Florida Bar President-Elect and Gunster shareholder Mike Tanner is a high-profile business litigator with a long list of professional accolades and nearly a decade of service on the Bar’s board of governors, but to hundreds of Jacksonville’s homeless, he’s been one of the cooks at the Sulzbacher Center for the last 10 years.
“I’m part of a group. We go down there and cook lunch the first Saturday of every month,” Tanner said.
Tanner’s professional and community service are a natural outgrowth of the ideals that motivated him, as a high school student with a keen interest in history, to become the first in his family to set his sights on a legal career.
“I was intrigued by the number of lawyers who were involved in founding the country,” Tanner said. “They were very public-service minded.”
Tanner sees the legal profession as “a bulwark of representative government” and his service to The Florida Bar as the proudest aspect of his career, even having founded a successful law practice with partner Tom Bishop and practiced at two of the state and nation’s preeminent law firms, Gunster and Holland & Knight.
“I’m not in Bar leadership because I wanted another line item in my resume,” Tanner said. “I thought we have some interesting and challenging times coming up, and I felt I could contribute to that. I look at it as a way to pay back a profession that has been good to me and good to society.”
Tanner will serve as president of The Florida Bar beginning in June 2021 following Dori Foster-Morales of Miami, who was installed as president at The Florida Bar’s virtual convention in June.
Foster-Morales and Tanner will lead The Florida Bar through some of the toughest times in living memory, as lawyers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout.
Among other challenges, the legal profession and the judiciary will have to work together to figure out how to have jury trials in the midst of a pandemic “in a way that is not unreasonable health-wise to people,” Tanner said.
And as civil legal needs continue to grow, the age-old problem of how to ensure access to justice remains as vexing as ever.
“There’s a huge percentage of our population in Florida and the country who have unmet legal needs.” Tanner said. “They can’t afford a lawyer, or they don’t know lawyers and are just outside the legal system. That’s a challenge for the profession, because over time that will erode the profession. If more people believe the legal profession is not available to them, they’ll look for other means to resolve their issues. The challenge for the profession is to address that.”
One population that often has unmet civil legal needs is foster youth. Tanner has also been deeply involved in supporting them through Jacksonville’s Youth Crisis Center, previously chairing its board.
“They have a shelter and an assisted-living-type facility,” Tanner said. “They help young adults transitioning out of foster care become self-sufficient.”
Serving food to the homeless and working with foster youth “makes you realize how fortunate you are,” Tanner said.
As if his legal practice, Bar work and volunteerism were not enough, Tanner and his wife, Dawna Bicknell Tanner, are also ranchers. Their Blue Bear Farm & Cattle Co. in Cairo, Georgia, just north of Tallahassee, sells grass-fed beef, which Tanner said has the dual benefit of being healthful and humane.
“We’ve got our herd to a size that we’re actually selling beef,” Tanner said.
At 66, Tanner could easily sit back on the porch and enjoy the life of a gentleman farmer, but instead he will be digging in to help solve some thorny issues facing his fellow Bar members.
“It would be easy to throttle back at this point in my career, but I’m looking at two years of very vigorous work,” he said.