Who or what inspired you to be a lawyer? My parents first sparked my interest in the law. I grew up wanting to become a general contractor like my father. While I was pursuing my degree in building construction at UF, however, he and my mother suggested that law school might be a good backup plan, given the changeable nature of the construction business. As always, they gave me great advice. I worked in the construction industry for several years after obtaining my degree and contractor’s license. Then I went to law school and put that practical experience to use as a construction lawyer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the best of both worlds.
Someone (other than my wife) who inspires me: My father. He relied on his own moral compass regardless of what others said or did. He simply knew right from wrong and refused to deviate or allow any of us to do so.
How do you relate your undergraduate degree to your practice of law? The ability to read plans, understand specifications and most of all, understand the dynamics of an active construction site, allows me to understand the client’s issues on day one. I use the knowledge I gained in my undergraduate education every day.
What has been the biggest change in your practice area since you passed the Bar? From my vantage point, the influence of the insurance industry on the handling of construction claims. Before a 2007 Florida Supreme Court decision, my practice rarely involved insurance. Today, a huge amount of legal work arises from construction defect claims, which are now covered by insurance, and construction lawyers have had to respond to the insurance industry’s business model and behaviors.
What do you think will be the next biggest change in your area of law? The internet has had an impact on the practice of law, including construction law. When a potential client calls for guidance, they have already researched the issues on Google and have picked up some of the terminology. I can frequently find answers to some issues with a Google search, but posting on the internet does not make you a lawyer. There is a push to replace research by lawyers with research using artificial intelligence. That may be closer than we think.
If I could change anything in the legal system, I would: Prohibit lawyers from using briefs and filings written by other lawyers, in other cases, in their own filings. The combination of new research platforms and the increasing demand for lower-cost services has apparently made this practice too tempting for many to resist. But in addition to being plagiarism, lawyers using other lawyers’ work results in clients not receiving the level of representation they’d have received if their lawyer had drafted a pleading with the client’s specific issues and facts in mind.
What community service have you pursued and why that? My professional and community service has varied over the years. I have served on and chaired The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism, as well as chairing and continuing to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission for the 4th Judicial Circuit. I have been active in local, state and national building organizations, including the Northeast Florida Builders Association. I have also served on and chaired the St. John’s Cathedral Properties Committee, which oversees and directs the finances and maintenance of the historic cathedral that anchors the Cathedral District.
What’s your advice for new lawyers? Work hard and give yourself a few years to learn how the law functions in the real world. Treat every person with respect until they give you a reason not to. Learn to communicate and build relationships with clients, opposing counsel, judges and their respective staffs; you can learn from all of them and good relationships will help you immeasurably in accomplishing your clients’ goals. Finally, if you don’t work for a lawyer that you respect as a mentor, find one to mentor you. I hit the mentor jackpot when I was hired by Warren Tripp at the Bedell Firm in 1987.