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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Feb. 18, 200312:00 PM EST

Profile: Schuyler Stewart Smith:

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The Creditors' Rights Law Firm of Florida

WHAT ATTORNEYS ARE ON STAFF?

Schuyler [pronounced Sky-ler] Stewart Smith is the principal partner. He has two associates, Chad Dean and Wayne Singletary, and two attorneys of-counsel, Lawrence J. Bernard locally and Dennis LeVine in Tampa.

WHAT IS AN ATTORNEY OF-COUNSEL?

“Larry is closely associated with us, primarily doing foreclosure work, but he has his own real estate practice on the Northside,” said Smith. “He has 25-26 years of real estate experience. Dennis has a similar practice to ours. I’m of counsel with his firm, too.”

WHAT’S WITH THE FIRM’S TAG LINE?

The use of tag lines is a trend that Smith decided to employ. He uses the phrase, The Creditors’ Rights Law Firm of Florida, to distinguish the specialty of his firm. “We’re in the process of trademarking it.”

WHAT TYPE OF LAW DOES HE PRACTICE?

“We have three main forms of representation, primarily on secured debt: replevin, foreclosure and creditor bankruptcy representation,” said Smith. “Chad is mainly responsible for replevin cases — it’s like a foreclosure except it involves personal property with a lien against it such as a car or a boat — where there’s been a default in payments.”

BANKRUPTCY WORK?

“Creditors will retain us to protect their collateral interests in a bankruptcy,” said Smith. “That’s the big volume because of the number of businesses and individuals that have to file for bankruptcy. It can be a consumer or a commercial matter. Basic consumer transactions happen when someone purchases something for personal, as opposed to, a business use. But it could be, say, a company with a line of trucks that have been financed. We do both.”

ARE CONSUMER OR COMMERCIAL BANKRUPTCIES MORE DIFFICULT?

“If you’re dealing with consumers, you have consumer protection laws. Lenders and law firms really need to know the state and federal laws. On the commercial side, there isn’t any consumer protectionism so we have to tiptoe more with consumer transactions. Bankruptcy laws are designed to protect debtors. There is a need to have the opportunity for individuals and businesses to file bankruptcy. Some of the most successful people in our nation have had businesses go under.”

WHY THE GENTLE APPROACH?

“In the old days, there was a stigma attached [to filing for bankruptcy]. Not anymore. Our clients are careful because they want that person to continue to be a customer. How we deal with that person in that context is important.”

PAST EXPERIENCE

“Wayne and I were at Bray & Singletary,” said Smith. “Wayne and Jim Bray founded that firm. They kept the name, but Wayne has not been there for three years.”

WHAT HAS HE BEEN DOING?

“Wayne is teaching legal certification at FCCJ full-time,” said Smith. “He jumps back and forth [from instructor to lawyer]. He wanted to get out of the rat race but when we opened, he came on board so he could get back in. He doesn’t carry a full case load, though, so he’s not overwhelmed.”

“It’s a good way for him to keep active handling litigation and transactional work,” added Dean.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

“We started this firm approximately a year ago,” said Smith. “Out of law school, I was with Marks Gray. Then, I was at Bray & Singletary for almost 20 years where I developed my client base that followed me here. Chad was a law clerk for me while at Florida Coastal School of Law.”

WHERE DID SMITH GO TO SCHOOL?

University of Florida. Singletary is also a UF graduate. Bernard attended Mercer University and LeVine earned his degree from George Washington University.

WHY ESTABLISH YOUR OWN FIRM?

“To get into more advanced technology that would allow me and the people I work with to serve clients better,” said Smith. “Bray & Singletary is a collections law firm. They are basically at the other end of the equation, collecting charged-off accounts. I was more oriented to defense litigation, replevin and foreclosure. I had carved out my own niche and decided it was time to make a move, break away and take it to the next level. I needed to develop resources to handle that [kind of work]. When we set up this firm, I spent a great deal on computer equipment with sophisticated case management software so we can be in line with our clients. Our clients are very large financial institutions with thousands of accounts so they want to turn them around quickly.”

“We communicate mostly by e-mail to meet the demands of our clients,” added Dean. “They prefer to get updates and copies of orders that way — instantaneously.”

IS DEAN NATIVE TO JACKSONVILLE?

“Originally, I’m from West Virginia,” said Dean. “I looked all over at law schools. I almost went to Ohio. My choice was between an urban city or the beach. I picked the beach. After developing a good working relationship with Sky, I decided I would stay [in Jacksonville].”

Smith was born in Minnesota and grew up in Jacksonville.

WHERE DOES HE SEE THE FIRM HEADED?

“This firm will grow a little,” said Smith. “We will expand and add another attorney this year. We’ll add two or three associates [in the future] and probably two more staff members in the next three to four months. We have the luxury of being able to hold off business. We have an extensive client base of financial institutions, lenders and banks — all nationally based. But we can’t grow too quickly so that we can’t service what we have.”

WILL HE ADD PARTNERS?

“Once Chad pays his dues, he’ll become partner. I’m going to add more people. They’re going to be the future of the firm.”

WHAT IS YOUR BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY?

“Service clients and everything else falls into place,” said Smith. “To do that we have to be organized, efficient and responsive to our clients needs and expectations.”

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY HELPED HIS PRACTICE?

“We have a statewide practice, handling cases from Pensacola to Tampa, Jacksonville to Miami,” said Smith. “Before, we had to do hearings in front of the judge. Today, the judges prefer to do it over the phone. Our clients don’t have to worry about finding a lawyer in every city. We don’t have to be in Jacksonville. We can be anywhere in the state. We haven’t targeted our exposure to Northeast Florida, but we’re starting to do that.”

— by Monica Chamness

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