Raising the Bar

By Adrianna C. Rodriguez

Virtually overnight, John “Jay” G. White III’s (JD 83) client base swelled into the thousands. When White took office as the 60th president of the Florida bar, he took on representation for the estimated 85,000 members of The Florida Bar.

And, as White points out, that number grows with every bar examination administered.

“Jay is truly a lawyer’s lawyer, having represented many lawyers and firms in his outstanding career,” said Gerald F. Richman, president of the Richman Greer, P.A., firm. “It is very fitting that his ‘clients’ will now include the 85,000 members of The Florida Bar.”

White, a shareholder, director and partner at Richman Greer, is the fifth attorney from the firm to serve as president of The Florida Bar in nearly half a century. He has been with the firm for seven years practicing commercial and complex business litigation, personal injury, wrongful death, professional malpractice litigation, class actions and officer and director representation.

“As a double Gator (BS 62, JD 64), I am very proud of Jay White,” Richman said.

White takes office as statewide budget cuts put a crunch on the judiciary. He is especially concerned about the more than 10 percent budget cuts to the courts, which could force delays throughout the judicial system.

As president, White has begun looking into alternative solutions. He hopes to resolve the problem before leaving office.

“We need to find an adequate, permanent funding source for the judiciary,” he said. In addition to addressing the budget cuts, during his tenure, White will also focus on improving diversity in the legal profession and increasing mentorship opportunities for young attorneys.

He stressed the importance of The Florida Bar and all of its committees, as well as all those committees not under The Florida Bar, reflecting the makeup of the bar’s population and providing broad representation for all its members.

Among the first steps towards the diversity goal is ensuring all members of the bar are aware when openings occur in the judicial system and apply for them.

This includes alerting members of the more than 150 voluntary specialty bars and local bars across the state, such as bar associations for women and minority attorneys, by e-mail when positions become available.

Another important step is having senior members of the bar call and encourage younger members and minority members of the bar to get involved and to apply for openings.

Improving diversity requires young attorneys get involved with The Florida Bar and voluntary specialty bars early on in their careers.

“The earlier you get involved the earlier you can build your reputation,” White said.

One way White has identified to help get young lawyers involved in the bar from the beginning of their careers is through mentorship programs.

A committee is in the process of looking into structuring a mentorship program for students and first- and second-year attorneys, White said.

Some law schools are also participating in the process of developing mentorship programs. For White, the earlier students and young attorneys become involved in mentorship and attorney groups the better.

“It is important we teach young attorneys that if you are professional, civil, honest and have a good moral compass, those things are far more important that winning cases,” White said. “Don’t get me wrong, winning cases is important, but not at the extent of being unprofessional.”

White’s commitment to mentorship stems from dedicated mentors he had as a young professional. Among them, he mentioned UF graduate Robert V. Romani (JD 73) and retired attorney Ed Campbell.

“I had wonderful mentors as a young lawyer, not only did they teach me the substance of law, but how we should be professional and civil in our practice,” White said.

White began learning those lessons during his time as a student at the University of Florida. He graduated in 1980 with an undergraduate degree in political science.

“I feel like I got a wonderful education and had a lot of fun doing it,” he said of his time at UF.

As a law student, White received the American Jurisprudence Award in Administrative Law. During his time at UF, White was a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Phi Delta Phi Legal Society and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Almost 25 years after finishing his studies at UF, White takes on the challenge of leading The Florida Bar. One of his many priorities during his tenure, mentorship of young attorneys, stems from his experiences as a student and young attorney.

“It is really important that we teach young lawyers and law students what is appropriate and what is not appropriate,” White said. “The most important message is that you can be professional and civil and still be a great lawyer and a great advocate.”