for voter consideration, is well underway. What role will the Bar have in this process?
Taking place only once every 20 years, the CRC is an opportunity for members and Florida citizens to be a part of shaping Florida’s future. Over the course of the year, The Florida Bar will be working with members statewide to educate their communities and encourage engagement in the process. The Bar will also be assisting the CRC as subject matter experts on issues relevant to preserving an independent, well-funded judiciary. As the only non-partisan branch of government, our judiciary is essential in interpreting law and ensuring any law passed is constitutional.
When you’re not busy litigating in the courtroom or working on behalf of the Bar, where can we find you?
Family and baseball are everything to me. I have been an L.A. Dodgers fan since as long as I can remember, and to this day will stay up into the night working – with a game on in the background. I will never forget when Sandy Koufax bowed out of pitching in the first game of the World Series in 1965 because it was Yom Kippur. It was amazing to see someone who was the biggest name in baseball – and at the biggest game – take a stand for his beliefs.