'Working as a journalist, I observed many legal matters from the sidelines and reached a point where it was time to leave the sidelines and jump into the arena.'
Edward Birk is a shareholder at Marks Gray who recently was elected vice president of the Association of Defense Trial Attorneys. Birk also is chair of the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Health & Wellness Committee.
Who or what inspired you to become a lawyer? Coming of age during the civil rights movement, Vietnam War and Watergate, I witnessed the importance of our legal system and news media. Years later, working as a journalist, I observed many legal matters from the sidelines and reached a point where it was time to leave the sidelines and jump into the arena. Now, helping people and businesses, especially news organizations, achieve their goals is one of the most meaningful professional pursuits I can imagine.
One person other than my spouse who inspires me: My father. He loved us enough to always tell us what we needed to hear, not what we wanted to hear.
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law? Accuracy, brevity and clarity were the hallmarks of my training in journalism school. The ability to communicate accurately, concisely and clearly, along with the ability to find and synthesize reams of information are important skills for any lawyer.
How did you decide your practice area? And why have you chosen that? The opportunity to represent WJXT TV-4 and other news organizations was presented to me 20 years ago as a result of the community involvement and networking of my partner Jerry Weedon. Many times young lawyers are assigned work in particular areas that they may or may not be interested in and they develop proficiencies in those areas. The chance to represent reporters and news organizations is a real gift. My other work in labor and employment, municipal liability, ERISA and products liability also derived from the same philosophy of service to the community and to the profession.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar? In the past, knowing where to find information could be an advantage in litigation (and journalism). The internet has leveled that playing field by making broader sources of information more readily available than ever before. As we have also seen, the internet has amplified the ability to spread disinformation with greater speed than ever before. Nonetheless, the old rules still apply: Check your sources and think about what they are telling you.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law? Artificial intelligence and the merging of human and machine knowledge will continue to change our profession in ways that are difficult to envision. Many of our technology pioneers—Bill Gates and Steve Jobs among them—have said we need to pay close attention now to how artificial intelligence may change our lives tomorrow.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would: Facilitate more jury trials. Mediation is wonderful, but one downside is the disappearing jury trial. Everything an attorney does in litigation is driven by what happens at trial. With the jury trial becoming less available to new lawyers, those skills are not being developed as they once were. As my evidence professor said, once a new attorney gets his teeth kicked in a few times in trial, he starts to know what he’s talking about.
What community service have you pursued and why that? Dan Bean invited me to play Santa Claus 20 years ago for the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Christmas in January program. I made connections with other newbie lawyers during that experience who remain friends and acquaintances today. I am involved with my parish council and church school board, the Ronald McDonald House and Duval County Teen Court. I serve on the board of the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach and am chairing the JBA’s Health and Wellness Committee.
What’s your advice for new lawyers? Never mistake courtesy for weakness.