Since John Mills opened his own law firm in July, he has been so busy that he has not even had time to hang pictures in his office in the Greenleaf building. Mills decided to leave Foley and Lardner to pursue his dream of an appellate-only firm.
BEFORE HIS OWN FIRM?
He practiced commercial and appellate litigation with Foley & Lardner for five years. “I did about half trial work and half appellate work. Most of my appeals came from lawyers within the firm. It was very difficult to bring in new appeals from another firm because there is a hesitancy for a lawyer to give a case to a big firm where they may lose their client because the big firm does everything else. I spent a lot of time doing market research to see if there was a need for an appellate-only law firm and found that there was. It’s much easier for me to get referrals when I’m on my own and I’m only doing appellate work because I am not competing with the trial lawyers.”
WHO IS IN HIS OFFICE?
Just Mills and his secretary, Jennifer Bryant.
WHAT DOES BRYANT DO?
“She organizes everything. She is the secretary, paralegal, administrator, receptionist, filer and counselor.”
WHAT HAPPENS IN
“When you appeal, you are going to different court and it is a very different method of litigating. Instead of having a jury and a trial judge, you have three appellate judges. You are limited to what happened at the trial and you can’t bring in anybody new to testify or new evidence. It’s simply arguing the law. It’s more of a academic intellectual-type exercise. The main form is through drafting a brief, which is a long document that explains what happened in the trial, talks about what is in the record, things that were admitted into evidence and then presents all the law and argues why the result should be as you want it, based on the law. It’s very research intensive, writing intensive and uses a lot of analysis.”
WHY WOULD THE ATTORNEY WHO ARGUED THE CASE INITIALLY NOT DO THE APPEAL?
Mills said there are very different skills involved in appellate law. The appellate judges do not want to hear a jury argument. They are very well educated in the law and do not want to feel that you are trying to sway them based on emotion. They just want to know what the law is. The appellate lawyer takes the record and bases his argument off of the record only, not everything involved in the entire trial. “A lot of trial lawyers do not like to do appeals because it is a very different exercise. You’d have to like writing and researching and a lot of trial lawyers would rather be in the court or taking depositions. Their skills are also more suited for that.”
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF BEING A ONE-LAWYER FIRM?
“I came from being in a place where I had tremendous support. We had a (nationwide) staff of 1,500 people and 890 other lawyers. I do kind of miss that. But, there is a lot of bureaucracy that comes with that and I love being able to decide what my business cards will look like, what’s on the website, what’s our policy on this or that. I really haven’t experienced a downside yet.”
HOW DID HE GET EXPERIENCE WRITING BRIEFS?
He clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Gerald Tjoflat for one year.
WITHIN APPELLATE LAW WHAT KIND OF CASES DOES HE HANDLE?
Criminal, civil, commercial, personal injury and real estate appeals.
Mills created his own website that is divided into two sections, one for non-lawyers and one for lawyers. The non-lawyer section explains who he is and what his firm does is simple English, while the lawyer section gives information and uses terms that are lawyer focused and may not be understood by non-lawyers.
WILL YOU GROW THE FIRM?
“I will probably add one or two more lawyers in the next six months.” But, he said he is only interested in attorneys who will focus on an appellate only practice. He handles cases state-wide from Jacksonville and is looking to team up with other attorneys in different parts of the state to create a state-wide appellate law firm.
He is the chair of the appellate practice section of the Jacksonville Bar Association and is a member of the board of directors of the appellate section of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. He is also a barrister in the Chester Bedell Inn of Court and is active in the local chapters of the Federal Bar Association and The Florida Bar.
He has served as the special counsel to the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates and prosecutes judicial misconduct. He filed an Amicus Curiae Brief on behalf of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. “It was a case in front of the 11th Circuit Federal Court involving credit insurance. I filed a brief to help the court reached the right result by giving them some policy arguments that the parties to the case didn’t give. That only happens in very important cases.”
WHO ARE YOUR CLIENTS?
“I do not have institutional clients. The trial lawyers send me the work and a lot of times I won’t even speak with the client. I am handling the legal aspects of the case so, there is no real purpose for me to communicate directly with the client, unless the client wants to so they can have confidence in their appellate lawyer. And I’m happy to do that.”
He has been married to Mignon for eight years. They have two children, Dryden, 4 and
He enjoys spending time with his family, going to the beach and traveling.
— by Michele Newbern Gillis