When Super Lawyers came out last month with its annual listing of top attorneys from around the country, Florida’s rankings were peppered with lawyers from the Miami and Tampa areas.
In fact, of the Top 100 for the state, just seven came from Northeast Florida.
Of those seven, though, three came from the same office: Bedell, Dittmar, DeVault, Pillans & Coxe, the oldest Florida law firm in continuous existence.
The firm also had one of the top 50 female attorneys in Florida and another lawyer honored with a Rising Star label. All 11 partners were recognized in their areas of expertise.
“That’s a pretty good batting average,” said John DeVault III, a partner with the firm and one of the three named on the Top 100.
DeVault practices in trial and appeals of complex commercial litigation along with legal malpractice defense.
It wasn’t his first time, either — he’s been on it for years, along with fellow mainstay Hank Coxe.
Joining them this year is David Barksdale, a state and federal criminal defense attorney who is on the list for the second consecutive year.
Barksdale has been practicing since 1992, starting with the firm before taking a position with the State Attorney’s Office. He returned in 1999 as a partner.
As for Coxe, he isn’t just in the Top 100. He’s in the Top 10 — the fifth time in six years he’s had that distinction.
The recognition isn’t the first time the longtime high-profile defense attorney has had his name out there. His clients include former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith and former Republican Party of Florida Chair Jim Greer.
More recently, he was a key figure in the defense of Cristian Fernandez, the 11-year-old boy charged as an adult for killing his 2-year-old brother.
Coxe has had several speaking engagements on the subject of juvenile justice, including a TEDx talk on the topic of “When Will Your Child Be Eligible for Parole?”
The Super Lawyers list is just one of several industry rankings meant to offer recognition.
Coxe said the phenomenon of such lists has come about in the past 15 years and isn’t indicative of the talent or work of attorneys in Northeast Florida. Coxe said he could rattle off 25 Jacksonville attorneys more deserving of the recognition than him.
Likewise, DeVault said he could name many.
“I think lawyers here are every bit as good and others deserve some recognition,” DeVault said.
According to its website, Super Lawyers is a rating service of “outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.”
The selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluation.
Some might be critical that such lists are just popularity contests. But Coxe says as he was told long ago, “I’d rather be on it than not.”
He said one of the benefits of working outside of Jacksonville is the recognition that comes with helping other attorneys across the state.
DeVault agreed with the sentiment, saying the firm’s attorneys meet clients all over the state and “if we do a good job, they look at us favorably.”
Also making the cut was Brian Coughlin, who was named a “Rising Star” this year.
Coughlin has been practicing since 2003 and worked for the State Attorney’s Office before joining the firm.
Coxe and DeVault said they were particularly proud of one of their peers: Courtney Grimm, who was named as a Top 50 female attorney in the state.
“It’s difficult for female lawyers to get known,” DeVault said.
She was one of two from Jacksonville to garner the distinction. The other was Marianne Lloyd Aho, now a circuit court judge.
“Obviously, I am pretty honored,” Grimm said. “It’s pretty special to be a part of that group.”
She has been practicing since 1992 and focuses on litigation in commercial, construction and contracts areas, along with legal malpractice defense.
Grimm said that other than practicing around the state, she’s been involved in both the local and state Bar and holds a leadership position with the Trial Lawyers Section of The Florida Bar.
The number of recognitions in this particular publication are high, but Coxe said it’s indicative of why he came to the firm in 1996. Driving past the office then on a Saturday morning, there were a dozen cars in the parking lot.
Similarly, when DeVault said when he was in law school, there were professionalism classes once a week. Lawyers, judges and others came to speak and one night Judge Tyrie A. Boyer told the class about a Jacksonville firm that always was prepared and knew the law backward and forward.
It was the Bedell firm. DeVault’s response?
“That’s where I want to be.”
And he has been for more than 40 years.