Monday, September 9, 2013

Susan Johnson-Velez Makes History As New Bar Year Begins

By John F. Kynes

When Susan Johnson-Velez moved from Houston, Texas, to Tampa some 20 years ago to practice law, she didn’t have an affiliation with any Florida law school and few, if any, professional connections.

Not exactly the best way to begin a promising career in Tampa’s historically tight-knit legal community, especially for a woman.

But Johnson-Velez was undeterred. She joined the Hillsborough County Bar Association and eventually became a board member.  

This past June, Johnson-Velez made history when she was sworn in as the HCBA’s first African-American female leader in the organization’s 117-year history.

An avid marathoner, she has used her personal discipline and legal acumen to become successful and to thrive, both as a lawyer focusing on land-use issues and as a dedicated single mother of two children, Julian and Catalina.

When she first arrived in Tampa in the early 1990s, Johnson-Velez quickly recognized the value of being actively involved with the HCBA.

At her installation ceremony in June, Johnson-Velez recalled when she first agreed 15 years ago to become co-chair of what is now the HCBA Diversity Committee. She spoke about how welcoming the HCBA is for new members.

“The friendships we form help to balance the everyday stresses and strains of our profession,” Johnson-Velez said.

She also talked about leading the HCBA this year.

“What pushes us and inspires us is the drive to make this Bar association the best,” Johnson-Velez said.

Concluding her remarks, Johnson-Velez shared a well-known quote about success that she says her late father shared with her and her siblings when they were young.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better is best,” Johnson-Velez said, quoting her father.

She added: “That’s my challenge for myself and for the HCBA this coming year. To do our best, and to be our best.”


The fall season and a new Bar year also bring new opportunities for HCBA members.

Opportunities to forge new relationships with other HCBA members and members of the judiciary by attending one of the many free HCBA events held during the year.

Opportunities to take advantage of the numerous educational events and CLE luncheons available through the HCBA.

And opportunities to give back to the Bar and to the Tampa Bay community through the many programs and events planned by the HCBA’s 30-plus committees and sections.

Like most endeavors in life, you usually get out of something what you put into it.

So challenge yourself, and take full advantage of what the HCBA has to offer.

Stay connected to your colleagues and become informed about upcoming events through the HCBA’s various social-media platforms.

Consider joining the HCBA’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service, and help grow your practice through case referrals.

Also, make it a point to attend the HCBA’s 17th Annual Bench Bar Conference and Judicial Reception scheduled for November 6 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. The CLE programming, membership luncheon, and judicial reception associated with this event will be one of the highlights of the fall season, I’m sure.

Above all, try to enjoy yourself and the relationships you develop through your involvement with the HCBA.

Hopefully, through the opportunities provided by the HCBA, and with some personal commitment, you will find greater fulfillment in your legal career and your personal life this Bar year.

Let us know what we can do to help.

See you around the Chet.