Leaders in the Law: John Woodlee, president of the board of directors of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid

"Don’t be too quick to assume you’ve found the right answer to a legal question or the best approach to a problem."

  • By Max Marbut
  • | 5:10 a.m. October 28, 2019
  • | 5 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Law
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What inspired you to become a lawyer?

When I was trying to choose a career path, lawyers I spoke with always seemed to be learning something new to keep up with changes in the law, understand a client’s business or prepare for some expert deposition. I wanted to be kept on my toes like that, and the practice of law has not disappointed.

How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law?

Studying philosophy as an undergrad gave me an appreciation for clear, precise arguments as well as lots of practice analyzing arguments that aren’t so clear and precise. That training has served me well as a litigator.

How did you decide your practice area?

I love writing, and I love the process of brainstorming, culling and refining arguments. Commercial litigation, and especially appellate litigation, are a natural fit.

What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar?

The seeds of this development were planted before I took the Bar, but courts have continued to flesh out the implications of Florida’s abolition of joint and several liability in negligence cases, including the obsolescence, in many contexts, of contribution claims and setoff defenses.

What do you anticipate will be the next big change in your area of law?

In light of the Florida Supreme Court’s recent adoption of the federal standard for the admission of expert testimony, I imagine we’ll see some development in that area of the law.

If I could change anything in the legal system, I would ...

The most important thing we can do to change the legal system is to expand access to legal services by supporting legal aid organizations and providing pro bono services.

What community service have you pursued and why that?

In addition to serving as court-appointed counsel in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida and the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, I serve as president of the board of directors of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. It’s incredibly gratifying to play a role in ensuring the delivery of legal services for those in need, even if my contribution to that mission as president of the board is modest compared to the hard work done by JALA’s staff and pro bono attorneys. I’m also a member of the board of directors of Jacksonville Community Coalition Inc., a nonprofit that serves people living at Kings Ridge Apartments, which is located in a historically underserved area.

What’s your advice for new lawyers?

Don’t be too quick to assume you’ve found the right answer to a legal question or the best approach to a problem. Unless you’ve done your homework thoroughly, there will be some case you overlooked, some opposing strategy you didn’t anticipate, or some question you didn’t prepare for.




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