Gary Lesser, a West Palm Beach native and longtime Florida Bar leader, is the new president-elect of the Florida Bar.
Lesser will be sworn in as president-elect at the Annual Florida Bar Convention on June 11 when current President-elect Michael Tanner of Jacksonville becomes president. Lesser will serve as president for the 2022-23 bar year.
“For me to be president-elect and then president is the best opportunity to help Florida lawyers and to help people living in Florida,” Lesser said. “The president sets the agenda. The Board of Governors, elected from all over Florida, vote on decisions.”
Lesser defeated fellow Board of Governors member Steven Davis of Miami after receiving 11,817 votes to Davis’s 6,922 votes.
Lesser, managing partner of Lesser, Lesser Landy & Smith, an 11-attorney personal injury firm based in West Palm Beach, will follow four other Palm Beach County lawyers who served as bar president in recent years. They were Michelle Suskauer, 2018; Gregory Coleman, 2014; Scott Hawkins, 2011 and John “Jay” White, 2007.
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Lesser’s firm, celebrating its 94th anniversary this year, was founded by his grandfather, the late Joe Lesser in 1927 in West Palm Beach and then his father, the late Shep Lesser, ran the firm.
Lesser, 53, a Palm Beach Gardens resident, and his wife Jennifer, have three daughters, Lillian, Josie and Rebecca. His oldest daughter Lillian is in her first year of law school.
“When I was little, I decided that I was going to work with grandpa, forever. I had great role models in my grandfather and my dad. I wanted to do that. My grandfather, and my father, loved being a lawyer and loved helping the community, so that is all I ever wanted to do,” Lesser said. “I didn’t want to be a police officer or an astronaut.”
The firm is the oldest law firm in Palm Beach County with the same name, Lesser said. The firm handles personal injury cases ranging from motorcycle accidents, truck accidents and golf cart accidents and motor vehicle wrongful deaths to pedestrian deaths and damages from sexual abuse of minors.
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Lesser received his undergraduate degree in 1989 in international affairs from The George Washington University, and his law degree in 1992 from the University of Miami where he was editor-in-chief of the law school newspaper.
He is finishing his 10th year on the bar’s Board of Governors where he has chaired the Legislation Committee three times and served on the Executive Committee for four years. He also chaired the Professional Ethics Committee, among others.
“Ethics and professionalism are really important. They kind of define what lawyers are and what they should be. We don’t make anything, and we don’t sell anything. What we provide is our knowledge, wisdom and our ethics. We help our clients through the process, whatever the process is,” Lesser said.
Any lawyer who wants to practice law in Florida is required to be a member of The Florida Bar, founded in 1949. The bar is one of the nation’s largest mandatory bars. The bar’s membership includes 90,564 attorneys eligible to practice and 3,608 members not eligible to practice, such as judges and those in military service.
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The Florida Bar is an agency of the Florida Supreme Court in the regulation of its members, including lawyer discipline, ethics rules and more. The bar has a process for consumer complaints which can come from clients, opposing parties or from someone who feels they have been wronged, Lesser said.
The president-elect works alongside the president to assist, as being president can end up being a fulltime job, said Lesser, who is already attending working meetings. Normally, the president’s job involves a lot of travel.
“Right now, it’s a virtual world anyway. I am not sure when we will see the return to big in-person gatherings of any sort. I am a policy guy,” Lesser said.
One of Lesser’s goals is for the bar to launch a campaign to educate the public about the benefits of hiring a lawyer to prepare wills, handle real estate transactions, and to protect them in those and other life occurrences.
Several years ago, he learned of a poll where approximately 80 percent of Floridians surveyed said they would not hire an attorney because they feel they cannot afford it. Fear of incurring a large fee is a concern from the public.
“This distrust or disconnect with the legal profession is a very serious problem,” Lesser said. “People don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t know the risk and exposure they are putting themselves at. Frankly, it is incumbent on the legal profession to explain that to the public.”
Those who end up trying to do a will on their own with a form purchased from an office supply store or online, run a risk of missing something such as required notarization and signatures and ending up with an invalid will.
“They pass away, and the family has to clean up a mess,” Lesser said.
“My dad always used to say, ‘You can probably do it on your own, but if you decide to pull your own tooth, you would probably let the dentist do it. He knows how to do it the right way.’”
Lesser said he believes in doing pro bono work, helping the underserved and disadvantaged. Florida is a leader in civil legal aid. He has been involved with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County since he was “a brand new baby lawyer,” Lesser said.
When hiring a lawyer, do your research, Lesser advises.
“Find out who they are. Get recommendations. Don’t hire a lawyer based on the first result you get on Google,” he said.
Diversity and inclusion are areas where the legal profession has made progress, but still has work to do, Lesser said.
“In Florida we are now 60 percent men and 40 percent women. It used to be more disproportionate. We have been stuck at 60-40 for a few years because women leave the law disproportionately. Firms are not giving them the support, necessarily, when they are having childbirth and other issues. That is changing now,” Lesser said, as firms are realizing they do not want to lose a good lawyer.
“We are seeing more women lawyers and more lawyers of color. It is extremely important we have equal opportunity for involvement and leadership,” he said. “To me diversity and inclusion means everyone gets a seat at the table.”