JAMES G. VICKARYOUS
Jim Vickaryous is a civil trial lawyer and the managing partner at the Vickaryous Law Firm in Seminole County, Florida. He is a member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors, representing 2,200 lawyers in Seminole and Brevard Counties (Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit).
Jim attended the University of Miami as an undergraduate on a full U.S. Army ROTC scholarship. He also attended Florida’s premier courtroom advocacy training institution, Stetson University College of Law, receiving both his Juris Doctor and MBA degrees. Jim is recognized as having the highest jury verdict in Seminole County, Florida for a head injury causing a debilitating migraine.
Jim is a proud veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, having received the NATO Medal for Service in the former Yugoslavia and the prestigious U.S. Army Meritorious Service Medal. He is also a past president of both the Seminole County Bar Association and the Central Florida Trial Lawyers Association.
Jim’s latest articles
BE A SERENDIPITOUS LAWYER - May 11, 2023 by Jim Vickaryous
I walked into a crowded courtroom in Southwest Florida for a cattle-call hearing. There was one seat left in the back row, so I took it. There were many lawyers arguing their motions that afternoon. Many made the same argument I was planning on making, and they all failed to persuade the stand-in senior presiding judge. I became worried. I could not think of another argument that would sway this judge. Surely, I would lose this afternoon. The lawyer sitting humbly next to me didn’t seem too worried. I quietly asked, “What works with this judge?” He whispered back to me a winning argument. I used my new friend’s work product and the judge ruled in my client’s favor.
How serendipitous, I thought. Had I not been running a little late trying to get through an unfamiliar courthouse, I would not have had to sit in the last open seat in that courtroom. I was also fortunate that my case was far enough on the docket that day that I was not called first and I had an opportunity to see my argument was a loser. Most importantly, it was supremely serendipitous that my new friend shared his very wise counsel with me. I didn’t tell my client how I was successful for them that day. They just thought that I’m a great lawyer. In truth, I was a serendipitous lawyer.
Serendipity falls into the lap of well-prepared lawyers often. You look for one thing that you think is essential for your client’s case. However, in looking for what you thought would be the answer, you end up coming across something even better, which you could not imagine before searching. You take the statement of a random witness and end up learning what really happened in a case.
Serendipitous is my favorite word and concept in the English language. Unlike most English words and concepts that are borrowed from other languages, serendipitous was created by an English writer in the 1700s and used for the same meaning we assign it today. It is truly an English concept which we Americans have embraced and used to our great advantage. It is the unexpected blessing that comes when a lawyer works hard and keeps their eyes open to possibilities. It is finding something even better than what you were looking for, not even knowing you were looking for it. Some have defined serendipity as a “happy accident”.
However, I would disagree. “Happy accidents” don’t just happen. Louis Pasteur, the great French chemist, once said, “… chance favors only those minds which are prepared.” Serendipitous occurrences happen when a person is actively seeking something, putting effort in what they believe is worth pursuing, and because of that effort, finding something so much better and useful. Serendipity is finding what you really wanted, but you just didn’t know that was what you wanted or needed when you started out on your quest.
Interestingly, courts love to use the word. It is found in hundreds of reported cases. A cursory case search brings up many dozens of reported cases across the country incorporating serendipitous events that are the turning point of a case. Seeing a serendipitous event probably is much easier to recognize from the bench. It definitely makes for great reading in a case note.
As a lawyer, it is essential to be well-prepared and proactive, however, it is also important to be open to unexpected and serendipitous events that can help advance your career and lead to new opportunities. Being serendipitous can be an incredibly valuable trait. Being open to unexpected opportunities and chance encounters can lead to new clients, new cases, and even new career paths. But being serendipitous is not just about luck – it requires being active in networking, building relationships, and staying open to new possibilities.
One of the most compelling reasons being a serendipitous lawyer is so crucial is that the legal profession is constantly changing. New laws and regulations are being introduced all the time, and legal technology is advancing at a rapid pace. This means that lawyers who can adapt to change and stay ahead of the curve are more likely to be serendipitously successful.
Being a serendipitous lawyer means being open to opportunities that may not be part of your original plan. Often, the best opportunities come from unexpected places or chance encounters. Being serendipitous means having the flexibility to recognize these opportunities and take advantage of them. Being serendipitous also allows lawyers to expand their client base and take on new types of cases. By staying open to unexpected opportunities, lawyers can connect with clients who they might not have otherwise encountered. This can lead to new areas of practice and increased revenue.
Of course, being serendipitous does not mean relying solely on “happy accidents” or chance. What is key is for a lawyer to recognize happy accidents when they occur and have the boldness to incorporate them into what the lawyer had already planned to do. It is important for lawyers to continue to develop their skills and expertise, to network strategically, and to be active in seeking out new opportunities. But by staying open to unexpected possibilities and being willing to take risks, lawyers can increase their chances of success in an ever-changing legal landscape.
Being a serendipitous lawyer makes practicing law fun, happy, and unpredictable in a very pleasant way. Serendipitous lawyers are open to new changes, expanding their client base, and taking on new types of cases. Being serendipitous requires activity, keeping your eyes open, being flexible to unexpected possibilities, taking risks, and being willing to step outside of one’s comfort zone. Sometimes, being a serendipitous lawyer has solely to do with where you chose to sit. Let’s all resolve to be serendipitous lawyers.
BE A STORYTELLING LAWYER - Apr 11, 2023 By Jim Vickaryous
I have noticed that the better educated a person is, the less likely they can tell a gripping story. Ask a sailor, fisherman, or cop for a story, and you can’t stop listening. Ask a lawyer for a good story, and you immediately regret it. Somehow, our modern education system has bleached out the natural ability of a person to tell a great story. The best storyteller I have ever come across had a third-grade education and was barely literate. You could tell that my Grandpa Tony was about to tell one heck of a great story because it started with a twinkle in his blue eyes and a wry half-smile on his weathered face. He was an Alaskan homesteader who could raise the hair on the back of your neck recounting a midnight run-in with an angry grizzly bear, and how he survived to tell the tale.
While storytelling might not come naturally to those who had to memorize the rule against perpetuities, it comes in handy in a lawyer’s toolbox of skills. In a world where communication is often reduced to cold facts and figures, the art of storytelling can be an incredibly powerful tool for lawyers. By weaving together compelling narratives that capture the essence of a case, a storytelling lawyer can connect with judges, jurors, and clients on a deeper emotional level, and create a sense of shared understanding and empathy that can be invaluable in achieving positive outcomes.
So what exactly is a storytelling lawyer, and how do they differ from your typical modern lawyer? A story telling lawyer is someone who recognizes the importance of narrative in the legal process, and who has honed their skills at crafting compelling stories that can help to sway opinions and influence outcomes. They understand that people are wired to respond to stories, and that by tapping into this innate human trait, they can more effectively communicate the key points of a case and engage with their audience in a way that is both memorable and persuasive. A storytelling lawyer knows that even his adversaries can’t help but listen when a compelling story is being told. A story with a reason, a parable, goes a long way to renting space in the listener’s head. If it is a truly great story, it will spend a lifetime in the listener’s head.
The best stories are self-deprecating. If the storyteller can make a point using himself as the foil, all the better. A man and woman walked up from the darkness as my group of friends were enjoying a New Years Eve beach bonfire. It was cold and windy, and they just wanted warm themselves by the fire. I told them they were welcome to join us, but we would appreciate a story. Our new friend with a booming Texas voice began his story piloting his company’s airplane, flying to a problem rig that had not struck oil. His banker was on the airplane, as they were negotiating a large loan extension. His geologist and rig operations manager were on the airplane too. The weather was bad, and he could not land at the airport nearest to the rig. His company was in dire straits, but his need for money was worse than the weather. He hoped the fog would burn away by midday. The plane’s fuel pushed towards empty as he circled the airport. The engines stopped, and the plane began silently gliding down through the fog. Tears rolling down his cheeks, he told his banker, his geologist, and his ops manager that he was sorry for killing them, because of his fear and greed. He said a quick prayer. The fog lifted, and he was gliding straight for a long road in a newly built development with no homes. He and his passengers survived, and he swore never to put money and fear of failure over human life again. “Now that’s a great story,” I told him, chills running down my spine.
Story telling can also help to make legal arguments more memorable. By framing a case in a compelling narrative, lawyers can create an enduring impression in the minds of their audience. This can be particularly powerful in cases where the details are complex or technical, as a well-told story can help to simplify and clarify the issues, making them more accessible to the layperson.
But how does one become a story telling lawyer? There are many different strategies and techniques that can be used to develop this skill. An effective approach is to focus on the “big picture” of a case, and to identify the overarching themes and messages that are most important to convey. By crafting a narrative that brings these themes to life, lawyers can create a compelling story that resonates with their audience.
You don’t have to tell stories about crashing airplanes or crossing paths with grizzly bears to capture the attention of your listener. I had the honor of taking a long hike with some Boy Scouts. As I was catching my breath and trying to keep up, I suggested that we each tell a story to help pass the time. I volunteered to tell the first story. Being a humble Scout, the first young man was reticent to tell a story, claiming that he did nothing to make a story worth telling. I told him that it’s not the story that counts, but how you tell it. The best storytellers can get their point across recounting the most mundane things, but in an enticing way. I asked him what the first thing was he did that morning after waking up. He smiled and said, “I ate a big bowl of cereal.” Since we had some time to kill on our hike, we worked on how to tell a great story about eating a bowl of cereal. It turned out to be a funny story, told in a way that only a goofy 15-year-old boy can tell. Everybody has a story to tell, you just have to pull it out of them.
Being a storytelling lawyer can be a powerful and effective way to communicate legal arguments in a way that is engaging, memorable, and persuasive. By harnessing the power of narrative to bring legal issues to life, lawyers can connect with their audience on a deeper level and create a sense of shared understanding and empathy that can be invaluable in achieving positive outcomes. However, it is important to approach story telling with care and caution, and to always remain grounded in the truth and accuracy of the case at hand. By balancing emotional appeal with sound legal analysis, and by developing a nuanced understanding of the art of storytelling, lawyers can become powerful advocates for their clients, and can make a lasting impact on the legal profession. Ultimately, being a story telling lawyer is about more than just winning cases – it’s about connecting with people on a human level, and using the power of narrative to make a difference in the lives of those we represent.
Let’s all resolve to be story telling lawyers.
BE A PRIVILEGED LAWYER - Mar 2, 2023 by Jim Vickaryous
A happy client gave me a hug, thanked me for years of hard work and a successful end to her case. I was humbled by such a heartfelt compliment. I told her, “Thank you Ma’am, it was my privilege to represent you.” It was indeed my privilege to represent her. After all, we couldn’t be lawyers without clients.
These days, it’s not considered a good thing to be privileged. American culture has always had an antipathy towards unearned privilege. We overthrew a king and created a republic. But could being privileged be a good thing, if it’s earned and used to help others? I think it can.
Being a lawyer is an earned privilege. Don’t believe me? Check out what the Florida Supreme Court says in the Preamble to the Rules of Regulating the Florida Bar, Rules of Discipline, Rule 3-1.1 – Privilege to Practice: A license to practice law confers no vested right to the holder thereof but is a conditional privilege that is revocable for cause.
The “revocable for cause” language used by the Florida Supreme Court is sure to catch every lawyer’s eye. It accentuates that being a lawyer is one of our legal system’s great privileges. It is not a vested right, nor should we treat practicing law as our right. Just because you are a lawyer today, doesn’t mean you will be one tomorrow.
So, just what is the privilege earned upon becoming a lawyer? Trust. Trust of the courts that the lawyer will be a truthful officer of the court. Trust of clients that a lawyer will put the client’s interests before their own. Trust by society that a lawyer will defend and support our constitution. When others trust you, a great privilege has been conferred on you. A client trusting a lawyer with their family, business, freedom, even their lives, confers the highest privilege. Therefore, the real privilege of being a lawyer is trust.
The great privilege of practicing law provides for deep confidences between clients and their lawyers. After decades of practicing law, I am still amazed at what I hear. Some clients simply need to get a burden off their chest. They need to share their secret with someone, and they know we are duty-bound to keep their confidence. Things a person will not tell their spouse, their confessor, their closest friend, their doctor, they will often tell their lawyer. This high level of trust is given a name, interestingly enough, the attorney-client privilege.
The trust that makes practicing law a privilege is the pinnacle of being a lawyer. Always endeavor to keep and reinforce that trust. This trust can be lost rather quickly and in many ways. There are many ethics rules that outline every conceivable way that a lawyer can breach the trust of the court, a client, or society at large. It should suffice to say the ethics rules are the bare minimum for which the Florida Supreme Court will revoke your privilege to practice law. But for most lawyers, it is not the bare minimum which inspires us. We aspire to the highest levels of trust with our clients. The best guiding principle for keeping another’s trust is to keep their interests before yours. Putting others before yourself can feel unusual, but because it is so rare, you will gain lifelong clients by making this your consistent practice.
The earned privilege of being a lawyer allows a lawyer’s very thoughts and private notes made in furtherance of a client’s representation to be privileged. Indeed, this work-product privilege gives a lawyer a competitive advantage to all other professions. A lawyer does not have to disclose his strategy to best represent a client.
The privilege of being a lawyer requires constant sharpening of the saw, so to speak. As we age in the practice, so does the law. The law keeps changing, and we must keep learning. To keep earning the trust of our clients, we must maintain our knowledge and skills by regularly attending continuing legal education programs and staying up to date with the latest laws and regulations related to our practice area. Our clients like to look at a battered and well-used briefcase, but not so much a battered and dated legal mind. They want a cutting-edge lawyer that keeps up with the times and the law.
Aspiring to do our best for our clients, the courts, and our communities is what the privilege of being a lawyer is all about. Those around us look to us to be leaders, and we are privileged to have their trust. Let’s keep earning it, day-by-day. I’ve been truly privileged to be a Florida lawyer. Let’s all resolve to be privileged lawyers.
BE A HEALTHY LAWYER - Jan 17, 2023 by Jim Vickaryous
Back at work for the new year, I put on my suit and tie. My shirt collar was too snug, my suit tighter than I would like. I looked into the mirror and knew that this year’s me needs to slim down (or buy a bigger suit). I resolved to buy a new suit after losing some weight. If you are around people that care for you, it does not take long to get a comment about your health and how you look. My mother has always chided me, “Lose some weight, Jimmy.” Your family and friends want the best for you, after all. They want their lawyer loved one to be around for next year and beyond. In a lawyer’s daily work toiling to protect the interests of others, it is easy to forget that your health is elemental in being able to push out that work.
A modicum of health is necessary to be a competent lawyer. Health is a continuum, of course. It can be many things to many people, but it shows. To borrow United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s obscenity definition and apply it to health: “I know it when I see it.” Looking into the mirror you can see much about your health. I know healthy lawyers that get up at 5am and train for their next Ironman. I know healthy lawyers with disabilities that keep themselves mentally sharp and physically fit. The key to being a healthy lawyer, no matter our different physical abilities, is to keep our bodies fit enough that our brains remain sharp and clear for the benefit of our clients. An unclear, unhealthy mind reaps disaster for a lawyer.
Being a healthy lawyer is essential for both personal and professional reasons. As lawyers, we are constantly faced with high-stress demands and fast-paced work environments. This can take a toll on your health – both physical and mental. It is crucial to prioritize your wellness to have a successful and sustainable career in our profession.
There are numerous ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even as a lawyer. Primarily, it is imperative that you eat well. As a young soldier, I was meeting with my commander for an annual evaluation. He instructed me to lose some weight. As we trained together rigorously each day, I responded that I more than met my calisthenic regimen. He good naturedly smiled and said, “Lieutenant, no amount of exercise can compete with what you put in your mouth each day.” There are many ways to have a healthy diet. I won’t recommend any particular diet (or non-diet – such as fasting), as this changes for each person according to their age, preference, doctor’s orders, and faith.
The healthy lawyer effectively manages stress and understands that the legal profession involves a highly stressful environment with long hours and tight deadlines. It is vital to find healthy techniques to cope with stress. Something as simple as a quick break from the issue at hand will help. Over the long term, a lawyer needs a number of vacations a year to just let their brain rest and be occupied with other thoughts.
There are significant issues that can arise if a lawyer does not maintain good overall health. The most obvious is the risk of burnout. Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It’s a common problem in our profession, driven by our often-long work hours, and high levels of pressure. Burnout can lead to a host of unforeseen consequences, including decreased productivity, decreased job satisfaction, and increased risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Difficulties can arise if a lawyer does not maintain good health, such as lack of focus and concentration. When you are not feeling well, it is difficult to focus on your work and make decisions. This can lead to mistakes and oversights, which can have serious consequences for clients. In addition, it can also lead to decreased efficiency, as it takes longer to complete tasks when you are not feeling your best.
Unhealthiness can also negatively affect personal relationships. If you are sick, it is difficult to be present and engaged in your personal life. This can lead to strained relationships with friends and family, which can further contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety.
A lack of good overall health can also have financial consequences. If you are frequently sick or unable to work due to health issues, you may miss out on income and opportunities. This can be especially problematic for self-employed lawyers, who may not have the same protections and benefits as those who work for a firm.
Being a healthy lawyer is essential for both personal and professional reasons. It allows you to perform at your best, handle the demands of the legal profession, and provide the best possible service to your clients. By prioritizing your health and well-being, you can sustain a successful and fulfilling career in the legal field.
The Florida Bar cares about your health, but perhaps not in the way you would desire. Rule 3-7.13, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, allows for a lawyer that is too unhealthy to practice law to be classified as an inactive member and is prohibited from further practice of law, “…even though no misconduct is alleged or proved.” Like everything else in life, if you don’t take action, someone else eventually will, and not necessarily in the manner you would prefer.
Being a healthy lawyer serves you, the courts, and especially those who depend on you and who would actually miss you if you were gone. Let’s all resolve to be healthy lawyers.
BE A RESOLUTE LAWYER - Jan 4, 2023 By Jim Vickaryous
The resolute lawyer stands the test of time and has learned the secret of building relationships. Take the time to build relationships and realize it’s one of the most essential skills
Be a resolute lawyer. A new year often brings about resolutions. Unfortunately, resolutions quickly disappear. The way resolutions become reality is by being resolute. Lawyers should embrace the character trait of being resolute. When you first meet with a client, they have their resolutions to guide you and your representation of them. However, it is up to you as their lawyer to be resolute in carrying out their wishes to conclusion.
Groups of people organizing themselves often start with resolutions. However, when they write their organizational goals, they never use the word resolution. They often use the phrase, “we resolve to.” Resolution is the wish; resolve is the action.
“Resultus” is the Latin word for resolute, meaning released to act. Indeed, the word result is also a derivative of the word resolute. Being resolute by its nature will bring results.
Be resolute in your long-term goals but remain flexible. Like a mountain climber focuses on getting to the top of a mountain. Their footsteps may change along the way. They haven’t planned out every single step so they’re flexible in how they arrive at their goal. Sometimes you must go down to go up, sometimes you have to change directions.
To succeed in our profession, it takes a tremendous amount of perseverance and determination. As we begin yet another new year, I think it’s a good time to revisit some of the characteristics of resolute lawyers and why they are important. The resolute lawyer is disciplined, has solid core values, remains strong in adversity, and develops long-standing relationships.
A resolute lawyer is able to minimize distraction and focus on the essential issues needing action. Many things will compete for your time and attention as a lawyer. Discipline is necessary for time management and as a buffer against trivial things that constantly compete for your attention. Discipline is also necessary to set the pace for others in your firm. When discipline is strong best practices generally follow. Being resolute is contagious, as others appreciate working with someone who is consistent pushing forward with action.
Resolute lawyers stick to their core values. When your values are clear to everyone in your firm, the decision-making process is simplified. If a policy or action doesn’t align with your core values, the decision is clear. Knowing your core values is essential to your practice. Defining and accurately communicating core values is essential. The resolute lawyer makes this a priority. Values keep the resolute lawyer grounded and provide direction.
A resolute lawyer is able to seamlessly work with others that do not share their core values. A lawyer’s given tasks are often limited in scope. This limitation of scope gives a resolute lawyer the ability to work with those who disagree on many other things. A resolute lawyer builds consensus on the small things that often matter most to the success of a client’s case.
Most lawyers face adversity. The test is not whether you will face challenges but in how you will respond to them and how quickly you can put them behind you. The resolute lawyer’s strength is not developed in adversity but rather it is revealed in adversity. The strength that gets you through adversity is grown over time and is a maturity factor. A resolute lawyer will not back down in adversity but will see it as just another milestone in their growth.
A resolute lawyer is a relationship builder. The primary reason is because practicing law in a vacuum is highly limiting. The success of the resolute lawyer is tied to the success of those around them. The resolute lawyer stands the test of time and has learned the secret of building relationships. Take the time to build relationships and realize it’s one of the most essential skills. In sum, resolute lawyers are leaders.
We have much to be thankful from the resolute lawyers that came before us. Resolute lawyers such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both created our country and drafted a constitution that has kept our country intact for hundreds of years. A resolute lawyer named Abraham Lincoln by sheer force of will maintained our union. There are many resolute lawyers today. Indeed, we all know a number of them.
Resolute lawyers have learned how to navigate through adversity, have the discipline to lead themselves and others, have built relationships, and are passionate about the future. Come what may, resolute lawyers are optimistic. After all, why choose to be resolute if you don’t think the future is worth fighting for. Through hard work and perseverance, the future is bright for those who choose to be resolute. When your values are aligned with your vision you can proceed with confidence in knowing that today can be good and tomorrow can be even better. Let’s all resolve to be resolute lawyers.
BE A JOYFUL LAWYER - Dec 9, 2022 by Jim Vickaryous
Ode To Joy! Have joy in your heart, have joy for life, make joy for others. Joyfulness is a feeling of purpose that is carried throughout daily activities, it could be reading a statute, writing a legal note, or meeting with a new client. I often think of it as an emotional defense that protects us from life’s disappointments. But what is the practice of being a joyful lawyer?
To be a joyful lawyer is to focus on the positives of our profession and uphold a sense of happiness. I know when I see a joyful lawyer. They have wide smiles and glowing energy. It’s an aura that is as much internal as it is external.
To have joy in your heart, joy for life, and joy for others, you must be able to identify a successful approach for yourself. A first step is to live with the intent and aim to be joyous. In my experience, it is the lawyers who consistently reflect on their actions and maintain their target toward joy that are naturally more inclined to feel joyful. The practice of being joyful is the only way to encounter happiness.
In the practice of law, it can often appear as if others are constant obstacles, preventing us from succeeding and making considerable progress, but the joyful lawyer knows the power to succeed and make progress resides within themselves. Even if others are continually working against them, the joyful lawyer still gives honor and respect. To be a joyful lawyer, you must willingly accept others, even if their path is different from yours.
Always be open to joy offered by others. I remember walking to the courthouse for a morning hearing. My heart was not joyful, as I was worried about what argument I should make, what the opposing lawyer would argue, how the judge would rule, and what my client would say after the ruling. I walked the entire way from my office to the courthouse looking at the sidewalk, caught up in worry. Stopping at an intersection, a joyful female voice said to me, “What a beautiful morning. Look at that gorgeous sky.” Startled by a stranger’s voice on a streetcorner, I looked up to see her smiling and pointing up with her finger. I looked up and had to agree with her. It was a gorgeous morning. In my bundle of legal worries, I had not looked up to the sky once on my courthouse walk. I thanked her and appreciated the joy she had passed on to me as I walked into the courthouse with a smile on my face.
To bring joy to others and the world around you, you must first be happy with yourself. That means you’re as accepting with yourself as you are with others. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, rather take them as learning experiences. Accepting that you are human, and imperfect will help you feel joyful and enable you to share joy with others.
At the heart of being a joyful lawyer is the sincere desire to feel positive. It’s a choice, you choose to make joy, to purposefully get joy out of your practice. Being a joyful lawyer is living your life driven by the pursuit of happiness. Practice joyful intent with each action, with each thought, and with each word. Let’s all resolve to be joyful lawyers.
BE A HOSPITABLE LAWYER - Nov 10, 2022 by Jim Vickaryous
‘Hospitality makes a guest feel comfortable, enriches the host, and often produces unpredictably beneficial social and legal results’
Offering a cup of coffee is often the first act of hospitality shown by one lawyer to another. It not only identifies one as a good host, but also sets the stage for the expectation of civil behavior and provides an introductory icebreaker before beginning to work together. In a rare in-person deposition recently, I was pleasantly surprised by the opposing law firm’s hospitality. I was in the belly-of-the-beast, so to speak, but they made my client and me feel very welcome. My opposing counsel’s assistant not only offered coffee but offered to brew a fresh pot. Also noticing that I had forgotten to bring a yellow legal pad, she grabbed one for me without me even asking. How hospitable, I thought to myself.
As a new lawyer, I remember showing up to an empty country courtroom, except for a lone courtroom deputy. I was worried that I had driven all that way and somehow the hearing had been cancelled. The deputy eased my worries, letting me know that all the lawyers were in the judge’s chambers, as the judge served morning coffee before calling the first case. I walked into chambers and the judge himself poured me a cup of Joe. You could see the contagious effects of his hospitality when court was in session. The lawyers felt welcome, and the argument was civil and well-reasoned. You may or may not have been pleased with his rulings, but you couldn’t be upset with the judge after his show of such gracious hospitality.
The tradition of hospitality stems from prehistory. In Roman times, laws were enacted to secure what in Latin is called hospitium, the Roman law of hospitality. Hospitality was expected and required. The great lawyer of the late Roman Republic, Marcus Tullius Cicero, wrote often of how hospitality should be the generous habit of both citizen and lawyer. The Levantine ancients required hospitality to strangers, as it was their belief that you never know when you are entertaining angels.
True hospitality is always a wonderful thing to experience, as it shows the heart of the host. My California co-counsel insisted that I stay at his home while I was attending court with him. He picked me up from the airport and his wife even cooked a wonderful dinner. He even offered to let me use his car. His hospitality skills were not just those of a seasoned host. At the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, he could not walk 15 feet without a handshake and a smile from every passing lawyer. Over a career of dedicated lawyering and generous hospitality, the level of respect and trust his colleagues treated him with was impressive. Hospitality was the bedrock of his wildly successful legal career.
Hospitality is contagious. As Hurricane Ian has hurt so much of Florida, hospitality is needed so much more now. After the hurricane, my wife received a call from an old friend from Estero, Florida. She had sheltered the storm at her mother-in-law’s home in Central Florida, but the power had gone out and needed a working refrigerator for the supplies for her six-month-old daughter. She, her husband, her two-year-old daughter, and infant daughter came to our home. As we had lunch, we learned that they were now homeless. Their Estero home had flooded from Ian’s storm surge. In the days that they stayed with us, we heard countless chilling stories as her neighbors called and told her how her community had been destroyed. Life can be strange, as the same week that she lost her home, her article was published “above the fold” on the front page of The New York Times, a career achievement for any journalist. Seeing her young family coming back from this disaster gave me great encouragement. Nothing was going to slow down her six-month-old daughter either, a true bundle of joy, always smiling and a calming influence on all around her.
We live in a world of diminishing hospitality. We see it in our everyday lives and can become disheartened because of its conspicuous absence. While the world around us may be less hospitable than it was in the past, we should not succumb to this trend as lawyers. In fact, we should become even more hospitable. Hospitality makes a guest feel comfortable, enriches the host, and often produces unpredictably beneficial social and legal results. As the hospitality of those around you recedes, your hospitality is that much more important, memorable, and impactful. Despite everything that’s going on around us, let us all resolve to be the most hospitable lawyers.
Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.
BE A RELATED LAWYER - Oct. 11, 2022 by Jim Vickaryous
Serendipity caused my path to come across an old friend. We shared some news and a couple of legal stories. I learned something new about the law, and also remembered what a sharp lawyer my friend is. I even felt smarter after the conversation. I got to thinking afterwards, how much all of us have missed from the common social interactions that we have taken for granted over our lifetimes. A lunch, a dinner, a friendly person-to-person talk, being able to see someone smile at your bad jokes. Even waiting for a cattle-call hearing, you would get to chat with other lawyers giving advice and accepting advice. Human beings can’t help but learn something from each social interaction we have. I have gained a great deal from serendipitous social interactions over the decades. Many of my friendships have started from chance meetings. The knowledge gained from these years of relationships can be formidable in a lawyer’s skill set. When these random interactions stop, we lose a great deal of skill as lawyers.
One of the greatest skills a lawyer can have is being profoundly related to others. It’s a force multiplier. Being related to others means being in communication with them. It means seeking to understand the needs of others by listening to them. Related also means being able to communicate your needs and the needs of your clients to others. It’s a form of empathy. Being related takes a commitment of time and requires focus. It used to mean getting out of your home and office and being involved in the community. Zoom and other virtual meeting tools have expanded this definition. Law practices, courts, and the law itself, must live somewhere. If you’re a lawyer that doesn’t have any connection to the “somewhere” where the people that the law applies to live, you are not able to give the best advice to your clients.
One of a lawyer’s jobs is to be engaged in the community to understand how people live, act, and what they believe. You must be related in order to know what is happening in the marketplace of commerce and ideas. Your clients are expecting you to have this knowledge when you give them advice. It is difficult to have knowledge of those around you if you have a bunker mentality.
I love learning new things. Being related is a building block of learning. We most often learn from others, sometimes without even realizing it. Left to our own devices, we become set in our ways. Alone, we learn less than we otherwise would be.
While not as effortless, we lawyers can still be profoundly related to those around us. We just need to be purposeful about building relationships. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back from those around you. It takes effort to start a conversation with another. Be bold and start the conversation. You will be surprised at how many people are hoping that you will be the leader and break the ice. With so few opportunities to speak to others in person, we must be committed to reaching out in other ways. Pick up the phone each day and call a colleague and just say hello. You will be surprised by what you learn. Send a short email of encouragement. Take up the old-fashioned habit of sending handwritten notes. Your friends will appreciate knowing that you’re thinking of them. Most importantly, call your clients and say hello. They will appreciate your attention the most!
Don’t let habits of the recent past keep you from being related to others. It’s your job as a lawyer to be part of the community. Your clients need a related lawyer. The courts need related lawyers. Our country needs related lawyers. Let us all resolve to be profoundly related to others.
Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.
BE A KIND LAWYER - Sep 12, 2022 by Jim Vickaryous
My grandmother used to say: “Kill ‘em with Kindness, Jimmy!” As a child, my grandmother’s wise advice often went in one ear and out the other, but this stuck with me. Being kind is also the best advice for lawyers. Kindness extended by a lawyer is often a surprise to a non-lawyer. They often think of us as professional killjoys. As a veteran lawyer, seeing lawyers exchange even the smallest of kind acts greatly encourages me. The kindness I most appreciate is the kindness shown that will not necessarily gain the giver anything.
In recent years, I had the great honor to be admitted into the Bar of the United States Supreme Court. One of the perks of being a new member is getting a front row seat to that day’s oral arguments. The case being argued that day had to do with whether the Veterans Administration had given due process to a particular veteran. I was seated immediately behind the young lawyer representing the veteran. As we waited for the Supreme Court justices to come in, I watched the wide-eyed lawyer reading through his materials. Hidden just below the counsel table was his trembling hand. He had a terrified look on his face. Perhaps I would be trembling too if I was about to argue before the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court and your opposing party is the United States of America.
A moment later, the United States Solicitor General and his team of lawyers walked into the courtroom. The Solicitor General looked the picture of confidence. He was trim, smiling, and wearing a morning coat, the traditional uniform of the Solicitor General. Many people were shaking his hand as he walked into the courtroom. He came across as a rockstar in the legal world. After arranging his briefing notes at his counsel table, the Solicitor General walked the five steps past the podium and greeted the nervous young lawyer. The Solicitor General shook his hand, welcomed him to the court, and wished him well. The Solicitor General showed kindness and respect to the young lawyer in a manner that made him feel welcome. The young lawyer sat down again to wait for the moment that the Supreme Court would be called into session, and he would be invited to begin arguing for his client. I looked at his hand as the justices filed in. It had stopped shaking. He looked confident. He did a great job advocating for his client. Based upon the commentary in the courtroom after the arguments had finished, he had clearly won over the audience and, perhaps, maybe even five justices to his client’s prayer. The Solicitor General’s small act of kindness calmed his opposing counsel in his moment of anxiety.
After arguments were over the court went into recess. Since I was in the front row, I stayed for a few moments to take in the atmosphere of the courtroom. I looked up and watched Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg slowly moving out of her chair and taking her first step down the staircase. She started to fall. A robed arm reached up gracefully to steady her. The robed arm quickly and gentlemanly helped her down the steps. I looked over and saw that the kind robed arm belonged to Justice Clarence Thomas.
You don’t have to go to the United States Supreme Court to see everyday acts of lawyers being kind. I’ve observed it taking place often among lawyers across Florida. There’s a big upside to being kind. The mantra of “Kill ’em with Kindness” helps greatly when you have the urge to tell someone what you really think in a moment of irritation. Being kind is fundamental to civility. In fact, the Oath of Admission for The Florida Bar makes it a requirement of every lawyer: “To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.” Be purposeful in representing your clients, but always be a kind lawyer.
Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.
BE A 50-YEAR LAWYER - Aug 11, 2022 by Jim Vickaryous
When you reach 50 years as a Bar member, The Florida Bar gives you a free lunch at the Annual Convention. I was at this year’s annual convention, wanted to get some lunch, and wandered into the event honoring the 300 recent 50-year members of the Bar. They in good nature outed me as not being a 50-year member of the Bar and charged me for lunch.
I picked the right place to make some new friends, and learned a thing or two from that room full of 50-year lawyers. I was impressed with how many had taken the Bar up on the offer of a free lunch. Every one of the lawyers that I spoke to were proud to be lawyers. Many had generations of their family eating lunch with them in honor of their longtime service and commitment to the practice of law.
There was a common theme about which they were happy. Each 50-year lawyer I spoke to was most proud of helping people for half a century. I was struck by this, as all the lawyers present practiced in many different areas of the law. Over and over, they told me they simply enjoyed helping others. Perhaps the secret to making it to the 50-year watermark (and getting a free lunch from The Florida Bar), is keeping a place in your heart for helping people.
Whether you are closing in on 50-years of practicing law, or you just got sworn in and took the Oath of Attorney (or at the midway mark like me), helping people should be our goal as lawyers. Being of service to others makes us all feel significant and adds purpose to our lives. It also keeps us gainfully employed. Clients want a lawyer that truly cares and wants to help them. Clients also want lawyers that take pride in what they do, work hard at keeping their competitive edge, and don’t lose sight of why they became lawyers.
It was nice to eat lunch with 50-year lawyers that have the same heart to help people as when they started five decades ago. In addition to lunch, the Bar gives a 50-year lapel pin to mark the occasion. I saw each pin being worn proudly on many lapels. After a lifetime of service, these lawyers were very proud of what they had achieved throughout their careers. Many spoke to me about the people that they had helped and whose lives they made better.
We should all be so fortunate to have such rewarding careers helping people. I thanked them all for setting a great example of how to be a lawyer. Remember, we can all be 50-year lawyers. Practicing law is not a sprint, but a marathon. It is not the age, not the years of experience, it’s what’s in your heart. Let us all resolve to be 50-year lawyers in our heart, no matter our years.
Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.