Vero Beach attorney John Mitchell Stewart has the distinction of being the first lawyer from Indian River County, and one of the youngest, to serve as president of The Florida Bar. In fact, he was the first president from the 19th Circuit, which includes Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties, since Indian River joined the circuit in the 1970s. It’s a position dominated by lawyers from large firms from the state’s major cities.
The Florida Bar is the third-largest bar in the nation. The then-49-year-old lawyer, who is a partner in the firm Rossway Swan, spent his term at its helm during the tumultuous year of 2020, in which crisis management was an interloper to his platform. Yet he managed to steer the course of Florida’s 110,000-member association through the immediate concerns of the pandemic while still focusing on the future. And it’s a future that has the potential to be a game changer for the members of the state’s legal profession and a public in need of their services.
While his tenure at the helm is over, his days of urging fellow lawyers to prepare for dramatic changes are not over. Stewart currently chairs a special committee of The Florida Bar to study how the state can improve the delivery of legal services. It’s a committee he created at the behest of Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady. The recommendations slated to come out of the committee in the summer of 2021 could have ramifications — perhaps only incremental at first — for the rest of the nation, because in the past The Florida Bar has proved to be a legal trendsetter. For example, it was the first in the nation to permit cameras in the courtroom.
Is there room for improvement, specifically in how Florida lawyers practice, the rules under which they practice, and what services they do and don’t deliver to the public? According to Stewart, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”