In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast from the 2017 Annual Florida Bar Convention, special guest host and future president-elect of The Florida Bar Michelle Suskauer interviews current president and president-elect Bill Schifino and Michael Higer. In their discussion they share experiences, advice, and priorities for this coming year, including a focus on health and wellness.
Michelle Suskauer is a West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer and an AV Preeminent rated attorney by Martindale-Hubbell.
Bill Schifino is managing partner of Burr & Forman LLP’s Tampa office and a board-certified specialist in the area of business litigation.
Michael Higer is a partner of Berger Singerman’s Dispute Resolution Team and is an experienced litigator and trial lawyer who has devoted his practice to commercial litigation and civil trial work.
The Florida Bar Podcast
2017 Annual Florida Bar Convention: Being The Florida Bar President
Intro: Welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, where we highlight the latest trends in law office and law practice management to help you run your law firm, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Institute. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Christine Bilbrey: Hello and welcome to the Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by The Practice Resource Institute on Legal Talk Network. This is Christine Bilbrey recording from the 2017 Annual Florida Bar Convention in Boca Raton, Florida. Thank you for joining us.
We have a special segment right now and I am hoping it’s something that’s going to become an annual tradition at Convention. We are going to have our President-Elect designate Michelle Suskauer interviewing our outgoing President Bill Schifino and passing the baton, Michael Higer will become our new President Friday night at the President’s Reception. So it’s probably the highlight of the whole week.
But we want to give you a little insight into what it’s like being the Bar President, how did it change your life and we want you to give Michelle a little advice. And Bill, you can share some things with Michael. I think that you have already been indoctrinated into the whole world here at The Florida bar.
So I am going to have Michelle take it over.
Michelle Suskauer: Well, thank you very much. This is really a treat. I don’t know if the guys think this is a treat. Do you guys think this is a treat?
Michael Higer: Not so much.
Bill Schifino: I am very nervous.
Michelle Suskauer: You should be very, very nervous, but no, actually it’s my pleasure to talk to both of you, because you know how much I care about both of you, I am crazy about both of you. But you have had some incredible experiences both as President and as President-Elect, also serving on the Board of Governors for as long as you have, being, Michael, being a Chair of the Business Law Section, Bill being President of the Hillsborough County Bar and being involved for so many years with Bar work.
So Bill, this is the last couple of days of you being President, tell me how are you feeling right now?
Bill Schifino: Okay, you just wanted me to start, just right off the bat.
Michelle Suskauer: No, this is not video; this is radio, okay.
Bill Schifino: No, this is radio so they won’t know. I will tell you, for the first time yesterday I set back and was a bit melancholy about this coming to an end. It has been, not just this year, but Bar service is something I have done since 1986. And so when I sit back and think about, I think about what next, because I really can’t imagine my career without serving the profession. So I am grappling with that I guess is the best way to say that.
Michelle Suskauer: But you are not really — you are not completely detaching, because in the last couple of months you actually were appointed as one of the Commissioners on the Constitution Revision Commission.
Bill Schifino: Yeah, in fact, yeah, that was great.
Michelle Suskauer: So it seems like you are going to be actually very involved and very, very busy and in contact with us constantly.
Bill Schifino: Yeah. Michelle, I am looking forward to that. We have talked about the CRC for a number of years and that whole process will not — it started in my year and it will go into Michael’s year and in fact it lands on your lap as we know the first six months of your tenure.
So listen, it was a wonderful opportunity when I heard from Senate President Joe Negron tapping me for that position, so I am very excited. But it does, you are absolutely right, it gives me a way to keep in touch and I am excited about that.
Michelle Suskauer: Because unlike a lot of other boards that may have a position for immediate past President, that’s not the Florida Bar.
Bill Schifino: No, no.
Michelle Suskauer: When you are immediate past President, you are gone. The door closes and you are gone.
Bill Schifino: Off the cliff. Michael has promised to call me at least once a week for at least the first month or two.
Michael Higer: Although some of our immediate past Presidents are not quite gone.
Michelle Suskauer: We may want them to be gone. No, that is absolutely not true, we love them. We love all of our past Presidents.
Michael Higer: Michelle Suskauer, that’s S-U-S-K-A-U-E-R.
Michelle Suskauer: Thank you Michael. Now, tell me what it was like the relationship that the two of you had, with Michael being your President-Elect, how was that, because you had a very challenging year and have accomplished so much. Tell me about what you have done together and how you worked as a team.
Bill Schifino: Well, let me tell you, Michael and I have been friends for a number of years and certainly as this year started, and even before it started, you look back Michael, it really started the last three, four months of last year, we talk all the time, talk about the issues we are facing. He is like a brother to me and a confidant, a consigliore, and as you have pointed out, we have had many issues, and it’s not a one-man show. You will see it’s not a one lady show when you are at the helm and you need quality people around you and I relied on Michael as an advisor, a friend, and certainly we tackled a lot of issues together. Plus, he is my workout buddy, which is good.
Michelle Suskauer: And by the way, I am sorry that we don’t have video right now, but the effect that you have had on Michael Higer and his physique is significant.
Bill Schifino: That’s what Bobbie tells me.
Michelle Suskauer: And I think she thanks you on a regular basis because Michael looks fantastic.
Michael Higer: Thankfully married 35 years, very happily.
Michelle Suskauer: Which is a wonderful thing, unbelievable? And Bobbie is actually going to be introducing you on Friday morning, which is really a special thing, isn’t it?
Michael Higer: It really is. It’s extremely meaningful to me to have the person that cares about me the most, that I care the most about, who knows me the best, who is going to be introducing me.
Couple of years back when Bobbie became the Chair of the Leadership Council for the Jewish Federation, which was a national position, a very, very prestigious position, I flew out to Arizona, which is where they had their conference, surprised her, introduced her, and I know how much that meant to her. And so it’s nice now to be able to come full circle. It was really a beautiful moment then and I know it will be a beautiful moment Friday. No matter how my speech goes, I know that Bobbie’s introduction will be great.
Michelle Suskauer: And your daughter Samantha is coming in from Boston, if she isn’t here already.
Michael Higer: I am so excited about that.
Michelle Suskauer: And Adam is local and he is going to be here, so the whole family is going to be here, your mom. It’s going to be very special, isn’t it?
Michael Higer: It will be just like a ‘60s episode of Family Affair; we will all be there.
Michelle Suskauer: And one big group hug.
Michael Higer: My mom, my sister, my brother, lots of other extended family.
Michelle Suskauer: And your firm, Berger Singerman, I know they are very proud.
Michael Higer: Berger Singerman and a number of law firms that I have worked for over the years; we will be well represented.
Michelle Suskauer: It’s so exciting. Tell me what you thought in watching Bill during his year and what he tackled, what do you think throughout the year was really one of his best accomplishments. I want to hear your opinion and then I am going to ask Bill what he thinks.
Michael Higer: There are so many things that Bill did and that we did as a board together under Bill’s leadership that I don’t think I would want to single out any one of them and instead I would rather focus on the way that he did all of them, which is, Bill’s message from day one was always about protecting the brand, and by that he meant the Bar as an institution is bigger than any one of us, it’s bigger than the President, it’s bigger than the 104,000 members, and to always stand up for the Bar.
And whenever we were in a question or a moment of crisis, a moment of, what do we do, and Bill’s fall back, the rock that he anchored himself to and anchored all of us to at all times was, is this the best thing for the brand, is this the best thing for the Bar, is this the best thing for all of us, is this the best thing for the citizens of the State of Florida, and he never, never, never lost sight of that.
A good example was as we went down the path of selecting a new Executive Director, which was really — I mean something no board has had to do for 37, 38 years, and that was a difficult challenge, but Bill took it as an opportunity, an opportunity to strike for who was going to be the new leader of our Bar. Because as much as Bill and Mike and Michelle and whoever follows Michelle thinks that we are the leader of the Bar, we are not the leader of the Bar, we are the face of the Bar for one year; that Executive Director is the leader or our Bar.
And Jack has been that quiet, effective leader, so much so that sometimes people almost forget that he is the leader of our Bar, because he does it so incredibly effectively. And so when we had to go and find someone who could take on that challenge for the future, the way in which Bill went about it and was able to coalesce us as a group to make a decision and reach consensus on Josh Doyle, I think was an incredible accomplishment and that speaks volumes about his leadership.
Michelle Suskauer: Obviously as a member of the Board of Governors and watching you and the way the board loves you and the way the board admires you and the way that you treat everyone and how you are so incredibly inclusive is I think a lasting legacy and we needed that, we needed you. When you came in we needed you and I thought your year was significant and incredibly special.
What do you think is your lasting legacy as President of the Florida Bar?
Bill Schifino: Well, as Michael touched on it, I hope what we put in place was a camaraderie on the board and a recognition that while we may have differing opinions and thoughts on particular issues, that we listen to one another, we approach this as a board, as a group.
I am very proud of what we accomplished this year. Michael and I talked about it a lot at the beginning of the year, it’s not me, it’s not my year, it’s not I, I, I; the pronoun is we, it really is, and what we have accomplished together.
So I think that we collectively worked very hard on that. I am also very proud of the work we have done as a board on the preparation for the Constitution Revision Commission, and the preparation we have. We have got a wonderful group in place, both of you have been involved in that since day one.
Michelle Suskauer: And we have a program which we are promoting and we are releasing here at Annual Convention, which is very, very exciting.
Bill Schifino: Yeah. So it’s all very exciting. We have a great relationship with our other branches, the executive and the legislative, great relationship with our courts, so I am proud of all of that.
Michelle Suskauer: We are very proud of you.
Bill Schifino: Thank you.
Michelle Suskauer: But I want to hear Michael, what is in store, and I know that there are things that come up that you can’t predict, and I have heard that from every President I have spoken to, just be ready because you can never be ready.
But what are some of the issues and things that you are prepared to do at the beginning, and I know that during this past year you were the chair of a very, very important Commission, so can you talk about that?
Michael Higer: Sure. So Michelle, as you know, there are many things on our agenda and we follow a strategic plan; it started long before Bill and it will continue long after you, and so we always have a number of initiatives that we proceed with and it will be no different this year.
For example, member benefits, technological issues, diversity and inclusion and so on. But you mentioned the Gender Bias Report or you made reference to it, and so in any given year there are certainly priorities and we will have priorities, and one of those priorities this year will be the Gender Bias Report, and in particular the implementation of the Gender Bias Recommendations. We made 12 recommendations in that report; I could go on in length, in fact, people accuse me sometimes of getting in the weeds.
Bill Schifino: No, no, not you Michael.
Michael Higer: Including my President on the right. He will say that I not only get in the weeds, I look at the dewdrops on each blade of grass.
But that Commission did an incredible job in terms of its thoughtfulness in coming up with the recommendations. And I am going to turn the implementation of those recommendations over in large part to you, at least to oversee the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which is going to be tasked with implementing all 12 of those recommendations.
And one of the things you know from me is that when I set a deadline, I mean there’s a deadline, and so this year — by June of this time next year we are going to have all those recommendations implemented and I know that you are going to help me to make sure that happens.
Michelle Suskauer: I absolutely will and I am thrilled that you trust me to turn the reins over from that very, very important Commission. There are some incredible recommendations and it’s going to be challenging, but it’s doable and it will be done.
Michael Higer: And there are a number of other initiatives that we will be working on, one of which is health and wellness. So we will be focusing on our lawyers as a whole person. We will be focusing on, not just the mental health stress of a lawyer, because that is certainly something that we need to focus on, but we are also going to be focusing on the physical fitness of our lawyers.
One thing that I learned from Bill Schifino this year, which is that it is so important to be mindful of your physical fitness. As I was growing up, and even through college and law school and even after that, I was always active athletically, played basketball everyday and so on, but as the practice kind of took over, it gets harder and harder to find time. But Bill helped me to make sure that that was a priority in my life, and if I could find a way to make sure that everyday I got a workout in and what that meant to me in terms of reducing anxieties and stresses, I know that that’s an important issue for our lawyers as well and so we will make that a priority.
Michelle Suskauer: Great.
Michael Higer: I will say this too, and this one is a little bit more difficult for me, which is we lost a real close friend a week or so ago in Erv Gonzalez. Erv was at the top of his profession, well-loved by everybody, and we know that he suffered, and there’s probably nothing that we the Bar or anybody could have done. But I think that those things that we as a Bar can do to help our lawyers in terms of stress intervention, and we are going to be working on that this year as well. I intend to make sure that we have a program that’s in place by the time I turn the reins over to you.
Michelle Suskauer: Well, I am so happy to hear that, because when I was running around campaigning, people talked about how they were so stressed and how technology is really one of the driving forces of that, because people don’t ever disconnect. So I am very, very excited that we are going to be focusing in on that.
And it really has been a pleasure interviewing both of you.
Bill Schifino: Michelle, welcome to you. It’s great to know that you are on the team, and by the way, Michelle is on the workout team also, so we have got her up early in the morning.
Michelle Suskauer: I am going to do my best. Oh no, now it’s pressure. Okay, I am looking forward to it.
Bill Schifino: And so far she is working out for about 15, 20 minutes; we need to get her up to about 30 or 40.
Michelle Suskauer: I am getting there.
Michael Higer: And Michelle needs to leave the phone in the room when she comes down.
Michelle Suskauer: Oh boy. Okay guys.
Christine Bilbrey: Michelle, I think they are calling you out.
Michelle Suskauer: They are.
Christine Bilbrey: I do know that quality of life is going to be your platform in the year going forward, and I want to thank you so much for stepping in to host, and I am sure we are going to be doing this year after year, it’s good stuff. I really appreciate it.
So much is happening at the Bar, and I have to say to Michael Higer, we are really excited about the upcoming year. We have a brand-new Executive Director. So many good things are going to be happening.
Bill, you were wonderful, such a good President.
Bill Schifino: Thank you Christine.
Christine Bilbrey: And our listeners are your devoted members, they love you. So are any of you on social media; we always get that question, how can they follow? So Michael, will you be tweeting, will we be getting updates from you?
Michael Higer: So about five, six years ago had you asked me that question before a little trip that I took to Boston to see my daughter, the answer would have been no, but they set me up. I have got a Facebook account. I have got a Twitter account, a LinkedIn account. I do post more frequently than ever before and so I expect that I will continue to do that. I am not as a rabid a poster as my friend across the table from me, but I am sure if I am side by side with Michelle, I will be posting even more.
Bill Schifino: Or she will post for you.
Michael Higer: Probably so.
Christine Bilbrey: Excellent. And Bill, you have the big upcoming responsibility for the CRC so I hope that we are going to be getting some information coming out of that as you are traveling all over the state.
Bill Schifino: Absolutely, no, no, Michelle is right, I am going to stay engaged and working with both Michelle and Michael on those issues as they unfold over the next year.
Christine Bilbrey: Okay, wonderful. And so you are a prolific Twitter, is that —
Michelle Suskauer: I am. It’s @criminalDfense, that’s me, and then I am also on Facebook as well under my name. I will be following Michael around constantly, taking pictures of him, which he loves, and I will be documenting his year, whether he likes it or not.
Christine, thank you so much.
Bill Schifino: By the way, to say that she is a prolific poster would be the understatement of the world. Facebook is on Michelle, not the other way around.
Michelle Suskauer: I totally agree. Thank you so much.
Bill Schifino: Thank you.
Michael Higer: Thank you.
Christine Bilbrey: Thank you to all of you. This has been another edition of the Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by The Practice Resource Institute on Legal Talk Network. I want to thank our guests for joining us. If you liked what you heard today, please rate us on ITunes. I am Christine Bilbrey. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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