Changes Again

It is that time of year. Change seems to come to so much in the summer months. The kids are finishing a school year with many sighs of relief, and focus on the next step. This spring brought that home as I see several focused on their next step, off to college. I witnessed another young man conclude law school and focus on transitioning to professional life. For whatever reason, summer brings the end of the OJCC fiscal year, and coincidentally the Bar’s also. It is a time of change.

As a result, each summer we see a change in leadership in the Workers’ Compensation Section of The Florida Bar. We welcome a new chair, William Rogner, and bid farewell to Christopher Smith; more on Mr. Rogner in weeks to come. My focus this week is on memorializing Mr. Smith’s service to the Section this last couple of years. Yes, being Section Chair is not a one year commitment. The Section selects leaders well in advance, so that there is a clear progression.

Even as Mr. Rogner takes office, we already know that the next Chair will be Michael Winer. There is predictability in this, and opportunities for leaders to develop and grow through the time leading up to their year as Chair. As a result, by the time a Chair’s year is complete he or she has served on the executive committee for years, and has been integrally involved for at least two or three years.

I want to mention some things about Mr. Smith. He has been a claimant’s and plaintiff’s attorney since 1989. I know so many attorneys that have practiced on both sides of the table over the years. But Mr. Smith is one who has been for the injured from the beginning. He is one of, what I think is, a handful of attorneys that are Board Certified in Workers’ Compensation. I struggled with that achievement years ago and have proudly carried that designation since 1999. I am proud of Mr. Smith and the few others that also carry that designation.

The Section is not the only place that Mr. Smith has devoted his time and effort. He is a long-serving member and leader of the Florida Workers’ Advocates. He is a Past-President of that organization and a long-time contributor to their annual educational program and convention. I have been privileged to sit on several “view from the bench” programs that Mr. Smith moderated. Many times people work hard to become the leader of an organization. Many of my CLE programs with Mr. Smith he has led since becoming Past-President of FWA. In short, he is one of those rare individuals who works hard as a past leader.

I have encountered Mr. Smith in Tallahassee over the years. Most recently as he advocated the establishment of better resources for sharing and transmitting data about workers’ compensation cases among the various parties involved. He has a vision on such a system and has laid out a road map that could lead to such a process and system. There are many hills to climb in achieving such a process, and they did not all get bested in his term as Chair. But, more important, he started a conversation about such a process and pursued it with energy and commitment. The conversations he started as Chair will not be the end of the development of such a process.

The Section was fortunate to have Mr. Smith as Chair. He is a devotee of workers’ compensation, with an academic interest in the law and our state’s justice system. He has been a gentleman and professional in his leadership and in his dealings. I never had the chance to litigate against him, but from my experiences with him I am confident that he is the same professional as an advocate also.

Mr. Smith transitions now to the very best office to hold in any organization, that of “past” president or chair. Like so many Chairs before him, though, I see no retirement in his future. One of the best things about the Workers’ Compensation Section is that it is not dependent on one person. It is led by a great group of people who have individual interests and skills, each contributing hard work and ideas to the collective good. In some organizations, the past officers fade from the scene, but in the Section they just keep resurfacing in new roles, maintaining their service and the organization. I have no doubt Christopher Smith will be one of these.

I know that service like this is a burden. The drive to build a better process, a better practice, a better state, is part of who some people are. They want to make a better Florida. I have seen so many serve as Chair about whom I could say this. Mr. Smith is certainly one of them. The Television character Monk used to reiterate, “it’s a gift . . . and a curse.” That could be said about the desire to build a better Florida. I watch the struggles that many undertake and I am struck by how lucky Florida is to have such citizens.

Congratulations Mr. Smith on a great term of leadership as both Chair-Elect and Chair. Congratulations on achieving the coveted position of Past-Chair! Thank you for your service to the Section, the practice and to Florida. 

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