Started in 1965 by Dan Coffman, it is the largest firm in Jacksonville that represents management in labor and employment matters and litigation. Daily Record staff writer Michele Newbern Gillis met recently with managing partner Patrick Coleman and partners Robert Riegel Jr., Timothy Strong and Heather Owen to discuss the firm.
WHO WORKS AT THE FIRM?
Patrick Coleman, William Andrews, Mike Grogan, Eric Holshouser, Mary Jarrett, Robert Riegel Jr., Michael Prendergast, Timothy Strong, Heather Owen, Jeffrey Watson and Robert Devin are partners. Allison Brody, Eugenia Donahoo, Melissa Dearing, Teresa Arington and Amy Reisinger are associates. They also have eight secretaries, two paralegals, two billing employees, an office administrator and a receptionist.
WHAT DoES THE MANAGING PARTNER DO?
“Litigate cases, counsel employers, make day-to-day business decisions to run the firm,” said Coleman. He is also responsible for the finances of the firm.
WHAT DOES THE FIRM DO?
They have 18 attorneys who focus on labor and employment matters and litigation exclusively. They also counsel employers and give seminars regarding the National Labor Relations Act, employment discrimination laws, the Florida Public Employees Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, civil rights laws, government contracts, wrongful discharge and various other federal and state laws and litigation which affect the employer/employee relationship.
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
“It covers just about any kind of problem an employer can have with an employee,” said Coleman. “Anything from a discrimination lawsuit, union organizing, a suit under the Wage and Hour Law or the Family Medical Leave Act,” said Coleman.
HOW DOES COUNSELING EMPLOYERS HELP?
“Very much part of what we do is educating our clients on compliance with the law. As new laws are passed, they look to us to guide them as how to comply with them. We give seminars, train supervisors and answer questions on a daily basis. A good piece of our work is dealing with in-house counsel or human resource professionals on problem situations anything from a termination to a disciplinary situation,” said Coleman.
They are building a new 20,000 square-foot building in LaVilla at 800 W. Monroe St. next to Elkins Constructors and two blocks from new Duval County Courthouse. Their current location is in Riverside, where they have been since 1973. “We are moving because we have outgrown this building,” said Coleman. “The practice is growing and we are adding a lawyer a year. We thought they were going to put the new Duval County Courthouse somewhere in that part of the city and it would be helpful to be close to it. We wanted to be close to the federal courthouse [United States Courthouse at Jacksonville] and it was just good fortune that they put the Duval County Courthouse between the federal courthouse and our new location.”
WHO DO YOU REPRESENT?
“Someone with three or four employees up to Fortune 500 companies and everything in between,” said Coleman. Clients include Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Schering, Winn-Dixie, Modis, Dillards and Citibank. “We represent local companies that are small employers in Jacksonville, local branches of national companies, regional companies and national clients,” said Strong.
WHERE DO YOU PRACTICE?
“We try cases in front of state and federal courts and administrative agencies,” said Riegel. “It’s a very broad practice in terms of where we litigate.” Geographically, they handle cases from Maine to California.
WHY DEFEND MANAGERS?
“It probably goes back to before the Civil Rights Act when labor lawyers were pretty much on the side of unions or on the side of management,” said Coleman. “We evolved as a management law firm.”
HOW CAN THIS HELP OTHER EMPLOYEES?
“When we counsel our clients on what is the right thing to do, it often ends up being beneficial for not only an employee who thinks they are having a problem, but if that employee is a problem employee, it helps the other employees who have to deal with that employee as well,” said Owen. “Most employers want to treat their employees fairly. They want to do the right thing, but a lot of times the right thing isn’t what the law says they can do.”
WHAT DOES YOUR FIRM OFFER CLIENTS?
“One of the main reasons clients come to this law firm is our depth,” said Coleman. “We have so many experienced lawyers that if you call and Robert Riegel is out of the city, you can get another attorney instead. We have a minimum of two lawyers assigned to every litigation case. We all do the same thing and we have the benefit of everyone else’s collective experiences here.”
“When it comes to employment law, we cover it all,” said Riegel.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR ATTORNEYS?
“We have only had one lateral lawyer, ever. We train all of our lawyers right out of law school,” said Coleman.
All of the lawyers are members of the Jacksonville Bar Association. One of the partners, Mike Prendergast, is a past president of the JBA. “We encourage our lawyers to be very busy in the labor and employment section of The Florida Bar and we’ve had various people on the executive committee,” said Coleman.
WHAT MAKES YOUR FIRM UNIQUE?
“Not only do we all do the same thing, but we all enjoy what we do and enjoy working with each other,” said Strong. “It’s a very collegial atmosphere in the office. Things get stressful, but there isn’t any artificial stress. We all legitimately enjoy working together.”
“Our work really is interesting work,” said Coleman. “Every time the phone rings you hear about some new situation involving an employee in the work place. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, the phone rings again and you hear something you’ve never heard of before.”
“We do it all,” said Riegel. “We are very much involved in many charitable boards. Typically when one of our attorneys goes on a board, they work hard and work into leadership positions.”
— by Michele Newbern-Gillis