Lift your practice by lifting others. Host Adriana Linares talks with attorney and community leader Eugene Pettis about how his lifelong commitment to community service built his brand and his business.
Pettis, the first African American president of The Florida Bar, made a conscious effort to carve out time for giving back, leading literacy and education efforts and fostering open, honest communication while seeking solutions. Public service builds connections, brand, and ultimately business. “We’re on this earth to do better by others,” he says.
But don’t forget, a business doesn’t build itself. Be bold. Pettis, who has represented Fortune 100 companies including ExxonMobil and Starbucks, says he’s never shied from approaching even the biggest potential clients.
Plus, we have a special upcoming mailbag edition on Office 365 and all things Microsoft. Got a question? Contact us at [email protected]
- Service above self. Know the value of community service and helping others.
- If you see a problem, solve it. If you have a good idea, act. Community involvement builds your brand.
- Be bold. Don’t shy from approaching the biggest potential clients.
New Insights, brought to you by Nota by M&T Bank
- Veteran attorney and mediation professional Liz McCausland answers questions from new solo Stephanie Larenas
- Question 4/4: “I am so nervous about putting myself out there. What are some tips you can give me about doing it confidently?”
Special thanks to our sponsors, Lawclerk, Alert Communications, Abby Connect, and Clio.
Adriana Linares: Before we get started with today’s episode, I want to make sure and thank our sponsors; Alert Communications, LAWCLERK, Clio and Abby Connect. LAWCLERK is where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. Whether you need a research, memo or a complicated appellate brief, our network of freelance lawyers have every level of experience and expertise. Signing up is free and there are no monthly fees. Only pay the flat fee price you said. Use rebate code New Solo to get a hundred dollar Amazon gift card when you complete your next project. Learn more at lawclerk.legal.
Adriana Linares: It’s time for another episode of New Solo on Legal Talk Network. I’m Adriana Linares, a legal technology consultant and trainer and a host of this fabulous show. If you’d like to learn more about me, please visit lawtechpartners.com.
I’m very honored today to have Gene Pettis, Eugene Pettis, I will call him Gene because I also consider him my friend, as my guest on New Solo today. Eugene was the president of the Florida Bar few years back. That’s how he and I became acquaintances and how I have managed to keep an eye on him over the years. We are going to talk about a couple of things today. I wanted to start with asking Gene about his personal journey that he’s been on this year. He’s going to fill us in on that. And then, I’m going to ask him to talk to us about why community service is an important part of his success as an attorney in Florida. Then I’m going to ask us to share some success tips for law firms and lawyers and managing partners like him as far as any nuggets he can share with us about running a successful practice. Hi Gene.
Eugene Pettis: Hey Adriana, how are you doing?
Adriana Linares: I’m great, thank you. How are you doing?
Eugene Pettis: I’m doing well. It’s a pleasure to see you and a pleasure to be with you and I’m doing well. I feel, despite the challenges of 2021, I’ve been blessed.
Adriana Linares: And you don’t just mean the challenges of COVID, you have been through a lot this year and you have put your journey out there on Facebook on a podcast and I think it’s so brave of you to do that. So I want you to just give us a little background on yourself first and how you practice, where you practice and then what happened this year.
Eugene Pettis: Certainly. I just completed year 36 so amazingly. Time really moves quickly.
Adriana Linares: Wow.
Eugene Pettis: But I’m a civil litigator here in Fort Lauderdale. I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale so, I’ve had the blessing of practicing where I grew up and to see my hometown grow as Fort Lauderdale has. I focus my practice primarily on medical malpractice and wrongful death plaintiff’s work. I’ve evolved and we’ll get into that later over that 36 year-period to my current state of practice. But I’ve been with a firm, I’ve litigated, I’ve represented from Fortune 100 companies, still have a few and I built the practice from square one. It was nothing that I inherited. It was my sweat and tears and effort that build it. And I’ve really enjoyed the practice inside and out from practicing to the additional platform of community serving and professionally being engaged in the leadership of the practice of law in the State of Florida.
But along the way, at the end of last year, I exercise often and at the end of last year, I felt a tingling in my right leg that just was a little different than what I had never experienced. So fortunately, I text messaged my orthopedic neighbor and say, “Hey, I think I may have a sciatic irritation here. What should I do?” He said, “You need to stretch. Why don’t you go to stretch zone?” I said, “I went there the other day, they’re too aggressive.” He said, “Well, come by and I’ll give you some physical therapy after an examination.”
I went by and was examined by Dr. Schrock, had no symptoms of a sciatic injury at that point in time so he starts the therapy and over the next few weeks, it progressed into just an excruciating discomfort in my right leg. And he said, “Let me get a lumbar film.” And once he took the lumbar film, he noted at the bottom of the lumbar that they had gotten a sacral, some of the sacrum area of your body down in your pelvic area. And he said, “Gene, come by the office. I want to show you something.” And he said, “I want to get another MRI of the sacral area. Do you mind?” I said, “No” so he had me to undergo that and lo and behold I did that on January 14 of this year.
On January 18, I picked up films to go to a specialist that he had identified and I had a almost 15-cm mass in my pelvic abdominal area that he estimates was four to five years old that was cancerous.
Adriana Linares: Oh my gosh.
Eugene Pettis: I never had any problems prior to this period of time and the cancer had, not only grown across my abdomen area in my pelvic region, but it gotten into my spinal column.
Adriana Linares: Oh my goodness.
Eugene Pettis: About 3 cm of it was in my spinal column which was turned out. It was only 3 cm but anything in your spinal column raises the fear of brain cancer so they jumped on that immediately. So that was — I went through a journey that you didn’t see coming that really tests your faith in your will and all of that and more was tested going through chemotherapy. But fortunately, it reacted very well to the three different chemotherapies that they administered and I went into remission in May which was earlier than anticipated. I mean, it was out of the blue. I didn’t even go to that consultation expecting to hear following a PET scan that, “Hey, let’s talk about you a little bit. You’re in remission.” And I said, “Wow.” And it has been reconfirmed as of recent as early late August, early September.
And just last Wednesday, I started a course of radiation that when I went to see the radiation therapist, I said, “There’s no way I’m going to do more radiation. I’m through with treatment. I feel great. I don’t want to regress.” But I was convinced that I was the perfect candidate because it was all upside and very little risk given the dosage and I can move my recurrence rate from 30% down to 10. So I thought a little inconvenience for 20 days is worth picking up 20% less recurrence. I’ll be through by December 1 and hopefully, this will all be behind me.
Adriana Linares: One year and then done from January to December.
Eugene Pettis: He said, “20 days for decades of light.” So when you put it that way, I said, “I want to have the ladder so I’ll give the 20 days.”
Adriana Linares: That’s a little bit of a no-brainer.
Eugene Pettis: Yeah, exactly.
Adriana Linares: You’re like, “Can I get 40 days?”
Eugene Pettis: Exactly.
Adriana Linares: Let me double this. You know, a lot of people get news like this diagnosis and they choose not to share it with the public. Obviously, you share it with your close family. Why was it important to you to put it on Facebook and talk about it on your podcast? I know that attorney well-being is an important part of your ethos and how you operate. Was that part of why you wanted to do that and share the journey?
Eugene Pettis: It was and I’m not a bible thumper. I’m a believer. I came up in a Christian family and I felt it was far something greater than just my getting well and that’s why I thought it was very important that I share it with others because I think there’s power in faith. I think there’s power and strength in believing you’re going to get through some of the challenges we face on this Earth. And fortunately, I had my faith to lean on and I just saw a very important obligation to share, not only for the transparency of what I’m going through, but for me to be an example of what we have to do as best as I can, exemplify what we have to do when we face those types of challenges.
You can crawl under a rock and be woe as me or you can show strength and you can show faith. And I just believe that it was very important to share and it touched so many people, some who I knew, some who I didn’t know that hopefully, if they ever cross that type of challenge, they can reflect on some of the messages that I’ve shared from that healing journey.
Adriana Linares: A couple of the messages that you shared on your podcast that I thought were so great and I want to say them out loud because I think this falls in to what you’re saying and I will ask you about your podcast in a second. You wrote or you said, “Friendships are like medicines.” And then you went on to say, “Be a friend before you need a friend.” And I thought that’s just so powerful and so simple and you talked a lot about how much, not only you had that positive approach, but all the support and the notes that you received and the texts and the emails were so important to you and they were important to you before you went through this and they’re important during and I’m sure they’re going to continue to be important.
And you spoke about making an effort reminding people to get out there and make those outreaches to people you haven’t spoken to in a while to just remind ourselves that we’re humans, we need each other and I really appreciated those words a lot and I’m sure they meant a lot when you said them because of what you were going through.
Eugene Pettis: You know, one of the most remarkable chapters of such a journey is when people take their time and it could be 30 minutes to dictate a text message or a call. It means a lot that people care. You don’t go through those types of life challenges without coming out. You should come out a better person. It shows your vulnerability. It shows you the importance of today. It focuses you on what matters and me being a busy lawyer and planning for the future, all we have is now. And anything that’s important to you, you should be addressing it now because there’s so many things that can happen that you may not even get to the end of working. When I retire, when I’ll do this or you may not.
So often, we think of people but we don’t stop and communicate. And we are in the car, you can text message at the like a 20-minute something to lift somebody up and to stay connected. It’s so easy but we don’t do it enough. And I’ve just gotten a lot better at, “Hey, how’s it going? Hope all is well. Just thinking of you.” And that took two seconds, three seconds but it means something to the recipient, particularly when they’re in a situation or a life Challenge.
And I believe the reason I had so many people to connect with me through this journey is one, I was transparent about it and number two, because I’d already laid the seeds of being a friend and that’s be a friend before you need a friend. Because once you’re in need, if you’ve not build your life upon those types of blocks, you may not get the connectivity that you need from other people. In life, you’re going to have challenges that you’re going to have some down days and just to look like every single day, god sent somebody or one or two people out of the blue that you have touched, that lifts your spirit and pulls you out of that what could have been a dark slope, just pulls you back and gives you a positive vibe to build on and to heal on. And that’s why that podcast came to me. Be a friend before you need a friend. That’s where it grew from.
Adriana Linares: And I think too when you put it out there that you’re going through this, you’re giving people permission to check in on you, to ask how you’re doing, to then say, “Oh, I’m going through something similar.” And I think that’s what’s hard sometimes for us. We want to protect ourselves and we don’t want to put our issues, our weaknesses out there. But when you do, I think a lot of times, the feedback is way more positive than when it comes out later.
Eugene Pettis: Yeah. I just think if you put your weakness out there and you handle it appropriately, the weakness turns into a strength. Not that I was and for me and what I was going through that really, the throes of chemotherapy, it’s a debilitating therapy. It’s really tough. But I felt inner strength from so many people and how I had approached it from our mutual friends and Barbara and Rene and all of them. They were team Gene.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, they were.
Eugene Pettis: And they sent me t-shirts and all of them had on t-shirts team Gene and sent me all sorts of paraphernalia. Jess, Liz and Barbara Leach, Judge Leach and Rene Thompson and Melanie, those four are part of team Gene and they stayed in contact with me all the way through. So that’s just an example of sharing strength.
Adriana Linares: All of those ladies that you’ve mentioned have been on this podcast and let me tell you, if you want a team, there is no better team than those four attorneys.
Eugene Pettis: Those four are great in every way professionally, personally and friendship.
Adriana Linares: I am so lucky to call them and you my friends, it makes me want to cry. Before we go on to our next segment, I do want to ask you, because we’ve mentioned it several times, your podcast.
Eugene Pettis: Yeah.
Adriana Linares: So tell us about your podcast and you do interviews but you also have the motivational moments which is a couple of the ones that I listen to this morning. I listen to them all the time but today, I needed a refresher because so many podcasts to listen to. But tell us a little bit about how that podcast came to be and you seem to be enjoying it. You have a great voice for podcasting. It’s kind of a shame because you’re such a handsome man. You should do a little bit on YouTube every once in a while. But tell us about Can We Talk? 360.
Eugene Pettis: Absolutely. It grew out of George Floyd’s death back in May of last year and I’m just a believer that it takes a conversation to change the world. So many issues that were confronting as a society is because nobody’s talking to each other. We’re yelling, we’re ignoring, we’re in silos of all sorts of definition. And I thought that I should use my abilities and network and reputation to bring people together for a conversation. One that may not be the most comfortable conversation but one that needed to be had. So I branded the Can We Talk to have some frank, authentic conversations. There is no right or wrong answer. We need to talk about it and we learn from each other.
I was also the chairman at that time of the Tower Club which is a private club here in Fort Lauderdale. I brought together the community from the county manager to the city manager of Fort Lauderdale to businesspeople to chamber folks and I brought them all the way in on two or three panels and had a live feed of a conversation on these issues. And these are really good guys and ladies and friends and many of them said, “Gene, I never thought about it. I never thought about societal issues from the perspectives that you’ve raised and I missed it.”
So that’s the growth of Can We Talk? 360 to 360 is. We talk about everything. It’s a broad spectrum of issues and the Can We Talk is the central element to a civilized society. And I put the two together and I’ve been doing it since May. I took a little time off during some of my treatment but I’m back full throttle now. And then those conversations are typically, those interviews I should say are typically an hour or less but then I wanted some motivational moments which are five to seven minutes, something much quicker, easier to digest and those are conversations that I have that just gives people a little nugget to think about during the course of the day.
And you never know who you’re touching with those things because I blast it out through various social media platforms and people come up to me and they’ve heard them and they compliment and give me some more type stuff. I just don’t think we are given experiences to keep to ourselves. We share those experiences and that’s where they’re able to grow and to nurture other people’s lives. And that’s what I’m doing through the podcast, both the panel Can We Talk as well as the motivation moments.
Adriana Linares: Well, I love it. I encourage everyone to go and listen to some episodes and subscribe because they’re great conversations. I love your motivational moments. It made me laugh when I was listening again to the most recent one I think because I’m one of those weird random texters where something will make me think of a friend that I haven’t seen in five years but I still have their phone number so I’ll text and say, “Hi. I know this is super random but I thought about you and wanted to say hi.” You don’t even need to text me back. Right? I mean, it’s that touch that sometimes, like you said, you never know who you’re going to touch when and they’re going to need.
Eugene Pettis: Sometimes, people come to your mind for a reason. Sometimes you connect with people just in the time of need. We need to do more of it.
Adriana Linares: I agree. You know, half the time, the reason I do it is because I want to beat them to the punch. Because how many times have you said, “Oh, I’m going to text so and so when I’m not driving.” And then they call you.
Eugene Pettis: Yeah, exactly.
Adriana Linares: And then you say, “Oh my God, this is so weird. I was just thinking about you.” And they’re like, “No, you weren’t.” And you just say, “No. Yes, I was.”
Eugene Pettis: Exactly.
Adriana Linares: Well, let’s take a quick break. Listen to some messages from some sponsors and I’m going to come back and ask you about all of the community service that you have put in over the years. We’ll be right back.
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Adriana Linares: All right, everyone, I’m here with Gene Pettis, one of the most respected, well-liked, lovable humans and he’s a lawyer too that you’ll ever meet. Gene, you know, there’s not a lot of people in this world that I say I’ve never heard a bad thing about that person because we all have our haters but you are truly one of those people who has as long as I’ve ever known you, which is now probably, well when were you president of the bar?
Eugene Pettis: 1314.
Adriana Linares: About seven or eight years, I’ve known you and everyone around you, I’ve never heard anyone say a single negative thing about you. It’s amazing. I can’t say that about a lot of our mutual friends. So, it’s really something that I hope you realize how much people respect and admire you and you didn’t become president of the Florida Bar for nothing or by nothing. First of all, I want to tell everyone that you were the first African-American president of the bar.
Eugene Pettis: Correct.
Adriana Linares: And it took until 2013 to get us there but you did it. In your podcast, you say, “I’m an attorney and a community servant.” So I want to remind our listeners because I get a lot of guests that talk about community service and networking and leadership and getting involved but man, I don’t know that anybody does it better than you. Why has that always been important to you and why does it continue to be important? You were president of the bar seven or eight years ago and I still see you on Facebook giving talks at organizations and dedicating a lot of your time to your community both legal and outside of legal.
Eugene Pettis: You remember when I was bar president in my speech, in my acceptance speech, I mentioned and this was given to me and I gave credit to the gentleman who shared it with me like three months before I became bar president. And he said, “What’s your dominant hand?” And I said, “My dominant hand is my right hand.” And he said, “As you continue to climb the ladder of opportunity, I want you to pull yourself up by your left hand and reach back and lift others by your dominant right hand.” When he said that, I was in a hallway in Houston, Texas and it just struck me as a wow moment. And I have given hundreds of speeches during my bar three years of leadership. There’s nothing I’ve said that has resonated more with people than that.
That goes to why and long before but I never articulated it that way. That goes to why I give service. We’re on this Earth to do better by others. And if you do that, you’re going to have more than enough for yourself. And too often, we can slip into reversing that and we can reverse it by saying, I’m going to do for myself and use my resources for myself and if I have anything left, I’ll share it. And you don’t have anything left so you just miss out an opportunity. And you have to trust. You don’t do good to reap rewards but I can tell you, doing good brings you rewards.
So many examples of community service. I’ve been heavily involved in education at every level. I’m on the board of directors for the foundation executive committee at the University of Florida now. I have served at the University of Florida all of my years since graduation in 1985 from the law school. I gave service while I was a student in various offices connecting my fellow students to the community. I got out and I’ve been involved and chaired the Broward Community College Board for three years and was on there for 17. I see problems in society and I’m just wanting to say, “If I see the problem, let me come up with a solution.”
You know, we have a literacy issue in our society and in every community. There’s no reason to have a literacy committee so I created the Community Education Alliance. I had a lunch on Friday with my director for Community Education Alliance directing that initiative. I worked it through the school. We have six schools that we have volunteers to go through to read, to mentor at every level from elementary school to middle school to college. There is no excuse for having illiteracy in our society. We receive it as if it’s okay. It’s not okay. There’s too many resources we have here. So I just believe on the time that we’re given on this Earth. We should leave it better than we found it in any way we can. And one of my things is to use my reputation and my skills to resolve some of the problems in society and the favor that I have on my life to call people together.
I don’t always have the solution but I have the ability to call people on to a common platform to let’s address some issues. And that’s why I think community service is so important and lawyers in particular because our creed of professionalism say, “First do public good.” And that’s something that we’ve lost over the years, doing public good. And if you do public good, you’re marketing yourself, you’re networking your business, you meet people along the way that again, you know, go out there looking for it but it happens. It’s just an organic process that you grow and your practice grows from it. And what better brand to have than I give up my time for the community and others.
Corporate America, they spend millions of dollars for that type of brandy. You can develop it on your own with some effort.
Adriana Linares: And I’m sure everyone is going to be wondering, how do you manage your time? You’re a partner in a busy firm, you are president of the bar, you’re on board of directors, you are going through chemo, you have raised daughters, you have run organizations. What are your time keeping secrets? No, not time keeping, time management.
Eugene Pettis: Time management. As you mentioned, my daughters, Chanel and Chardae, as they were coming through adolescence, I was committed to not miss any of their moments and they were in all the various sports; soccer, basketball, softball and I’m a guy who can’t be in the stands quiet. So I just decided let me coach the team because now, I got a legitimate reason to yell. So I coached a lot of that just so I can be me. And I make time for that. I sleep a good number of hours but it’s how you prioritize what’s important. I don’t waste a lot of time. I’m always thinking. I was writing — my wife Pam mentioned to me last night, “What are you doing?” I was writing some notes down for another motivational moment. My mind is always working. The leadership academy was created in my mind on a Sunday on the couch.
Adriana Linares: That’s right, that was your baby.
Eugene Pettis: Yeah, I have this idea and the notes are somewhere in one of my iPads. I have this idea. So I don’t allow good ideas to pass me. I usually write them down and come back to them and build upon the good ones but it’s just not using time as an excuse. We waste a lot of time in life and if you use your time wisely and be focused in your efforts, you can get it all done and have some fun along the way. I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I litigate very intently but I serve with equal intensity. And if you’re committed to your task, you get it done and I’m just a no excuses person. I don’t go into anything ill-prepared but I have intentionality on connecting and being present on the things that are important to me.
Adriana Linares: On the same topic of time and serving, you dedicated a lot of time to becoming and being president of the Florida Bar, one of the largest bars in the country. What was it like being bar president?
Eugene Pettis: You know, it’s one of those things that I didn’t set out to do. Again, going back to the universe, my faith, Henry Latimer would have been the first African-American president. He was a mentor of mine and thousands and thousands of others. He was killed in an auto accident in January 2005. And the day he died, a judge called me and said, “Gene, I have bad news. Henry Latimer passed.” Which was shocking to all of us. And the next call was, “We need you to run for his seat. You must do this.” And he was from Fort Lauderdale.
He was a fraternity brother of mine and it see us and he was just a mentor for me and I listened to that call and I stepped in to bar leadership because I had been taken out of the bar leadership rim when I got appointed by late Governor Chiles to the Water Management back in 91 to 1999. And I got a call on that and I said I’ll do it and I did it for eight years. So that took me off of — I was the vice president of the National Bar Association Florida chapter. I had been president the next year. I had to take, go a different direction so this was me coming back to the practice of law. And sometimes, I think that’s good because I came in with fresh ideas.
I wasn’t just caught up in doing things the same way. I came in with some different experiences which led to some of the successes that I and all the lawyers and leadership of the bar what we achieved during my tenure.
Adriana Linares: It must have been a fun ride because I know it’s a very busy job to manage everything that comes and goes with bar that size but you did it with grace and dignity. And again, everyone just adores you and Gene, it’s just — anyway, I can’t say enough good things about you. Let’s take a quick break, listen to some messages from some sponsors and when we come back, I’m going to ask Gene about how he built a successful practice.
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Adriana Linares: Welcome to New Insights. This is our fourth and final question from Stephanie to Liz. We’d like to thank NODA by M&T Bank for their support of this segment. To learn more, visit trustnoda.com. Terms and conditions may apply.
Stephanie, you’ve asked so many great questions. What is your last question for Liz?
Stephanie Larenas: My last question is, I am so nervous about putting myself out there. What are some tips you can give me to do it confidently?
Liz McCausland: First, I’d ask what is making you nervous? Is it asking for the business? Does that make you uncomfortable? If that’s something that makes you uncomfortable then as I mentioned when you go to network, make sure it’s something that you’re interested in as well so that you can have conversation with other people that is very authentic to you. Also, ask other people about themselves. Don’t ever leave the impression with someone that you’re only there to see what they can do for you. Ask them what you can do for them and really be interested in what they’re looking for. When you leave that kind of impression on someone, it’s going to give you business. It’s going to start a new relationship with someone. So if that’s what’s making you nervous, asking for the business, that’s how I would approach it.
But some just tips that I would give you that I use myself is I always stand by the bar or the buffet because everyone’s going to come to you and you don’t have to have that awkward time where you’re trying to approach a group of people. There’s going to naturally come to you and then I always have some questions ready, but they’re not questions like what do you do or where do you work? There are things like, do you have anything fun planned this weekend? Any trips coming up? What’s the best thing that come out of COVID for you? Just something that’s going to start a real conversation.
To go back also, if what’s making you nervous is that you’re not qualified or you’re not skilled, there’s always going to be someone more qualified than you but know that you bring something to the table that they don’t. That’s going to be your life experiences, your desire to do well, your passion for this new area of law or your practice. And those are something that big firms can’t contend with, other lawyers can’t contend with so be confident in what you bring to the table.
Adriana Linares: Well, this has been a great series of New Insights. Thank you so much Stephanie for putting yourself out there. Tell everyone how they can find, friend or follow you.
Stephanie Larenas: Adriana and Liz, thank you so much for having me here today. I really appreciate your expertise, your knowledge and your wisdom. If you want to follow me or find me, you can go to my website at peaceofmindlegal.com.
Adriana Linares: And Liz, your answers were over the top amazing. Thank you so much for your time. Tell everyone how they can find, friend or follow you.
Liz McCausland: Thanks for having me Adriana, it’s been a real pleasure. Stephanie, I wish you the best and I hope I’ve helped. I have a very easy email, [email protected]. My website is also lizlawfirm.com. If you would like to follow me on social media, you can look me up as Liz McCausland and that’s McCausland.
Adriana Linares: Well that was it for our segment with Stephanie and Liz but don’t worry, we’ll have a new set of guests coming up soon.
Okay, we are back with Eugene Pettis, former president of the Florida Bar, busy litigator, community servant and just an all-around hell of a nice guy.
Gene, when we started this conversation, you said, “I’ve built this practice for nothing. We started at zero.” How did you do it?
Eugene Pettis: I think, we’re having more and more young folks coming out of school these days going into solo practice. Our group that looks like a firm but it’s three individual practices in the group, all of those configurations are like 70% of our bar that is lawyers five and less. I was fortunate to have a firm to start with, it was an excellent firm. When I started on May 1, 1985 with Rex Conrad, I was in trial for three weeks from May 1 on a brain-damaged baby case. Three weeks, day one and a brain-damaged baby case. That’s how my career took off. A year from that, I was in trial by myself. I shouldn’t have been but I was in trial by myself thinking I knew everything in trial work and you don’t learn it in one year.
But what’s really important is when we left Conrad Scherer & James and seven of us formed our own firm and then Jim and I, Jim Haliczer and I formed this particular firm 25 years ago, I wanted my own clients. And I sat around and I was — we were a defense firm at that point in time representing people who have been sued and I thought what connections do I have. And the first lesson is, you must be bold. I contacted a deputy superintendent of the school board of Broward County. I said, “Hello, Mr. Dandy. He’s deceased. And I said, “Eugene Pettis. I know what I’m doing. He’s, “Hey Pettis, you got a deep baritone voice.” He said, “Come on over when you want to and we’ll chat.” So I said, “I’m going to West Palm Beach. I’ll be back by 2:30.” 2:30, I’m back in his office and I said, “I know what I’m doing Mr. Dandy, I just need an opportunity.”
And he picked up the phone and he called someone and said, he said, “Judy, I’m sending a friend over. Take care of him, okay.” And hung up and said, “Go see Judy.” I said, “Judy who and where is Judy?” And from that bold step of calling somebody cold, I made millions and millions of dollars from that. That same lesson is applicable throughout my entire practice. I would call the chief of police, City of Fort Lauderdale city managers. I would call Darden Restaurants, Starbucks, clients that I have and I would say, I would get out there for Darden Restaurants for example. I saw them. They had an African-American general counsel and I said, “I want to meet her.” And I was going to go to an event that she was speaking at. I had to cancel it. She was in Miami and it went forward. So I got into my network and said, “Does anybody know her?” And they indicated, “Yes, I’ll connect the two of you.” And they connected us and the rest is history.
That’s being entrepreneurial in your thinking. It’s networking. It’s being bold in the ask because all they can say is no or hell no and I’m back to where I am. So I didn’t lose anything. You know, I’ve represented ExxonMobil. I’ve represented Banks. I represented you name it by just going out there and being bold, confident and using your people skills and entrepreneurial type savvy to grow. And what I did and some of the Fortune 100 companies I’ve told you about and I represented the largest in the world, security company, Starbucks, Exxon, all at the same time. And it’s like, “How did you do that?”
Well, I sold to those companies what normally would be major law firms at twice the rate that I’m offering that they’re getting a board certified lawyer in the American College of Trial Lawyers with excellent trial skills and reputation at half the price and give me a chance. And it worked. And the same thing is the truth for the young lawyers who are coming out let’s say in personal injury plaintiffs, whatever they’re doing, it’s the hustle. It’s getting out there dedicating your time but being strategic and bold in your initiative. And if you do that, you won’t go hungry. You’ll grow your practice but too often, people think something’s going to fall out of the sky into your hands and it’s not. You have to go get it.
And I saw something last week. I took a picture. I live out on the Fort Lauderdale beach and I love taking photography and I saw a ship coming in. I wanted to look at a quote about it and I ran across something that said, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Swim out and meet it.”
And that’s what we have to do. We have to show initiative as opposed to just sitting here and waiting for good things to happen. You got to go create your good in life and it’s the same thing in the practice. So that’s been my recipe for success. It’s served me well for 36 years, my plaintiffs practice. You’ll be amazed how many people call me just — and I’m just trying to connect it all. How many people call me based on the reputation, the service, the community service? They know my name. They trust my brand. They trust my skill set. And lawyers and individual citizens call me wanting me to represent them or their family or the loss of their loved ones or serious catastrophic injuries. And those are just true and tried ingredients for success in my opinion.
Adriana Linares: I love that you used the term my brand because it’s one of those things that it takes oftentimes a PR specialist or a marketing seminar that a lawyer attends or something to understand how important they being the brand is. So couple questions or just a couple of comments from you on where you came to understand that you were the brand and that’s important for you. I had Seth Godin on the podcast a few months ago in January. I was super lucky, interviewed Seth Godin. And one of the things he said was, “Everything that goes out from your law firm, every communication from the letterhead to the font to who answers the phone to the appearances that you make to the presentations that you put help build your brand. They are who you are.”
So tell us a little bit or just give us some inspiration about, and especially for young attorneys, young attorneys or as I mentioned to you when we were in the green Room as I call it, a lot of my listeners aren’t necessarily young and new solo. Some of them are attorneys who have 10 years left of practice and they want to go out on their own. Maybe they don’t realize that they already have a brand and then how to take advantage of it if they want to spend the last 10 years of their careers running a solo practice.
Eugene Pettis: Absolutely. One of the things that, and I didn’t know it in my first five years of practice, but I figured it out when I made that call to Mr. Dandy that I had a reputation and I could communicate with individuals and speak on my own behalf. That started my appreciation that I was the brand and it’s so crystal clear. Now that I’m looking back through a prism of 36 years that when you bill, when you treat people right, when you serve your community, when you do all those type of things that people see good — I was at a party on Saturday night. It was in someone’s backyard. This lady at our table, it was four people including the two of us, and she said, “I know you Eugene.” She said, “You have a stellar reputation when I was with the City of Fort Lauderdale.” I couldn’t even see her because it was so dark but that was her impression of me. That’s the brand that she knew of and she had seen me over there representing the City of Fort Lauderdale in various matters.
So it’s during that last 25 plus years that I know that you have to invest with time, treasure and talents in yourself to do the right things. And I find it to be all interconnected with serving your community, lifting others up and when you do that type of investment, when you come along for your own ask, it’s well-received because you’ve had so much invested in the Bank of Goodwill and they’re receptive of it as opposed to just always being the one trying to get stuff from people. I’ve already served them. They know my efforts. So that’s the process that I’ve always naturally gone through it.
It dates back to high school at the University of Florida. I was the black student union president my freshman year. I saw a need for change. I saw two different campuses and I went to the administrator, Art Sandeen who I can call right now and I said, “We have two universities. We have the black students and the white students. I want to bridge the gap and bring us together and I have the get involved campaign idea.” And he gave me blessings, gave me some money and if you look back at my bar presidency year, I had the get involved campaign and had a record number of people getting on committees because I talked about getting involved, being the change makers and being the change you want to see in the world. That’s my brand and that’s my heart and that’s my commitment to my time here on this Earth.
Adriana Linares: And it is truly genuine. It is.
Eugene Pettis, thank you so much for spending time with us today. This conversation was everything I was hoping it would be, inspirational and informative and just as lovely as could be. Thank you so much.
Eugene Pettis: Thank you Adriana and congratulations to your continued effort on New Solo podcasts and your touching and guiding and being a light for a lot of people and I appreciate you taking the time to help lift, as you always have, lift our profession to new heights.
Adriana Linares: Well, I am a lover of the profession, that’s for sure. Before I let you go, tell everyone where they can find. friend or follow you.
Eugene Pettis: You know, the podcast canwetalk360.com. Go there and listen to some of the podcast, panel discussions, motivational moments. I need to get better on social media. My marketing director Kerry is doing a great job of putting material out there that we’re a lot more focused on that now. And I’m here in Fort Lauderdale. You can contact me at [email protected]. You can contact me and I’ll be happy to speak to any of your followers on this podcast. I would love to connect with people. I love people.
Adriana Linares: And I know you mean that. Thank you so much Gene. I hope you have a wonderful afternoon. All right everyone, if you have liked what you heard today, throw a five-star rating out on Apple Podcast. And don’t forget, I’m taking a grab back for an upcoming episode on Microsoft Office 365, all the bells and whistles that you get with that so you can either hit me up on social media, LawTech Partners on Instagram, Adriana L. on Twitter or you can just send an email to [email protected]. We will see you again on the next episode of New Solo.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com