Friday, December 24, 2021
We have lost another Past President of The Florida Bar. Alan Bookman of Pensacola just passed away. Those who have had the privilege of leading the now-over-100,000 members of The Bar are a very tight knit group, notwithstanding any differences we may have in any other parts of our lives.
It is really impossible to describe why having been a President is so special, but I will try. All but one President in Florida’s history has been a member of the Board of Governors. The lawyers in Florida are not regulated by the State of Florida as are all other professions. The lawyers are governed by Florida’s Supreme Court. We are an integrated Bar. One cannot practice law in Florida without being a member as is the case in many places where Bar membership is voluntary.
When I was elected to the Board of Governors, it was, at that point, the highlight of my professional life. It is a time-consuming job but my Wife supported me as she saw how much I loved it. After my first two-year term, and I won a hotly-contested race to win that first term, I was re-elected for a second term without opposition. Barbara then said, “That’s it! Up or out,” meaning either I ran for President-Elect and served two more years the last as President, or my Bar work was over. I never dreamed I would become President.
That a Jewish lawyer from what was then my own small firm in Hollywood who never went to a Florida school could rise to be President of The Florida Bar is nothing short of a miracle. So many people are responsible for that unbelievable experience, but I will mention just a few.
First, my mentor Burton Young, the first Jewish President elected in 1970 and the only one to serve not having first been on the Board. When I was encouraged to run, Barbara and I went to see Burt to ask his opinion because I never thought about being President which, if I was successful, meant not practicing much law for the year I ran and the two years I would serve as President Elect and President. Burt said “run” because if you do not you will regret not giving yourself the chance of a lifetime. He said there is no greater honor a lawyer can have in Florida.
Steve Zack, now my partner, who later became President of the A.B.A. was going to be President just before me and said he wanted me to be his President Elect.
Ray Ferrero, the first President ever from Broward County, later President of Nova University, who was President Elect when I came on the Board and did the unprecedented appointment of a freshman to the all powerful Budget Committee. ‘
Rut Liles of Jacksonville, who asked me to Chair his budget after I served only one year on the Budget Committee. I just loved what I was doing, and with some skill and unbelievable luck, I had a meteoric and totally unexpected rise in The Bar.
Three others must be mentioned. Mike McNerney, who had forgotten more than anyone knew about how the budget committee worked and taught me. Mike was also my campaign chair when I ran.
David Boies, my beloved friend, the greatest lawyer of the Century, and the founder of the firm in which I am now a partner, who wanted me to win so badly that he repeatedly came to Florida to give speeches on my behalf. He also paid for practically all my campaign expenses in what, to this day, was the most hotly contested race in the history of The Bar.
My opponent Tom Irvin from Tallahassee, who tragically died, was probably the most qualified lawyer to be President but never got to serve. We ran a totally clean, dignified race and I was proud to be this true gentleman’s friend until he died.
My Wife Barbara, who really directed all my efforts to be elected. I never questioned her instructions. If she said call these 500 lawyers, I called. If she said walk through every law firm in the State that will have you, that is what I did.
Barbara was the first Wife of a President to receive one of the top awards given out by the President at the end of his or her term. I think some Presidents that followed me were not happy with the precedent I set. How could they not recognize their spouses when Miller did? Steve Zack was not married when he was President, so Barbara was really the First Lady of The Florida Bar for two years. That and other experiences forged a great relationship with Steve Zack that is unique.
Virtually every family law lawyer in Florida supported me and in each area in Florida, I went to my colleagues in the family law bar for help. I single out my good friend Steve Sessums and his Wife Diana without whom I would have never prevailed. I must have made 30 trips to Tampa, stayed at their house, and walked through almost every law office in Tampa thanks to the tremendous respect Tampa lawyers had for Steve. I won Tampa 4 to 1.
I did not intend to say so much about myself. This whole epistle was to demonstrate that becoming President of The Florida Bar is incredibly special and the lawyers of Florida are very discerning. Those who are fortunate enough to have become President are, with few exceptions, outstanding, or as my successor Ben Hill would say, “splendid” lawyers. They are all, in some way, extraordinary human beings who have made great sacrifices for our State and profession.
Obviously, some have been better than others, but a lot depends on what issues must be confronted. Some have had to work almost 24/7, rarely getting home even on weekends. When we lose a Past President, by definition, we are losing an extraordinary person.
Alan Bookman was a highly respected lawyer, a gentle man dedicated to all the right things at least as I see right. Please say a prayer for him and his family. He will be missed.