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December 1, 2015

Of Counsel - Florida Law

Meet Gregory W. Coleman, new President of the Florida Bar

The Bar's new president shifts his focus after finding out most Floridians can't afford an attorney.

Art Levy | 8/28/2014

While an undergrad at Stetson University, Gregory W. Coleman stopped by the Volusia County Courthouse to pay a traffic ticket. Impressed by the 1929 building’s neoclassical style, he walked the halls and eventually wandered into a courtroom, where a trial was under way.

“I just sat down and started watching it,” he says. “I was fascinated. I mean, I must have sat there for an hour just watching the dynamics. I was drawn to it.” 

The thrill he got from watching the trial — and many others he watched on subsequent trips to the courthouse — convinced him that perhaps his father was right and he should be a lawyer.

Wise choice. Coleman, 51, has been a lawyer for more than 25 years in Florida, first as an assistant state attorney in Palm Beach County, where he would sometimes Work three trials a week, and now as a partner at West Palm Beach’s Critton, Luttier & Coleman, where he specializes in complex business litigation.

This summer, Coleman became president of the 98,000-member Florida Bar. Two weeks into his oneyear term, Coleman spoke about his goals for the year and the state of the law profession in Florida.

Affordability: Coleman thought he’d focus the early months of his tenure on encouraging attorneys to become more tech savvy, but within a few weeks of becoming Bar president in June, he realized there was a more pressing problem: 60% of Floridians can’t afford to hire an attorney.

“We’ve got a broken system right now with legal aid having no funding and a void in the court system in terms of access to justice by middle Americans — and what I Mean by that is people who make too much money to qualify for legal aid but yet can’t afford a lawyer,” he says. “Those folks are living paycheck to paycheck. If they get divorced, they can’t afford to hire a lawyer.” 

Bar leaders and state court officials, including state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, are holding meetings to discuss and research the problem in hopes of coming up with some answers. Coleman doesn’t think the solution will be as simple as lawyers reducing their fees.

“It’s not going to be a problem that can be solved by lawyers,” he says. “When you have 60% of the population not being able to access the courts with a lawyer, that’s not a legal problem. It’s a societal problem.” 

Embracing technology: “By nature, attorneys are conservative and cautious, always looking back to case precedent and the Constitution for guidance.” That’s one reason, Coleman says, why attorneys have been so slow to embrace technology in their work. Among his initiatives: Creating a suggested suite of software and other technology products to help sole practitioners — who make up about 33% of the Bar’s membership — and small firms to improve their office computer systems. He also wants the Bar to help organize low-cost IT consulting services to members who need it — sort of a “Geek Squad for lawyers.” 

Job market: Coleman says anyone considering joining the profession needs to understand that the economics of the industry are “a little difficult” right now.

“I would have a very frank and candid conversation about the state of the legal profession right now, which is the jobs aren’t there like they used to be,” he says. “You would have to be prepared to consider alternative careers or non-traditional legal careers. It’s just not a good job market right now.” 

Gregory W. Coleman, 51 

Partner, Critton, Luttier & Coleman; president, Florida Bar; former president, BarÕs young lawyers division Specialties: Complex commercial litigation, insurance litigation and professional malpractice defense.

Background: Grew up in Palm Beach County; graduated from Stetson University in 1985 and Stetson’s law school in 1989.

Family: Wife, Monica, and son, Cody Workload: “I work almost every Saturday, if not Saturday and Sunday. The office is quiet, and the phone’s not ringing.

You can keep your computer off and you can do the thoughtful analyzing and strategic work that you need to do, both for the Bar and for your law practice.”

Tags: Government/Politics & Law

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