When Christian George enrolled at the University of Florida, he didn’t have a career in mind.
But he knew he wanted to have a good time in college.
During his junior year, George realized, “Oh, this is going to end soon, I need to figure this out.”
He asked Pensacola attorney Phil Bates, the father of a friend, if he could work in his office that summer.
It was then — between George’s intern duties of sweeping floors and getting lunch — that he found his career.
Bates took George to a three-day bench trial where two co-owners of an education company were splitting up the business. He was intrigued as he watched from the back of the courtroom.
“Just watching him work made me realize that, ‘Hey, I want to do this,’” said George, a partner in the Litigation Practice Group at Akerman.
Bates and others, including Jacksonville attorney Rut Liles, taught George about the importance of having a mentor.
George, 35, has paid that lesson forward during his career, particularly through his work with The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section and The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.
He’s president of YLS and was recently elected president-elect for 2017 of YLD, an office he’ll assume in June, then be president of the statewide group in June 2018.
George said his first year at UF’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law was the toughest. Things had come easily to him during undergrad, but he “realized I couldn’t go halfway” in law school.
He found it stimulating. “It’s almost like they teach you how to think rather than just study,” he said. “You know, how to think is more important than the substance of the matter.”
George interned for Bates the summer after his first year in law school.
He learned how to research paper books, even though secretly, he was using the computer, he said. Bates also taught him to write documents worthy of submitting to court. Plus, he shadowed him in court.
“It was an incredible experience,” George said of the summer.
He also learned another valuable lesson — the importance of having a mentor.
That was reiterated during an internship the next summer at Liles Gavin in Jacksonville, where he gained three new mentors: Liles; his cousin, Robert George; and Katie Dearing.
He left that internship with a job offer from the firm, a huge relief for George.
Reconnecting with Whitney
Returning to law school that year brought him something even more special.
It’s where he reconnected with a woman named Whitney, who was in the first year of her doctorate program to become a psychologist.
The two had grown up together in Pensacola and had mutual friends there.
“She always wanted to date me,” he said, with a smile.
That next weekend, they attended the wedding of a mutual friend.
“Then I took her out on a couple of dates and we went from there,” he said.
They were engaged two and a half years later, then married 18 months later in 2010.
Whitney has changed his life in many good ways, including having him see a psychologist.
George admits it was a process he didn’t completely trust in the beginning but soon realized the value of having someone— in addition to his wife — to talk to who isn’t going to judge him.
“It is very relaxing,” George said.
Eliminating the stigma of lawyers seeking mental health is one of the areas he’ll focus on in his YLD presidency.
Being active in Bar committees
Liles not only not George many things about practicing law, he also told him that serving the Bar is one of the most important things he could do as a lawyer.
It was advice George took to heart, quickly joining committees and being elected to the YLS Board of Governors.
Serving on YLS has given him many opportunities to help but George calls his work with the Ribault High School Future Lawyers group “the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in the community.”
It began a couple of years ago after the Jacksonville Public Education Fund approached him and several other young lawyers about establishing a mentorship program at an inner-city school.
Michael Lockamy passionately argued in a YLS meeting that the group take on either Ribault or Raines high schools.
The attorneys ultimately chose the Ribault students, who George said are as bright as other students with advantages they don’t have.
But, no one has taught them how to fill out a college application or a financial aid form. And most of their experiences in courtrooms have been negative, he said.
As can be expected, many of the students were guarded during their initial discussions with YLS members, making a breakthrough even more special.
When George reached that milestone with his mentee, he called Lockamy “with almost tears in my eyes explaining how great it felt.”
George also was touched by a volunteer experience this year when he played Santa Claus during Holidays in January, a YLS event for foster children.
As he turned to give an 18-month-old boy a Big Wheel, the child locked eyes with “Santa.”
“He just ran toward me with his arms outstretched so I did the same and hugged him,” George recalled.
He said he’d be happy to play Santa again, though he said with a laugh, “I’d like to lose weight so people would stop suggesting that.”