Elizabeth Ferguson is a shareholder with the Marshall, Dennehy, Warner, Coleman & Goggin law firm, she practices in the Professional Liability Department.
Who or what inspired you to become a lawyer?
When I was in kindergarten, our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Everyone else picked teacher, firefighter, doctor, etc., but I said a lawyer, which was funny, because I did not know any. So, I am not sure if I can credit the inspiration to everyone telling me I should be a lawyer because I argued so much, or my mom’s tireless dedication to “L.A. Law,” “Hill Street Blues” and “Cagney & Lacey.”
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law?
As an English major, I learned how to do a lot of reading in a short amount of time and how to write a 20-page paper at 1 a.m. without much preparation. Most importantly, after a semester of student teaching, I knew for sure that others were better suited to teaching Greek mythology to high school students than I was.
How did you decide your practice area?
Both my dad and my brother are engineers, so I grew up being around construction. During my first year of law school I was lucky enough to work as a legal assistant for a construction lawyer. Since I had been around building plans, I felt comfortable with the documents and terminology. I enjoyed that with each case I was able to learn about different types of construction. I also liked that site inspections gave me more excuses to wear jeans to work.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar?
This is going to make me sound old, but the speed of the practice. When I started practicing in 2002, email was used, but not consistently. Now it is almost the sole form of communication. Exchanges with opposing counsel that used to take two weeks are now done in minutes.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law?
I think in all areas of the law, alternative fee arrangements will continue to take a bigger role in our relationships with our clients. As technology continues to grow, we will face greater competition from online legal entities such as LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Avvo.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would:
Remind attorneys that there is a difference between being a zealous advocate and taking a case personally. Being a lawyer is hard enough without attorneys being unprofessional to one another.
What community service have you pursued and why?
When I moved to Florida in 2002, I did not know many people. Getting involved has helped me to make lifelong friends while also giving back. I was elected to the JBA Young Lawyers Section in 2006 and worked my way up to president of that organization in 2011. In 2012, I was elected to the JBA board of governors and now serve as the treasurer. The JBA is an excellent organization that gives back to the legal community and the Jacksonville community as a whole in so many ways, and I am lucky to be a part of it. I have volunteered with the ACE Mentor Program of Northeast Florida, which helps introduce high school students to careers in construction. I have also volunteered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which holds a special place in my heart after losing a close friend to suicide.
What’s your advice for new lawyers?
Find a mentor. I have been very lucky to have several great mentors and would not be where I am in my career without their patience and guidance. Lawyers tend to think we know everything, but we don’t. As a young lawyer, you need someone you can turn to for advice and constructive criticism. Even now, I have several close friends who are attorneys and we look to each other for advice and input on not only the practice of law, but the business aspect of it as well.