In 1961, when Ramón "Ray" Abadin III was 2 years old, his father left his law practice and his mother said goodbye to her beloved home in Cuba.
They packed a suitcase and the trio boarded a plane for the United States and never went back, leaving behind everything they knew.
Fifty-two years later, Abadin, a partner at Sedgwick LLP's Miami office, reflects on coming to America as a toddler, and carrying on a love for the rule of law instilled by his father, Ramón Abadin Jr.
Some of his father's law school friends in Cuba were able to continue practicing law in Florida — such as Luis Figueroa, Osvaldo Soto, and Mario Goderich, and Abadin said, "Those are the lawyers upon whose shoulders my generation and I stand."
But Abadin's father ended up doing odd jobs and selling real estate and insurance instead of practicing law in their new homeland of two years in Atlanta, followed by a decade in New Orleans, and finally Miami.
"Living the immigrant experience" is a big part of Abadin's answer when asked why he wants to be president of The Florida Bar, a career milestone that will become a reality in June 2015.
Coming to America
When no one ran against him and the Dec. 16 deadline passed for candidates in the election, Abadin officially became president-elect designate.
"I am really in awe of this country. I am an immigrant. I never forget that," said Abadin, who speaks perfect English as his second language, as well as his native tongue, Spanish, and Portuguese, which he minored in as an undergrad at Tulane University.
"My parents left Cuba under harsh circumstances. The government was changing. There was no rule of law. We had a choice of going to Spain, where my grandfather lived. My mother (Alicia) chose to come here," Abadin said.
"Through a lot of hard work and good fortune, I went to law school and now work in the third branch of government. I always felt a need or desire to foster or nurture the process and the peace of our government, which is the rule of law."
When it becomes his turn to lead Florida's more than 98,000 lawyers, Abadin said, a primary focus will be keeping the courts adequately funded.
"One of the wonderful things about this country is the rule of law, and everyone's ability to access the courts," he said.
His year as president in 2015-16, following President-elect Greg Coleman's term, will also coincide with the completion of the Vision 2016 commission, the in-depth study of the future practice of law launched this year by President Eugene Pettis. Abadin serves as chair of the Legal Education Group of that commission.
"My hands will be full with the Vision 2016 work about the dramatic changes in the marketplace and lawyers' place within the marketplace," he said.
A career of service
Abadin's journey of bar service began in 1997, when he got involved in the Cuban American Bar Association and became the group's president in 2004. That honor gave him an ex officio seat at the table of The Florida Bar Board of Governors, where he rubbed elbows with the legal profession's leaders.
Two years later, in 2006, he was elected to the Board of Governors representing the 11th Judicial Circuit. He chaired several board committees, served on the Executive Committee and several Bar special committees, such as court funding, and diversity and inclusion, and on the Strategic Planning Committee.
"I got advice from a lot of former presidents who told me to work hard and keep my head down. They said, 'One day, kid, you will be president of The Florida Bar.' And here I am," Abadin said.
"I am humbled and. I am privileged to live in this country. I am privileged to be a lawyer and a member of The Florida Bar.
"I don't know why no one ran against me or decided not to put their name in. The only thing I can attribute it to is dumb luck, or I have been on the board a long time and have gotten to know a lot of people around the state who have encouraged me. …
"I want to sit on the other side of the table. Now, I sit opposite from the president, with my
back to the door. I want to face the door," he said with a laugh, about his seating arrangement at the Bar Board of Governors meetings.
At the annual Kozyak Minority Mentoring Picnic in Hialeah, Abadin is an enthusiastic participant always found shoving coals under roasting pigs, while wiping his brow and smoking a fat cigar.
A career of honors
He graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in Miami in 1977, a year ahead of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero.
His years in New Orleans inspired him to be a jazz lover, and while getting his undergrad degree in history at Tulane, he was a deejay at WTUL, the college radio station.
He stayed in New Orleans for law school, receiving his law degree from Loyola University New Orleans School of Law.
He went to law school with Kimberly Cook, and they married and became law partners at Abadin Cook, before both joined Sedgwick.
Abadin is a partner and focuses on complex commercial, insurance and corporate litigation matters, as well as specialty tort defense litigation and premises liability.
The couple has three children: Michael, 24; David, 21; and Julia, 17.
Abadin is a lifetime fellow of The Florida Bar Foundation. He was the 11th U.S. Circuit representative to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary from 2010-13, evaluating prospective nominees to the federal bench.
A fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, Abadin is also a member of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel and the Defense Research Institute. He is certified "AV" by the Martindale-Hubbell peer review rating system.
His numerous awards include the Bar's G. Kirk Haas Humanitarian Award, the Haitian Lawyers Association Significant Contribution Award, and CABA's Passing of the Leadership Mentoring Award.