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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 5, 201905:20 AM EST

From the President: A new year and a new challenge

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I need your help to continue to improve what we have built.

By Elizabeth Ferguson, JBA president

As the new president of the Jacksonville Bar Association, I’ll take a few minutes to brag about our members.

They hold seats on almost every community and charity board in Jacksonville. They coach flag football, baseball and soccer. They donate their time and talent to help those less fortunate by providing legal services.

Our members are leaders in their churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship.

And JBA members mentor fellow lawyers so we can continue North Florida’s tradition of being the most collegial Bar in the state. 

We are lucky to have been led in the past year by Circuit Judge Katie Dearing, who, even with her busy schedule, worked diligently to improve our offerings to meet the needs of our diverse membership.

She has a tireless devotion to the JBA, having served on a JBA board for the past 16 years. That is a feat in itself.

She used that time to be a consistent voice for change and improvement, the results of which are clear.

I could not be more proud to follow in her footsteps as president of the JBA.

I also am honored to have Michelle Bedoya Barnett serving as our president-elect, Michael Fox Orr as our treasurer and Fraz Ahmed as our secretary.

The four of us have grown up together as lawyers and in the JBA.

They, along with our governors, are the hardest working group of people I know and I am lucky to have them by my side on this adventure.   

When I moved to Jacksonville in 2002, I knew one person – my brother. But Steve O’Hara took a chance, offered me a job and I took it.

O’Hara is the first of the long list of mentors I have been lucky to have throughout my career. Those of you who know him know he is a true student of the law. Coming out of law school, we know nothing about how to be a lawyer. O’Hara taught me many important lessons as a young lawyer:

• Your legal assistant knows more about the practice of law than you do, so listen to them. 

• Read the rules. 

• Even on that case you think you have no chance of losing, a jury might see it differently. So, move on to the next one and work harder on that one with the lessons you learned from losing.

• Get involved in our community.

Through O’Hara, I met another mentor, Deborah Halvorsen. I am lucky enough to call her my friend. She is one of the most gifted trial attorneys I have met and if you have had the honor of seeing her in the courtroom, you feel the same way. She taught me lessons outside of the courtroom that were even more important:

• The importance of being surrounded by co-workers who support you.

• How important it is to have a sponsor, someone who wants to see you succeed and is willing to help you get there.

I would not be where I am today, in my life, my career or the JBA, without the benefit of these amazing mentors and sponsors, along with so many others I, unfortunately, do not have time to tell you about, but who have encouraged, supported and even pushed me along the way.

That is why the JBA is so important to our legal community. It provides opportunities for people like me who moved here knowing no one, and people who have lived here all their life, to meet mentors and sponsors who can help them on their path. Beyond that, the JBA works every day to provide offerings to meet the needs of our membership through CLEs, networking events, judicial relations opportunities, community outreach, pro bono service, the Bar Bulletin and most recently through our diversity and inclusion and mental health and wellness initiatives. 

People have asked what my agenda is for my year in office. The truth is, I do not have a grand vision.

My focus will be on continuing to build on the hard work of those before me to improve the offerings of the JBA to better meet the needs of our membership and to add value.

To do that, I need your help.

Join the JBA, get involved, join a committee, be a mentor and attend our events. With all of us working together, we can ensure that the 4th Circuit’s reputation of being the most collegial Bar in the state will continue for years to come.

Thank you for your trust in me to lead this organization.  I am honored to serve as the president of the Jacksonville Bar Association.  

Elizabeth Ferguson is a shareholder with Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, focusing on construction litigation.

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