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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 3, 201905:10 AM EST

Commentary: The lunch invitation that came out of the blue

It’s how I became a committee chair.

By Scott Fortune, JBA Labor and Employment Committee chair

My involvement with the Jacksonville Bar Association Labor and Employment Committee began with a phone call about five years ago.

“Scott, Tom Harper is on line 1,” my legal assistant announced over my office intercom.

The call was out of the blue, in the middle of the week. Although I knew of Harper & Gerlach, and had litigated a case with Gregg Gerlach, I had not met Tom.

I asked my assistant to put the call through. Much to my surprise, Tom asked if he could take me to lunch. I asked what he wanted to meet about and he told me he just wanted to talk about my practice.

About a week later, we had lunch at a Thai restaurant that used to be across the street from my office.

Tom told me that he had been serving for several years as the chair of the Labor and Employment Committee and he was ready to pass the torch. He asked if I would be interested in serving as his co-chair, so that I might learn about the role.

Now let me back up a bit.

When I was a brand-new lawyer in 1981, fresh out of the University of Florida Levin School of Law, I worked at two Jacksonville law firms before starting my own practice in 1985.

Each of those firms were led by lawyers who had served, or would soon serve, as president of The Florida Bar. They also had served in various capacities with the JBA. Each of them encouraged me to join the JBA and to actively participate on the committees.

Good advice, but I didn’t follow it.

Whether it was immaturity on my part, a lack of social skills or some other reason, I don’t know. But back then I felt that I didn’t “fit in” at Bar functions and stopped attending them soon after my first few meetings.

The call from Tom came about 30 years later. I had been running my own law practice during that time and had enjoyed some successes practicing labor and employment law in and around Florida.

I’m not sure whether it was because I had matured during those 30 years, or had acquired some better social skills, but I was flattered by the invitation and honored to accept it. Tom walked me through it for several meetings and eventually he turned it over to me.

While having the privilege of serving as chair during the past several years, and with significant assistance from Allison Fielding-Cook and Katie Belock, my legal assistants, I have held meetings about once a quarter.

I have tried to include as many of my labor and employment colleagues as possible in each meeting. Because roughly 90 percent of the committee members represent management, they comprise most of the members who attend our informal luncheons. We also typically have a good sprinkling of plaintiff’s lawyers.

At our meetings, one or two attorneys give a presentation about some aspect of their practice, followed by questions and discussion among all members.

The gatherings are a lot of fun for me and they provide a way to spend time with colleagues in a nonadversarial context.

Because I remember how uncomfortable I was at Bar functions as a young attorney, I make it my mission at each of these meetings to reach out to the younger attorneys to include them in the discussions we have.

It’s about time for me to be reaching out to another attorney and asking him or her to lunch, to see if they might like to co-chair the committee in the future.

Scott Fortune represents employees in all industries, focusing primarily on highly compensated individuals.

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