This month will mark the 15th anniversary of my start in the legal profession. Back then, I was enrolled in summer classes at UCF,
and drifting from job to job to stay afloat. I worked as a tech support rep for a printing company, a pharmacy technician, and even
sold kitchen knives door to door. In the summer of 2002, I took a telemarketing job, selling children’s books over the phone. That is
right – The AutoJustice Attorney was one of those annoying folks – calling you during dinner and trying to sell you something. I say
that though without any shame and regret, as that job paid my bills, and allowed me to buy food and books.
Still, I knew at that point in my life that I wanted to be in the legal profession and that I wanted to be in personal injury. I had already seen, through my own family’s experience, the difference a good and dedicated personal injury lawyer could make when you are up against a powerful insurance company. I also saw just how cheap and evil insurance companies were. In our situation, they did everything possible to hold out payment and make our lives as financially difficult as possible. If not for the attorney we had in that case, my family would have likely accepted one of the insurance company’s low ball offers. I liked how that lawyer stood up for us when that was necessary to make sure that we got compensated fairly for what had happened.
So, in the middle of all this, and with my child-selling book skills diminishing by the day, I decided to have a family member reach out to a group of lawyers that they had a connection to. Within a couple days, I got a call that changed my life. I will never forget that day and that call. You see, in telemarketing, when you are having an off day, and not making sales, they send you home. It was a Friday in July in 2002, and I was on the early cut list. I don’t think I sold a single book that day. So, while I was home pondering my future, the phone rang. It was Michael Manglardi on the other line. He asked me a few preliminary questions, and then asked if I could come down to their office that afternoon. I immediately jumped off the couch, grabbed my keys and drove down.
Now, in hindsight, I wish I had looked in the mirror before I went. I mean, sweatpants and a tee shirt was probably not my best look. I even had basically a shaved head back then. It was the only hair style I could do myself and I could not afford to pay for haircuts. So, yes, I showed up, bald head and sweat pants. Not the first impression for my first legal interview that I wanted.
Fortunately for me though, Mr. Manglardi and his partners weren’t that interested in what I wore or how my hair looked. They asked me a few basic questions, about what I was looking for, and availability. Then, they told me I was hired and to come back Monday morning. I was more excited at that moment, then I had ever previously been in my life. I knew that to get to where I wanted to be in life, I needed an opportunity, and here were four folks willing to give me one. I promised myself that I would not let them down, and that I would make the most out of everything this opportunity presented.
On Monday, July 15, 2002, at approximately, 8:15 a.m., my journey in the legal field began. On my first day, I didn’t even have a desk. The office manager put together a few boxes and gave me a chair in between the desks of two other employees. It really didn’t matter, as I had zero idea what I was doing. Still, I tried to jump in and help where I could. I think the biggest contribution I made in my first two days was helping to take out the trash at the end of the day.
Then came day three. One of those paralegals, who I was sitting by was working on a time-sensitive assignment, a demand letter in one of the firm’s larger medical malpractice cases. For one reason or another, this individual snapped and quit in the middle of the day. With no one else taking over the pending assignment, I simply moved over, took his seat, and went about trying to complete his assignment. By the end of the day, I had put together a four page demand letter. When turning it in that day, I had no idea whether or not the work product I was turning in was any good at all, nonetheless, sufficient to go out.
That Friday morning, I remember being called down to one of the partner’s offices. Honestly, as I walked down the hallway, I fully expected it was that what I turned in was so bad, they were going to fire me right then and there. My stomach hurt, my palms were sweating, and I could not even look up at them as I walked in the room. As soon as I walked in, one of them asked if the demand was my work and if I was the one who completed it. I managed to get out that it was mine, as I was almost shaking with nervousness. “Good job – the spot is yours.” I think I froze when I initially heard those words. Is this really happening? Are they really complimenting me? And then I realized that this job, this firm, and these attorneys were my opportunity to learn and be mentored. I made a promise to myself, and to them, that whatever they needed, I would find a way to get it done. It didn’t matter the stress, it didn’t matter the pressure. Heck, they didn’t have to be nice and they didn’t need to praise me. I just wanted to learn. And learn I would.
I would spend the next seven years of my life, throughout the end of college, throughout law school, and then as an attorney, continuing to learn all that I could from them. In a lot of ways, they became more like parents to me than bosses. I learned how to prepare demand letters, prepare and file lawsuits, respond to discovery requests, and prepare for mediations. I got to observe and learn how to communicate with clients, and how to get clients prepared for depositions. Shortly thereafter, I was attending hearings and mediations. And within a few months, I became the firm’s main trial assistant. Going to trial meant stopping everything else. I would spend the entire weekend at the office, helping to make copies, prepare exhibits, prep witnesses, make snack runs, and do anything and everything they needed. I would skip class, and devote my entire life for a week to helping the team. That experience taught me a habit and practice that I still use to this day – when it is trial week, everything else stops and you throw yourself completely into that case.
Within a matter of a few short years, I went from knowing nothing and no one, to knowing just about every Judge, defense lawyer, mediator, and other major player in this business. I went from having a hundred bucks to my name, and driving a beat up Geo Prism, to having a nice apartment, and a BMW. Shortly, over those years, all my dreams started to come true. And yes, I was finally able to grow my hair out as I could afford a haircut. But it was not without hard work and sacrifice.
You see, the more I showed I could do and handle, the more work and higher level assignments I was given. As a very new attorney, I was assigned to work on some of our biggest and most serious cases. At the time, those assignments terrified me. I mean these were multimillion dollar cases. What if I made a mistake, and screwed up one of these cases? The thought terrified me, and at times, that fear was almost impossible to overcome. I complained a lot to the partners, and begged for an opportunity to get out from these cases and handle a different case load. When I look back today, that was my greatest mistake. You see, I used to believe that one of the partners was giving me that high level work as a way to set me up to fail. Looking back now, I realize that she wasn’t trying to punish me – she was instead saying she saw something in me and that she believed in me. I wish I believed in myself back then the way she did. And I am grateful that she threw me in the game, and didn’t let me quit.
As time went on, I got more comfortable and better versed in the day to day battles these cases brought. Suddenly, I was going toe to toe with defense lawyers who had been doing this 20-30 years, and I was winning. I learned that the more they objected, the better I was doing. I won some big hearings. Then I won some more. The more I won, the more the partners let me handle things on my own and my way. I eventually got my own case list, like I wanted. I even took over the firm’s nursing home abuse department. I got my own assistants, and a nice big office. Still, I was on the road constantly, taking depositions across the United States. In 2009, when Jen found out she was pregnant, I knew that I had to make a choice. Being home for my kid was important to me, and I knew that my current job would inhibit my ability to do the same. So I made the very difficult decision that it was time to leave and go out on my own. It was the scariest decision I had made in a long, long time. The firm and those partners had given me so much, and for the first time in my entire life, I had financial stability. Still, I wanted something they could not give me – a chance to do what they did, and build a firm that would sustain and last. Theirs was built and it was rightfully theirs. If I wanted the same, I had to do it on my own.
It has been eight years since I left. Not a day goes by that I do not reflect on how fortunate I was to have these mentors and lawyers in my life. And not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself what Mike, Julio, Carlos or Maria might do in a given situation. Being on my own has made me appreciate so much their jobs. It has also made me call Mike Manglardi more than once and apologize for certain things I complained about. When I look at my practice today, I see so many things that are a direct reflection of the best of each of them. I learned how to run a firm from Mike. I watched and listened to everything Julio had to say about marketing and advertising. I learned to be relentless and to never give up on any issue or any matter in a case from Maria. And Carlos, he made and taught me how to be a lawyer. In fact, next to my own father, I don’t think anyone has had a bigger influence on me and my life than Carlos. He was more like a father than a mentor or boss. He was and still is the idol for everything that I want to be as a lawyer. Without his guidance and advice, there is no way I am where I am today. His belief in me, and his trust in me, gave me the confidence to grow in the job and to trust that I could do this. It meant the world to me, and still does.