Let’s get on with it.
That’s what William Van Nortwick Jr. told himself as he was deciding whether to seek another term on the 1st District Court of Appeal or get on with the next phase of his career.
Pursuing another term would have meant retiring in August when he turned 70, as mandated by Florida’s constitution. It’s something Van Nortwick’s friend, famed state Supreme Court Justice Ray Ehrlich, labeled “constitutional senility.”
Van Nortwick decided to leave the appellate court after 20 years. But he wasn’t ready to leave the law.
He met with four Jacksonville firms with appellate practices and who specialize in business law, which is what Van Nortwick did as a private attorney.
Akerman met both of those needs and offered something else that’s important to him — a strong pro bono committee throughout the national firm’s offices.
He was sold.
Van Nortwick will join Akerman’s Jacksonville office in January as a member of firm’s appellate practice and partner-in-charge of the firm’s national pro bono program.
“Ultimately,” he said, “the decision was pretty clear.”
Jacksonville is home. It’s where he practiced law before becoming an appellate judge. It’s where he served for years on the board of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. And it’s where he and his wife, Maria Henderson, have spent many weekends in their condo.
“I love the beach,” he said. “Taking a run on the beach is something you just can’t do in Tallahassee.”
In the pro bono part of his new job, Van Nortwick will build on the firm’s commitment to education and youth development issues through its “Give Back” program.
Pro bono efforts have been a staple of Van Nortwick’s career from the beginning.
As a judge, he couldn’t handle pro bono cases, but he still was involved in the issue. For example, he helped lead the push behind the statewide One Campaign to increase the number of lawyers doing pro bono work.
He’s concerned about the recent funding cuts for legal aid offices, which he said has resulted in the loss of “almost an entire generation of dedicated public servants.”
On the appellate side of his job at Akerman, he will join a team that includes three other former appellate court judges.
Gerald B. Cope Jr., who co-chairs Akerman’s appellate practice, called Van Nortwick a “brilliant appellate judge, held in the highest esteem by members of the bench and the Bar.”
"His depth of knowledge and power of analysis will contribute immeasurably to the work we do for clients,” said Cope, who is a former chief judge of Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Van Nortwick looks forward to arguing a case in front of his soon-to-be former colleagues, hopefully in the first four or five months of next year.
He knows how they think and he knows how they analyze cases.
“I know all of those judges personally. It will be fun allowing them to ask me hard questions,” Van Nortwick said.
And yes, he admitted, he’ll be a little nervous.
“If you’re invested in something you always have a combination of a little bit of nervousness and a little bit of adrenaline,” Van Nortwick said.
One of the bonuses of joining Akerman is working with his wife, who became part of the firm after a 2004 merger with Katz, Kutter, Aldrman & Bryant.
“I look forward to riding in in the morning, sharing the commute, having lunch,” he said of spending time with his wife.
Moving back to Jacksonville will also allow him to no longer live in a hotel. The couple put their Tallahassee home on the market eight or nine months ago based on the real estate agent saying the market might mean a long wait in finding a buyer.
The house sold in less than four weeks. He’s been staying in a hotel when he has to be in Tallahassee.
Van Nortwick says he’s missed staying in touch with a lot of attorneys he’s known through the years. Being an appellate court judge, he said, tends to be isolating.
Lawyers tend to be nervous about maintaining relationships with colleagues who become judges, he said.
He understands them calling him “judge” when in a public setting.
But, Van Nortwick said, even in private social moments at a dinner, “I can’t get people I know to call me Bill.”