The Daily

2018: A Full Tilt Boogie

2018 has me thinking about the direction of my practice over the next year or two. We will soon be celebrating my 25th year in practice as a solo practitioner. I’m proud of that achievement. I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish here in Southwest Florida and around the State. I am looking forward to the clients we can help.

Almost three years ago, I eulogized my Father at the Tower Club, high above the Broward County Courthouse (where we did a lot of good together). I talked into the open microphone in front of a large crowd that filled two rooms. Colleagues, family, friends, supporters, co-workers, judges and other courthouse personnel were gathered to drink, eat and swap stories about the ‘good old days’ of trial lawyering.

The point I was hungry to make  – well, there were really two points I wanted to make. First, that (as everyone knew) Dad’s whole thing was ‘a full tilt boogie’. I never need to wonder what his advice would be in any particular work circumstance. It would be the most aggressive and inflammatory of all the available options – always swinging for the fences. No bunting. We told a lot of stories about that side of my Dad that night. It was a wild ride, with the pedal most definitely put to the metal. That’s not for everyone – and he knew that.

The second point was more personally important – at least to me. The judges and many of the lawyers already knew it but I wanted everyone to hear it. That is, that he did it the right way. Yeah, the volume was turned up to 11. Most certainly, there were veiled and not so veiled threats of apocalyptic ‘hell’ that would rain like blood if he didn’t get his way. But he had massive skills to back up all of the bluster. I brought to the service a copy of one of my old Torts textbook from law school. I told the story about the summer I clerked for my Father after my first year of law school. He had given me a file that involved a young man in a coma and on life support for years after an amateur boxing match gone horribly wrong. Depositions, including Angelo Dundee (Mohamed Ali’s trainer from Miami), had already been taken. I reviewed all the file materials, wrote my memo on the issues and took all of it – including my Prosser textbook into his office. I explained to him that he couldn’t succeed, citing the dusty old hornbook: containing the well-known legal bromide that boxers could not sue for negligence because they “assumed the risk” of injury in the ring.

My Father listened to me patiently, then said “Watch me.” I did.

The lawyer who defended the boxing case, Tom Heath, is a long time family friend and was at the service. He followed me to the microphone. I’d asked him if he would have any issue talking about the decades old case. He didn’t. He remembered it as vividly as I did. Not only did my Dad get past the inevitable and well-taken motions to block the case on “the assumption of the risk” and other legal doctrines, he got it all the way to a jury. Tom remembered the nervous moments while everyone waited for the verdict. The numbers at stake were, for the time, very weighty. There was a lot of money on the table – put up by the carrier against all odds and only after a lot of persuasion. But the family of the boxer was steadfast – they wanted the verdict. When the verdict came in for the defense, my Dad took his lumps like a man. Because that is what real trial lawyers do.

At the service, I joked about how my Dad was probably cursing me for wanting to talk about one of the few cases he lost. But to me, it remains the most remarkable achievement of his career. And a lesson to all lawyers about doing things your own way – but also the right way.

I always strive to meet the example set by my Father. I don’t try to mimic him – my skill set is slightly different. But we can also turn it up to 11 and enjoy a good full tilt boogie. Here’s to 2018.