"Aside from a focus on writing, I think being a good litigator is a lot like being a good historian."
Jennifer Shoaf Richardson, an associate at Jackson Lewis, is president of the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association.
When she completes her term with the local organization in 2018, she will be sworn in as president of the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, the first president from Jacksonville of the statewide organization in more than 20 years.
She was a member of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division board of governors from 2012 to 2014 and currently serves on The Florida Bar Code and Rules of Evidence Committee and the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Equal Justice Committee.
Who or what inspired you to become a lawyer? My mom, stepdad and dad are lawyers. Our home was full of debate and our ideas were constantly challenged and tested.
I decided I would actually take the leap in college, after seeing my stepdad receive The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Award for the 1st Judicial Circuit at the Supreme Court of Florida for an environmental case he handled — and we got a behind-the-scenes tour.
One person (other than your spouse or partner) who inspires you: 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Stephanie Williams Ray.
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law? Aside from a focus on writing, I think being a good litigator is a lot like being a good historian. We dig in to find the best primary sources of information. We interview witnesses at all levels in every case. We test all available evidence for reliability. Finally, we weave it into a compelling story for our clients and the court.
How did you decide your practice area? My career started out quite broad, doing all kinds of appellate work. It has narrowed over time to employment law. My focus on employment law is a natural consequence of my work on gender equality in the legal profession and the community at large. I have the opportunity to work with employers and management on addressing discrimination in the workplace, preventing sexual harassment, achieving pay equity and instituting best practices for their employment relationships.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar? Especially in this moment, it is more commonplace for the business community and consumers to genuinely care about diversity in the workplace. There is a recognition that diversity is good for the bottom line and leads to better decision making.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law? In a world where we create data about ourselves constantly on our smart devices, the degree to which our courts and society value privacy and protect it will be challenged. Employers will have to continue to strike a balance between monitoring their employees’ performance and not intruding on their privacy.
I am a part of my firm’s privacy, e-communication and data security practice group where we are constantly advising clients on areas where there is not currently an abundance of case law. I expect the law in this area to develop further in the next decade.
The automation of the workforce is also sure to be a game-changer for the workplace.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would ... Make simple cases move through the state court system more quickly. We could do this by adopting federal procedures in our state courts.
However, the judicial branch would have to be better funded than it is currently.
What community service have you pursued and why that? Through Bar service, I have had the opportunity to mentor students from Ribault High School and Girls Court.
I also support Jacksonville Area Legal Aid every chance that I get and my firm is proud to do pro bono work for Wounded Warrior Project and the Girl Scouts.
For me, community service has the most value when I use my legal skills. I have had the opportunity to work on high-impact pro bono appeals as well, which have had long-term impacts on the law and our community.
One piece of advice for new lawyers? Working for excellent lawyers, who push you to perform at a high level and challenge you, is the best thing you can do for your career. It will not always be easy, but it will be worth it.