Ray Driver was one semester — one class, actually — away from being an accountant.
In his last semester at the University of Montevallo, Driver took a business law class.
He already had accepted a job with a Big 8 accounting firm when his professor suggested Driver consider becoming a lawyer.
Driver contacted the accounting firm and put the offer on hold.
Ultimately, he went to the University of Florida where he got both a master’s in accounting and a law degree in 1994.
He is a partner in the Driver, McAfee, Peek and Hawthorne corporate law firm.
The combination of Driver’s career and his work in the community led to his selection as the Daily Record’s Lawyer of the Year.
Driver received the award Thursday during the annual Jacksonville Bar Association Law Day luncheon, an event he wasn’t planning to attend because he needed to be in Orlando later that day.
Daily Record Publisher Jim Bailey tricked Driver into coming by saying he needed to talk to him about a Downtown development project before Driver left town that afternoon. Perhaps the two could talk after the luncheon, Bailey suggested.
At the luncheon, Bailey said the annual award is “about a commitment to serve a community that is so great, the sacrifices become secondary to the reward of leaving this world a little better than you found it.”
He said Driver “is a great storyteller, a horrible joke teller and a person full of energy and passion” for his profession and for his community.
Driver’s community service includes being on the JAX Chamber board of directors and serving as chair of the chamber’s membership committee.
He’s an active member of the Rotary Club of Deerwood, which he praised for its philanthropic work, including its strong focus on children’s needs.
Driver also is on The Players Council, which is affiliated with The Players Championship. The group lets the public know what is changing about The Players and educates businesses on how to use the tournament to bring customers from out of town.
And he’s “pretty involved” with the JBA, which he called “a tremendous association.”
Driver, 46, said he has always believed community service is part of being a lawyer, a responsibility as a leader in the community to give back in some fashion. It’s a philosophy also shared by his partners, said Driver, who served as the 2012-13 JBA president.
Driver and his wife, Lisa, have four children, ages 15, 12, 7 and 5. She works with his assistant at the law office to get the children’s activities on his calendar so he can attend as many as possible. He and his wife of 18 years joke about how chaotic their lives can be.
The past few days illustrate how Driver mixes community service with family life.
When he left the luncheon on Thursday, he went to Orlando to support a friend at a leukemia/lymphoma event.
He then spent Friday-Sunday in Tampa at a soccer tournament for one of his children’s teams, which made it to the finals.
And The Players Championship is this week.
Driver said he was a “little embarrassed” to win the award. He praised the list of previous recipients, who he holds in “the highest regard.”
Driver knew fairly early in Bailey’s speech describing the winner that he had been duped — in a good way.
The first sign? When Bailey mentioned the Lawyer of the Year attended the University of Montevallo.
“I was pretty sure no one else in Jacksonville went there,” Driver said of the liberal arts school in Alabama.
The same university where that one business law class led Driver to ditch a career in accounting to become a lawyer.