Michelle Suskauer, was recently featured in an article by The Palm Beach Post:
Michelle is the sixth woman to serve as president of The Florida Bar, intends to pursue criminal justice reform in Florida. As part of the effort, she plans to host a criminal justice summit in October in Tampa.
By Alexandra Clough Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A Q&A WITH… MICHELLE SUSKAUER President, The Florida Bar
There’s a new president of The Florida Bar, but she’s a familiar face to local legal professionals. Michelle Suskauer, former Palm Beach County Bar Association president, took the reins of The Florida Bar last month. But it seems Suskauer has been preparing for this role for years.
Suskauer, the first female public defender to lead The Florida Bar, intends to pursue criminal justice reform in a state with high incarceration rates but not enough money or staff. It’s an initiative that began last year when she was president-elect, but now she plans to follow-up with reform efforts. Among her plans: hosting a criminal justice summit in October in Tampa, bringing together prosecutors, defense lawyers, lawmakers and representatives from the governor’s office.
As only the sixth woman to serve as president of The Florida Bar, Suskauer also is attuned to gender issues, particularly equality, when it comes to pay, promotion and firm partnership.
Finally, the former solo practitioner knows her audience: Some 76 percent of Bar members practice at firms with 10 or fewer attorneys, she said. To that end, she’s trying to make the Bar a friendlier resource for attorneys needing help with marketing, continuing legal education or trust account information. She’s also starting a monthly video speaking series on various topics, including effectively communicating with judges and juries.
The enthusiastic Suskauer is optimistic she can effect change at The Florida Bar, even as she continues her statewide criminal defense practice. “It’s a noble profession,” she said. “I love being a criminal defense attorney, helping people through their most difficult time.”
Name: Michelle Suskauer
Title: President of The Florida Bar, partner at Dimond, Kaplan & Rothstein P.A.
Hometown: East Northport, New York; now lives in Palm Beach Gardens.
Education: Boston University, B.S. Communications, 1988; American University, Washington College of Law, J.D., 1991
Family: Husband, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Scott Suskauer; children, Talia, 21, and Rebecca, 19.
About your company: The Florida Bar is the organization of all lawyers licensed to practice in the state. The Florida Bar is dedicated to pursuing justice, promoting professionalism and protecting the public.
Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein P.A. represents clients in securities fraud, complex commercial litigation, personal injury and criminal defense cases, and I head its criminal trial division.
First paying job and what you learned from it: My first job was a summer camp counselor while I was in high school. Through that experience, I learned that to be successful you have to be energetic, upbeat and a creative problem-solver – all characteristics that I have carried into my legal career.
First break in the business: I began my career as an assistant public defender in Palm Beach County. I learned howto be a lawyer – how to try complex criminal cases and how to skillfully negotiate with the government. During my years as a public defender, I also met several important mentors that have helped guide me through my career, including my husband, Scott.
How your business has changed: Technology is rapidly changing the role of attorneys and how they work, and the pace of that evolution is only increasing. Because we recognize the burdens those changes place on practitioners, The Florida Bar is committed to assisting attorneys to remain competitive in today’s marketplace. And we are working to use those same new technologies, including emerging social media platforms, to make our legal system more accessible to all citizens statewide. The Bar is especially dedicated to providing support for small law firms and solo practitioners, who make up nearly 76 percent of our membership.
Best business book you’ve read: “Lean-In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg. While women have made strides during the course of my career, there is much more work to be done to address gender inequality in the legal profession. As a 25-year practitioner, I have witnessed gender bias firsthand, including very recently. And as The Florida Bar’s sixth female president, I am committed to effectuating meaningful change, both by spreading awareness about how bias impacts the legal profession and by developing solutions to take concrete action.
Best piece of business advice you ever received: Always follow up, always follow through and never over-promise.
What you tell youngpeople about your business: Being a lawyer can often be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. My advice to those entering the legal profession is to find a mentor you can look to for both practical advice and big-picture perspective. Also, as you dedicate yourself to your work, never neglect your own mental health and wellness. You can’t take care of others if you don’t first take care of yourself.
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? There is an old expression among lawyers: If you try cases, you lose cases. As a trial lawyer, you are not going to win every case. When faced with a loss in court, I always try to identify what I could have done differently and learn from the experience. Everyone makes mistakes, but I try to never make the same mistake twice.
Power lunch spot: City Cellar.
Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office: Traveling around the state speaking to lawyers and, more importantly, listening to their concerns.
Favorite smartphone app: Facebook.
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? A combination of innate talent and the ability to learn. Also, I always have my eye out for people who truly understand the value of relationships. The most successful lawyers are the ones who appreciate that the legal profession, like the business world, is relationship-driven.
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Photo Credit: BRUCE R. BENNETT/THE PALM BEACH POST