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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 14, 200412:00 PM EST

Partners have seen the law from both sides

by: Richard Prior

by Richard Prior

Staff Writer

Both partners agree that the heart of their practice found its beat outside of law school.

In her first career, Ann Smith took her bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in business administration to Barnett Bank. She worked with distressed properties and in land acquisition and development.

Deborah Greene got a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and worked in advertising and marketing for close to four years.

Separately, they decided they needed a change.

Smith went to the University of Florida, where she graduated from law school with honors.

“I loved what I did at Barnett Bank,” she said. “But I had a 3- and a 5-year-old, and I didn’t think I would do as well for the family if I stayed in that career.”

Greene had considered going back to school for a master’s in art history and teaching. A Ph.D. would follow. She could become a college professor “and kind of satisfy that yen for teaching.”

Her father, attorney Ralph Greene, talked her into going to law school at Florida State University, where she graduated with high honors.

“Anybody who knows my father knows how extremely persuasive he can be,” said Greene. “I think it was a good decision. I’ve been very happy in my career.

“I have to say, ‘Thanks, Dad.’ ”

After graduation, both women were recruited by a large commercial litigation firm that later merged with Holland & Knight.

Smith was then recruited by one of those initial partners. Greene worked for an attorney who does private investigation and insurance defense before going into joint practice with her husband, Steven Combs, now the Clay County general master.

She then joined Smith at her new company.

“When we started, Deborah was doing commercial litigation, and I was doing the opposite, transactional work. Real estate, contracts, corporations,” Smith said. “When we have a big case to try, Deborah is very good at putting together all the different things we have, be it testimony, documentary evidence, presenting argument, whatever. She brings it all together in a way that presents it best. That’s sort of a marketing thing.”

Greene said she and Smith have an advantage over other partners through a blend of their academic skills, earlier careers and legal training.

“We were both trained as commercial litigators,” Greene said. “That’s the kind of practice that requires a lot of discipline and focus and attention to detail.

“It also requires you to become accustomed to interacting with very sophisticated clients. That is something we bring to our family law practice that I think is unique in the family law bar.”

The new firm of Smith & Greene specializes in commercial and civil litigation, matrimonial and family law, employment law and appellate work.

Their new office will be Suite 1150 at 550 W. Water St. The first “official” day of business, Jan. 2, was at Suite 1373, where the new partners will be until renovations are complete, in about three weeks.

Smith said there hasn’t been enough time yet to know if they will be working harder than before. And the tone said it really didn’t make much difference.

“Because we’ve been lawyers for a long time, we already have the discipline to do what we have to,” she said.

Greene agreed.

“That’s another thing about coming from a commercial litigation background,” she said. “You learn immediately to work very hard and work whatever hours are necessary to get the job done.”

Smith and Greene also appreciate that there is more than one kind of “time.”

“Quality time is much better than quantity time,” said Smith. “Clients in a lot of cases feel their lawyers aren’t paying enough attention to them. You would rather have more time with a client who needs you than have more clients.”

Not surprisingly, Greene nodded throughout the answer.

“I think part of our view of interacting with clients comes from the fact we were in careers other than law before we came to law,” she said. “We know what it’s like to be a client.

“You go to law school and learn to think about legal theories and think about the law. And you have to have those skills to be an effective advocate. But, sometimes in developing those skills, some lawyers can lose sight of the personal side of building a relationship with your client.

“We know what we would want from our lawyer if we were the client sitting on the other side of the table. It goes back to treating others the way you would like to be treated.”

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