Incoming Florida Bar president Michelle R. Suskauer will be sworn in Friday during the 68th Annual Florida Bar Convention in Orlando.
The West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney will be the sixth female of 70 Florida Bar presidents. As she takes the reins in the wake of the #MeToo movement, she hopes to forge a legacy of inclusivity and gender equality.
“My goal is to leave the bar in a better place than when I found it,” Suskauer said.Suskauer looks forward to the day when being a female bar president isn’t news, but until then, “If I can inspire other women to seek leadership positions,” she says, “Wow.”Though Suskauer was initially selected as president in March 2017, her election was contested. As a result, she was able to extend the time she spent traveling the state during her campaign, visiting a total of 19 judicial circuits.
“It was a wonderful listening tour,” Suskauer said, who viewed the setback as an opportunity to hear from as many people as possible.
The most pervasive issue Suskauer encountered on her 50,000-mile road trip was that many attorneys felt disconnected to the very institution set up to support them. As bar president, she intends to fix that.
“I want be able to reach all different members, from our newest lawyers graduating with crushing debt, to our lawyers aging out of the practice, and everyone in between,” she said.
Over 75 percent of Florida Bar members practice solo or in small firms, yet many lack the support they need in order to thrive, Suskauer said. It takes a competitive edge to succeed as an attorney, but with that can come reluctance to seek mentorship. As Suskauer spent most of her career running a two-person firm, she can relate.
“Look, I’m a criminal defense lawyer,” she said. “Nobody gets arrested 9 to 5. That doesn’t help me relax.”
Suskauer sees her new position as a call to action and plans to use her platform as a megaphone for quieter voices. By implementing an array of health and wellness programs, Suskauer aims to help members who may otherwise be ashamed of asking for it.
“We’re all superstars,” she said. “But it’s OK to know that we need to talk to someone.”
Suskauer says the greatest weapon in her arsenal is social media, and she plans to use it with vigor. Followers can expect to see monthly video messages from Suskauer, as well as projects like the Legal Fuel Speaker Series, delivering on-demand, practical information to help the everyday lawyer with their practice.
Like many criminal defense attorneys, Suskauer believes rehabilitation has more societal benefits than punishment. In line with her calls for “common sense” justice reform, the bar will propose new criminal reform legislation this October at the Criminal Justice Summit — the first of its kind.
Suskauer was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1991 and has chaired various boards, including the Board Disciplinary Review Committee, the Board Communications Committee and the Annual Convention Committee. As the current president of Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s board of directors, she works toward providing disadvantaged individuals with equal access to legal aid.
In January, Suskauer also became a partner at Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein in its West Palm Beach office.
The annual Florida Bar convention runs Wednesday to Saturday at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria.