"My practice area of labor and employment law chose me."
Robert Riegel recently joined the Rogers Towers law firm. He is board-certified in labor and employment law by The Florida Bar.
What inspired you to become a lawyer? When I was growing up in South Carolina, my dad was a minister and one of his go-to people in the church was a good friend and a lawyer. That guy always impressed me as having a grasp on what was happening in the church and around town, and he had a terrific temperament. In law school, my eventual mentor, Dan Coffman, reaffirmed the qualities I had seen in my family friend.
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law? In my undergraduate years at Stetson University, I emphasized three areas: Political science, my major, English and business. Each of those has been important in my law practice. Political science aids me in understanding how governments and the legal system work and it has taught me a lot about analyzing motives of individuals and groups. My training in English has been a component of my writing skills. My business courses have been important in understanding critical issues for my employer clients that impact what my advice will be on significant decisions.
How did you decide your practice area? My practice area of labor and employment law chose me. I was fortunate enough to have a close friend whose family business had a union issue and I was hired as a summer associate by Dan Coffman, who was advising that company. I immediately liked the combination of litigation, counseling, administrative law and simply analyzing and dealing with human interaction and crisis management.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar? Competition is intense now compared to 30 years ago, when excellence and community involvement were all you needed to prosper. For better or for worse, marketing individually and as a firm is now critically important.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law? Substantively in labor and employment law, we watch the pendulum swinging back and forth as politics swings. I think we soon will see paid family leave, a further increase in retaliation and whistleblower litigation and significant litigation over workers in the “gig” economy, especially as to whether they are actually employees or independent contractors.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would: Look for changes to deter the filing of meritless cases that simply create costs in order to leverage settlements.
What community service have you pursued and why that? The Jacksonville Urban League and its foundation board. I always have been interested in improving communication and reconciliation between races, following my dad’s example, and I think JUL is the best platform I have seen in Northeast Florida for doing that. Also Fresh Ministries with its novel but practical concepts for helping impoverished people to help themselves. And the Episcopal Diocese of Florida. My lifelong love of the Episcopal Church has led me to serve for many years as a vice chancellor.
What’s your advice for new lawyers? Be energetic, absorb all the knowledge and experience from your environment that you can and don’t take yourself too seriously.