Michelle Bedoya Barnett is a former vice chair of the 4th Judicial Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and was appointed to the Jacksonville Ethics Commission by Mayor Lenny Curry.
Who or what inspired you to become a lawyer?
I grew up in a small town where there were only a handful of lawyers. I remember them all being involved citizens and community leaders and always being willing to help others. There was one teacher, Roger Lizotte (a former police officer turned teacher), and one lawyer in particular (now the Honorable Leandra Johnson), who especially had an impact on my decision and encouraged me along the way. Judge Johnson gave me my first internship at the state attorney’s office and was one of my mock trial coaches. Mr. Lizotte was my criminal justice teacher in high school and provided me my first lessons on the justice system. He was also instrumental in my participation in teen court as well as a mock trial, which I continued through law school. While I have told them what an impact they had on me over the years, I’m not sure they recognize the tremendous role they played in me pursuing my very fulfilling career in law.
One person (other than your spouse or partner) who inspires me:
Mary Jarrett just retired after a long and successful career as a labor and employment lawyer. She was one of the first females in Jacksonville in this field. I reached out to her even before I started working full-time and I will never forget that she promptly responded to my e-mail then and each and every time I have reached out to her for advice over the years. She’s a great lawyer and an even better person.
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law?
I was a finance major. Almost every case we touch has a damage component and I am very comfortable with numbers. My degree has been especially helpful in opening the firm, buying a building and ultimately constructing a new office.
How did you decide your practice area? And why have you chosen that?
My partner and mentor, Mark Alexander, often reminds me of a John Lennon song that says “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” I never imagined being anything other than a small-town lawyer who does a little bit of everything. In fact, it was my dream to have a law office in a historic house in Lake City. One could say I stumbled upon employment law. I was initially drawn to it during my clerkship at Holland & Knight for no other reason than I liked the people in the group. I was so right about my decision that two of them are now my law partners and have become dear friends.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar?
It depends on which president is in office. Before President Trump was elected, I would have said it was the increase in salary qualifications for a salaried-exempt employee. However, that has all changed. Now I am finding that the crackdown on the use of illegal workers has dramatically risen and I find myself working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and The Department of Homeland Security on a regular basis.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would:
Lawyer mental health. Despite the fact my job is tough, I happen to love what I do. However, almost daily I talk to lawyers who feel overworked, overstressed and are having difficulty finding happiness and fulfillment in their careers. If I could wave a magic wand I would empower lawyers to make changes in their careers and to seek resources when necessary.
What community service have you pursued and why that?
I have been involved in the Jacksonville Bar since I started practicing law. Some of my best friends have come from my Jacksonville Bar involvement. Outside of the Bar, I volunteer at my kids’ school and have been involved in the March of Dimes, Girl Scouts, The Performer’s Academy and am now serving on the city Ethics Commission. We as lawyers are trained to research and make good decisions. I believe we have a duty to give back. I have learned more about myself and become a better wife, mother and lawyer because of my community involvement.
What’s your advice for new lawyers?
Slow down. Don’t feel the need to be involved in anything and everything when you first start practicing. Take time to focus on your trade. There will always be lots of opportunities to get involved. My mentor told me this on my first day of work and it still holds true today.