Attorneys who stay dedicated in the field long enough know what can happen.
Charles Commander remembered what it was like when he started practicing law 50 years ago.
“A lot of them died at their desk,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that.”
He’s not doing that — he officially retired as a partner from Foley & Lardner when he turned 70 in 2010. At 75, though, he’s still around, still has a desk in the firm’s 13th floor offices Downtown in the Wells Fargo Center.
He’s just not around nearly as much. On Friday, he popped in the office to catch up on calls and emails after a fishing excursion with his sons and grandchildren in the Bahamas.
Although he doesn’t do daily legal work, he’s still an active Florida Bar member and helps the firm and his colleagues develop strategies. A career in business and real estate law has meant a lot of lessons learned and advice to provide.
The longevity will be a reason to celebrate this week in Orlando. Along with 13 other 4th Judicial Circuit attorneys, Commander is being honored for being in The Florida Bar for 50 years.
He didn’t think he’d be at it this long, but can’t see himself voluntarily quitting.
“I was amazed,” he said. “One day, I was 50 and then all of the sudden, I was 70. The time just flew by.”
John Donahoo Jr. didn’t think he’d still be practicing at this point in his life, either.
“Not in my wildest dream,” he said.
Donahoo worked in the city general counsel’s office under former Mayor Hans Tanzler but has made a career with estate planning and trusts. That’s included assisting charities and their giving.
He’s still active, although he considers himself “semi-retired” at age 78.
Joseph Duszlak remembers when his father turned 65. He and his sister tried talking him into retiring from his surplus shop.
It didn’t work — Dad didn’t retire until he was 68.
Looking back on those conversations, Duszlak laughs. He’s 74 now and still at it, although he’s winding down his work.
He stopped taking on guardianship cases — some of which have needed attention annually for up to 30 years.
“You can’t just stop,” he said. “I still have people who call me.”
The transition toward retirement is becoming a little easier now that the building he owned Downtown sold in the past year.
“It’s been a good run,” said Duszlak.
Fifty years of lawyering have come with 50 years of lessons learned — and solid advice along the way.
Commander said his best advice came from Guy Botts, the one-time head of Barnett Bank, who told him there were two kinds of attorneys out there: green-light lawyers and red-light lawyers.
Red-lighters would say there was a problem that couldn’t be fixed. Green-lighters would know there was an issue, but could find a solution.
The advice? Be a green-lighter.
“That and return your clients phone calls every day,” said Commander, “or someday they’ll be going someplace else.”
Donahoo’s best advice came from his father. The former attorney for Nina Cummer, the museum’s namesake, provided words that bear true not just in the legal world, but life, he said.
“You have to have honor and integrity in what you do so tomorrow you won’t regret it,” said Donahoo.
As for Duszlak, he remembers the way things were, when establishing solid relationships with judicial assistants and the judiciary was easier in the former courthouse. Maybe the best advice for young attorneys?
“Be respectful to the judiciary,” he said with a laugh.
Solid advice — words any attorney wanting to make it 50 years should probably heed.
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