by Patti Connor
Howard Coker is taking the reins of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers.
At the association’s annual convention held recently in Orlando, Coker was named president of the group.
Past president of The Florida Bar for 1998-1999, Coker has been involved with the academy for about 15 years.
“Basically, what we do, is try fervently to preserve and protect those laws that protect Florida’s families, so as to make Florida a safer, cleaner, better place for us to live,” he said.
The group focuses primarily on legislature affecting issues such as nursing home care, workers compensation and medical malpractice. In existence for 30 years, the organization includes trial lawyers involved in the legislative and public arenas. Currently, there are 5,000 members, 4,000 of whom are trial lawyers. The others are affiliate members.
According to Coker, a self-professed “homegrown product” who was born and raised in Jacksonville, the legal profession has undergone several significant “pendulum changes” since he hung out his shingle after graduating from the University of Florida Law School.
“When I first started, the law practice was very civil. Then that changed, and the Rambo, or scorched-earth style of litigation, came into vogue. Now we’re seeing a return to what I call civil advocacy. Mainly, I attribute [that] to our educational institutions emphasizing ethics and civility in their advocacy programs,” he said.
The basic goal of the bipartisan, issue-oriented organization, according to Coker, is to “make Florida a better place for working-class citizens.”
A total of six board of directors meetings are held during the year, with topics ranging from legislative bills to the support of various political candidates. In addition, said Coker, “During the legislative session in March and April, we are in Tallahassee on a daily basis, working to assure safety of the Florida people as well as insure access to the courts.”
It can hardly be said that Coker came to the legal profession by accident. Since fifth grade, the father of two married children has known he wanted to be a trial lawyer.
“I saw it as a way to help people. To me, that has always been one of the most satisfying aspects.”
Growing up in St. Nicholas, he can remember riding his bike along expressway systems that were at that time brand new.
“I’ve literally seen Jacksonville grow from a sleepy little town into a major metropolis,” he said.