by Jan Pudlow
Surfing when the wind whips up big waves. Skiing behind a Mako fishing boat. Fishing, diving, swimming, and hanging out at the beach with friends.
When you’re a kid living on Singer Island north of Palm Beach, there are plenty of saltwater amusements.
Teenaged Greg Coleman, with sun-bleached hair and a golden tan, knew that all too well. And he had the incriminating report card from The Benjamin School to prove it: straight C’s.
“Son, you need to curtail some of these activities, or I am going to find a place for you to go to school where you don’t have these distractions,” Bill Coleman warned his son.
At the end of Greg’s last semester of his freshman year, he brought home his report card — again, too many dreaded C’s.
“That’s it. You’re done. You didn’t listen,” Bill Coleman announced sternly.
The very next day, the boat disappeared. Without any say-so, Greg learned his destiny.
He would begin his sophomore year in St. Louis, at The Principia School, a boarding school run by Christian Scientists.
At first, it was torturous for an outdoorsy Florida kid stuck in landlocked Missouri with no one he knew. Greg tried to run away five times, making it as far as the airport, naively hoping for merciful intervention from kind strangers. But he had no money and no way to leave.
Eventually, he made friends and straight A’s. And he became an All-American competitive swimmer in the 50-yard free style and played on the water polo team, poised to succeed in college.
“There are certain things in your life that you can look back on and say, ‘That was a crystallizing moment in my life.’ Whether I chose it or somebody else chose it for me, no question I would not be where I am right now if that decision had not been made by my father,” 51-year-old Coleman said.
“Without question, I would have been a charter boat captain, and I would be in the Bahamas somewhere fishing for blue marlin. That’s what would have happened had I stayed at Benjamin, because I had no interest in academics. I had too many distractions and too many things I enjoyed. And it was one of the smartest things my dad had ever done.”
Instead, Coleman graduated from Stetson University College of Law, and worked as a prosecutor and insurance defense litigator before joining the law firm in 1995 now known as Critton, Luttier & Coleman in West Palm Beach.
With a sterling reputation as a problem-solver before deploying his arsenal as a litigator, Coleman is a partner practicing complex commercial litigation, insurance bad faith, professional malpractice defense, and personal injury.
Working his way up the ranks of Bar service, he led the Young Lawyers Division and then became overall president, first at the Palm Beach County Bar Association and now at The Florida Bar.
While he prepares to take the oath as president of The Florida Bar, family and friends will gather from near and far for the occasion at the Annual Convention in Orlando. But someone important will be missing. Bill Coleman — a high-school dropout who joined the Navy at 17, a self-made businessman with the Midas touch who demanded excellence from his son — died of pancreatic cancer in July 2007.
Coleman is convinced his dad hung on for three years after the terminal diagnosis so he could meet his newborn grandson, Cody, the only child of Greg and Monica, who married 13 years ago.
Coleman is ready to deliver this joke at his swearing-in speech: The last two presidents cried at the inaugural ceremony, and if he cries, too, “the Georgia Bar and the Alabama Bar are going to sense weakness and come down and invade us!”
“So my goal is to not cry when I’m sworn in. But it is hard not to be emotional,” Coleman said, eyes glistening as he looked out his office window with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Breakers Hotel on the beach beyond.
“My dad would be so proud.”
Once, Coleman mustered courage to defy Dad. It was 1985, he was 22, and he’d just graduated from Stetson University with a bachelor’s degree in “business activities in finance” and a minor in political science.
Needing a break from academics, he planned to work that summer in Jupiter and start law school in the fall.
“No, that’s not the deal,” his dad said. “If I’m supporting you, you will do it the way I want you to do it.”
Greg obeyed and started law school the day after graduating from college. But a month into law school, he checked out with apologies and promised he’d be back.
Walking into his dad’s office at Harpoon Louie’s, an iconic seafood restaurant on A1A with a view of the historic Jupiter Lighthouse, Coleman confessed, “I just dropped out of law school.”
“Dad didn’t talk to me for two weeks, but he let me go to work at the restaurant,” Coleman said.
From the time the 750-seat restaurant opened in 1980, there was no preferential treatment for the owner’s son. Starting as a dishwasher, Coleman worked on the night cleaning crew, served as bus boy, waiter, and bar back when he was too young to tend bar. Five years later, his dad let him be one of five managers, ultimately working with the general manager for a year and a half.
When his dad signed a contract in November 1986 to sell Harpoon Louie’s (now called Bubba Gump), Coleman knew his job would end soon, and he asked Stetson: “Will you take me back?” Stetson agreed to let him restart law school in January 1987, and he graduated two-and-a-half years later.
“I worked in the best job any lawyer could ever have to prepare to be a lawyer,” Coleman said. “This was a big restaurant. During the season, there would be a thousand people there. It was the only show in town at the time. You just learn an awful lot about people, dynamics, and personalities.”
Coleman parlayed that knack to read people and get along with everyone into a valuable asset as a lawyer.
Dean Xenick, a senior associate who works closely with Coleman, said he’s like former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles basketball Coach Phil Jackson, who had a legendary Zen-like ability to quietly handle top-notch players with huge egos and personalities: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal.
“Greg can be like an ambassador. He’s very diplomatic and good at controlling and dealing with big personalities,” Xenick said.
“With a lot of his complex commercial litigation cases, he’s dealing with high-dollar clients with big personalities, in addition to dealing with lawyers with big personalities. He’s very good at coming into a room and taking all those big personalities and bringing everyone to the table. Greg is calm and even-keeled. We can duke it out and yell at each other all day long, but it will not solve the problem. Greg likes to use the phrase, ‘Let’s get to the meat of the coconut.’ His first attempt is to resolve the problem before it blows up at litigation.”
Fifteenth Circuit Judge Peter Blanc appreciates that quality.
“It’s a sign of strength. Greg is confident enough in his approach that he applies common sense and reason to analyze and come up with a solution before litigation is necessary,” Blanc said. “That saves the client aggravation and money. If it doesn’t work out, he has his litigation skills to fall back on. It just seems too often lawyers’ first reaction is to pull the trigger on litigation. And everyone is spending money on attorneys’ fees and getting angry and frustrated. I just know it is a pleasure to see attorneys like Greg who look at this process as a problem-solving process.”
Of course, some cases wind up at trial. Former Bar President Jay White, a close friend and colleague, was co-counsel with Coleman in a trial that lasted two-and-a-half months.
After winning the trial, the jurors had an unusual request: Could we take the winning legal team out to dinner and drinks at E.R.Bradley’s Saloon? Why not? The case is over, the judge said. So White and Coleman, along with co-counsel Bob Merkle and David Gaspari, received a unique critique of their trial skills from the amiable jurors. The lawyers learned the jurors had given them all nicknames: Merkle was “Court Jester,” Gaspari was “Sleepy,” White was “Ralph Lauren” because of the shirts he wore. And Coleman was “The Godfather” because he slicked his hair back and had an imposing presence.
At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Coleman took the jurors’ good advice to soften his voice and stand further away from the jury box, because he could be intimidating towering over them.
Coleman first commanded White’s attention when he was an assistant state attorney right out of law school.
“I would often stick my head in courtrooms and watch lawyers arguing their cases. I heard Greg was very good and I sat in a courtroom and watched one of his closing arguments, and he did an excellent job,” White recalled.
White was so impressed that he recruited Coleman to come work with him as his associate at Walton Lantaff, practicing insurance defense.
“He’s one of these people with a rare combination. He’s got a tremendous legal skill set, and he’s very personable. On top of that, Greg has really good common sense and great instincts. And you will not outwork him,” White said.
Years ago, White and Coleman went to Dallas to give a seminar for a client. They’d spent a long time preparing about 100 large binders full of information. They had read and reread over the material what seemed like 100 times to make sure it was perfect. But the night before the seminar, to their aggravation, out popped a glaring typo.
“Greg said, ‘I’ll correct that.’ We’re in a hotel. It’s 11 at night. I said, ‘How can you fix it now?’ And here is Coleman rolling up his sleeves,” White said. “He found an all-night printer, hopped in a taxi, and got it done. He is a perfectionist.”
TURN OFF THE LEGAL SWITCH
Coleman is also a high-caliber friend.
Bob Critton, a partner who hired him, admires Coleman’s skill as a master delegator. If he could change anything about Coleman, Critton said, it would be his slice in golf, and a wish that Coleman had more patience to hear the whole story before giving his opinion, even though he admits Coleman is right about 90 percent of the time.
Primarily, Critton said, “Greg is one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever known. Greg has more good friends that he would do anything for, and friends who would do anything for him. He has unwavering loyalty to true friends.”
White, who co-owns a fishing boat with Coleman, tells this story about their true friendship:
“I remember diving in the Bahamas and a bull shark came out behind me. I couldn’t see it. Greg grabbed my flipper, to say, ‘Let’s go.’ He could have just swum off to safety, but he didn’t abandon me. There aren’t a lot of people who will do that for you.”
Another co-owner of the boat is longtime friend Glenn E. Straub, a commercial real estate developer, who first met Coleman in 1988 and they instantly clicked.
“We went to Walker’s Key in the Bahamas: Five guys in our early 20s in a 25-foot boat. We really got to know each other well,” Straub said.
He learned to free dive by watching Coleman, a natural in the water. Wearing flippers and a mask and holding a spear, they looked for snapper and grouper to bring home for dinner.
They still love to go to the Bahamas together, where their cell phones can’t pick up a signal; they can forget about work; and Coleman can return to the fun-in-the-sun frolicking he perfected in his youth.
“Greg loves to have fun. He loves to laugh. And he likes to turn off the legal switch and be close to his family and friends, who are extremely important to him,” Straub said. “He lightens me up and makes me laugh.”
But if he’s ever in trouble and had to make a call, it would be to Coleman.
“Not only would Greg be at the top of the list, when you make the call, he would be happy to help.”
Straub has called his good friend to represent him legally in his business dealings, and appreciates that Coleman doesn’t just tell him what he wants to hear.
“He tells you the facts, as he sees them. He will generally advise against litigation and try everything in his power to resolve matters from a business-sense standpoint. But he is always prepared to move forward if that is his client’s wish. I have always respected that,” Straub said.
Former Bar President Scott Hawkins has been on the other side of the aisle in courtroom battles.
“We have a healthy respect for each other. When you are in litigation against him, he’s pretty direct, and that’s refreshing in this business. We’ve gone toe-to-toe. He can be fierce, and we butt heads pretty hard,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins has known Coleman since he was a young lawyer.
“He’s an energetic guy with a big sense of humor. He’s got an infectious way. He’s somebody that people naturally like.”
When Hawkins was Bar president in 2011-12, he put Coleman’s energy to good use advancing technology in Bar communications. Hawkins honored him with a President’s Award of Merit, one of three received by Coleman over the years from a trio of Bar presidents, testament to how integral his service has been on the Board of Governors and how well he knows the workings of the Bar.
“Greg is one of the most well-prepared persons to become president of a state bar in the nation,” Hawkins said. “He is superbly prepared.”
UP ON THE FARM
Sweet and huggable, Delores Coleman balanced her strict disciplinarian husband and admits she was “devastated” when they dropped Greg off at boarding school and cried all the way back to Florida.
Organized and smart, she did the books for her husband’s businesses. And she had three stair-step babies all in diapers at the same time: Greg, Christa, and Caryn.
Recently, 82-year-old Delores Coleman moved to Lake Oswego, near Portland, Oregon, to live next door to Christa to cope with loneliness after her husband’s death. She was full of pride talking about her oldest child.
“Greg seemed to hit the ground running. He was walking at nine months and got into everything,” she said.
Greg first learned to swim very young, after his dad gave him a few lessons in the shower and then threw him in the deep end of the swimming pool.
“That’s how to learn to swim in my family,” Greg Coleman said. “I’m dead serious. You learn to swim quickly.”
At six years old, Greg was riding on the lawnmower with his dad.
At 10, he was driving a pickup truck on the family farm in Boone, North Carolina, where they spent Christmases and summers.
“Here’s Greg on the pickup driving on the side of the mountain, with the wheels barely touching and me in the passenger’s seat,” recalled youngest sister Caryn Coleman, who lives in Denver.
“I never had any fear if I was with my big brother. As long as I can remember, I completely looked up to Greg and admired him. He could pretty much do no wrong, in my book. We’ve always had this special connection.”
She laughed remembering when they were children, Greg would say, “Hey, Caryn, I’ll trade you this shiny penny for that ugly quarter.” And she would agree.
He would make his voice sweet and endearingly call her “Boo,” and she would agree to do his laundry when they lived together in their 20s.
“Greg is by far the most charismatic of us children,” Caryn said. “When I see him in action, all he has to do is walk into a room and people gravitate to him. He has such energy and joy.”
Always up for an adventure and always wanting to take care of everyone is how Christa Coleman describes her brother — both now and when he was a kid.
“When he was around eight-ish or 10-ish, and we lived in Coral Gables, our neighbor’s alarm would go off. Greg would run to the garage for a shovel or pitchfork and make sure everything was OK. It was always Greg to the rescue. Greg was there to save the day,” Christa said.
Greg was also clever enough to spare them a scolding from their father. Christa recounted how when her parents would go out for the evening, and they were old enough not to need a babysitter, Dad laid down the rules: “Stay home. Do your homework. And, no matter what, no watching TV.”
Of course, as soon as their parents’ car rolled down the driveway, they turned on the TV, only to be found out later by Dad, who would return home and put his hands on the TV to see if it was still warm.
“My brilliant brother would get a bag of ice cubes and rest it on the TV to cool it off,” Christa said with a laugh. “I think we were able to get around it a few times. Greg has always been super smart and super clever.”
While he still finds time to play, Greg learned his strong work ethic on the family farm: Shoveling manure from the horse stalls, cleaning the kennel for a dozen dogs, cutting the fields, mowing 15 acres of manicured lawn, and fixing the fences.
After his seventh-grade year, the family was spending the summer at the farm, when Bill Coleman decided to sell his Miami business, Pet Chemicals — flea powders, tick dips, and dog perfumes, along with his original invention of the aerosol fogger to rid the house of pests — to Colgate Palmolive.
When Bill Coleman came up to the farm at summer’s end, he announced: “I’ve sold our house. Everything has been packed up. And we’re going to live here until I figure out what we’re going to do.”
Greg, then a student at Gulliver Academy in Miami, asked: “Do I get to say goodbye to anybody?”
And Dad said, “No. We’re here now. And we’re going to make a life here.”
In stark contrast to the private school, the Coleman kids enrolled at the public school in rural Watauga County.
“I’ll never forget I had auto mechanics class and all of these kids, who had grown up on farms, could rebuild tractors with their eyes shut. And here’s this surf and swimming kid from Miami who had to learn how to rebuild tractors,” Coleman said with a laugh. He spent half of eighth grade in North Carolina, before the Coleman family moved back to Florida and settled in Jupiter, where one of Greg’s best summer jobs was commercial king fishing that brought $1 a pound, netting him $1,000 on a great weekend.
While at The Principia School in St. Louis, Coleman’s best friend was fellow swim-team member Kent Merring, now in real estate finance and living in Southern California.
“We called him ‘Greg Gregarious,’” Merring said. “He always had a wonderful sense of humor.”
Merring admits they were a bit rebellious, and he tells this story:
“Greg grew up skateboarding and surfing and brought the skateboarding thing to St. Louis. When campus didn’t create enough excitement for us, we would venture out on the highway.”
He described how Coleman and he would interlock arms and cross legs on their skateboards, while a third friend hung on the back, and the trio would “catamaran” down the hilly access road leading to the Interstate.
“Off we went and we were really moving. Our eyes were even vibrating. We were moving at such a clip that we were catching up to cars going onto the highway,” Merring recalled. “We must have been going at least 40 mph on that access road!
“It was ridiculous! We were just looking at each other like maybe this is not such a good idea. How do we stop? Just then a car was coming toward us on the access lane and gaining on us and we had to bail out. We cut off into this shrubby, grassy area on the median. And soon as one skateboard hit the grass, we all went flying.”
Coleman landed in a tire, and they were all banged up and laughing, and agreeing they’d never try that stunt again.
When Coleman’s family spent a holiday at a ski resort, they invited Merring to join them.
Low clouds meant low visibility, but Coleman and Merring took the gondola ride to the mountain top and decided to make the best of it anyway.
“We made it down, and damaged our skis hitting rocks. The next day, the weather had cleared, and we saw how close we were skiing to the sheer drops. But the fear wasn’t there because we couldn’t see,” Merring said.
They took another dare-devil risk by skiing out of bounds, and got lost in the snow. They heard bells jingling in the distance, from a horse-drawn sleigh, typically reserved for couples.
“When it was trotting along, we flagged it down, and they took us back to the lodge. There we were, Coleman and I, sitting in that romantic sleigh with blankets over our laps,” Merring said with a laugh, quick to add that, no, they did not hold hands.
THE CALL OF THE COURTROOM
With a partial swimming scholarship to Southern Methodist University, Coleman was raring to go to Dallas, but Dad had other ideas.
“No, you’ve been out of state long enough. I’m helping you out, so pick a school in Florida,” Bill Coleman told his son, with a caveat that if he didn’t like it after a semester, he could go to SMU.
“You could have picked Sister Mary’s School for Sewing. I didn’t care. Because I was not going to stay in Florida. I was going to go back to SMU,” Coleman said.
His mom guided him to Stetson University in DeLand.
“I fell in love with Stetson,” Coleman said. “I fell in love with the campus. I fell in love with the professors. I joined a fraternity. And I was like, ‘This is home.’”
As for swimming, there were always the fraternity intramural games. Coleman represented Lambda Chi Alpha well, and they won the President’s Cup for being the best athletes on campus.
“We had baseball players. We had hunters. We had surfers. We had book-smart guys,” Coleman said. “It was a wild mix of very different personalities. And those years were some of the best years of my life.”
While in college, a traffic ticket sparked his enduring fascination with the law. When he went to the Volusia County Courthouse to take care of the ticket, there was a trial in session, so Coleman took the opportunity to watch the courtroom action.
He was hooked. From time to time, he would stop in to observe trials, picturing himself playing the lawyer’s role in this fascinating human drama unfolding behind courtroom doors.
Stetson law school friend Chris Killer, house counsel for Liberty Mutual in Orlando, remembers that Coleman lived in apartments bordering a golf course.
“We made an invention. We were calling it a ‘golf ball rake.’ We designed it and built it in one weekend, with several trips to the Home Depot. The purpose was to go to the pond next to the apartment complex to retrieve balls that had been hit in. We thought we could use our ‘golf ball rake’ and retrieve hundreds of free balls,” Killer said.
But when they tiptoed to the golf-course pond after dark, they were dismayed to learn the rake would not work, because they made it out of wood. Wood floats.
“Good thing Greg was going to be a lawyer and not an engineer,” Killer said with a laugh.
“MR. CALDWELL” MAKES A NAME FOR HIMSELF
The summer of 1988, Coleman interned at the state attorney’s office, agreeing to work without pay. He ended up being hired as an assistant state attorney, keeping his promise to stay two years.
“Yes, he worked for me for free and he was overpaid for what he did,” joked 15th Circuit State Attorney David Bludworth, now retired.
“I’m just kidding. Greg Coleman was a very interesting person in that he always sought increased responsibilities and was not afraid to tackle anything that was on the table. He performed very admirably as a prosecutor. But I could see early on that he was on the upward move, and that certainly has been true as he’d gone through the chairs, so to speak, for the bar associations. He cares about the profession and I’m very happy to see him take the reins for The Florida Bar.”
Both fresh out of law school in 1989, Joe Marx and Coleman had offices across the hall from each other at the state attorney’s office.
“Greg is a fair guy. As a prosecutor, that’s one of those things you were looking for. He was tough when he had to be and fair, and he had a lot of charisma, and he still does to this day,” said Marx, now a 15th Circuit judge, who practiced at Coleman’s law firm before going on the bench.
“To use a basketball analogy, he was like a point guard, always dishing out assists. He was a good guy to hang out with,” said Marx, who caught his first blue marlin with Coleman.
On Coleman’s last day as a prosecutor, they handled a felony trial together that makes them laugh to this day.
Throughout the trial, the legendary, crusty Judge Carl Harper kept calling Coleman by the wrong name.
“Judge, it’s Mr. Coleman,” Coleman would constantly correct, only to be told by gruff-voiced Harper: “Oh, whatever, Mr. Caldwell. Sit down.”
“If it happened once, he did it 20 times,” Marx laughs. “Judge Harper would say, ‘Whatever, boy.’ And Judge Harper really did call us ‘boy,’ with that Southern drawl. It was a hoot. And a good way to send Greg out the door. The rest is history.”
These days, no one flubs Coleman’s name. Greg Coleman has made a fine name for himself.
“He has an outstanding reputation as a trial lawyer. He has a special talent relating to people and building consensus,” said Mike Burman, who lured Coleman away from White’s insurance defense firm by simply saying: “Come join the plaintiffs’ side.”
“He is technologically forward thinking, compared to dinosaurs like me,” said Burman, who admits he prints out emails if they’re important and dictates responses to his secretary.
“These are difficult times for members of The Florida Bar, and Greg will not duck a challenge.”
Jorge Labarga first met Coleman when they were both working at the state attorney’s office; Coleman arrived as Labarga was leaving. When Labarga served as a circuit judge, Coleman practiced before him, and he was “always amazingly prepared and did an outstanding job for his clients. His presence carries a lot of credibility.”
Labarga will be elevated to chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court while Coleman is president of The Florida Bar.
Together, they will lead a Summit on Access to Justice — working with Florida’s Cabinet, executive office, legal services, The Florida Bar Foundation, and the business community — to tackle the crisis that 60 percent of Floridians who seek legal aid are turned away because of lack of funds, and more than half of middle-class citizens’ legal needs are unaddressed because they cannot afford to hire lawyers.
“Greg Coleman will bring a savvy business sense to the Bar presidency, and he cares about the poor,” Labarga said.
“We will work well together.”
Like Father, Like Son
“[Cody]’s a handful. He’s a good boy. He has a good heart. He has a good soul. He is smart. He will one day be a wonderful man. But he is stubborn!” Greg Coleman says of his only child, Cody, who turned seven in March.
Asked whether he will insist his son go to law school, Coleman was quick to say, “No!
He will take the course that he chooses in life. Although it turned out well for me in terms of the pushing, that is not the way I am going to raise Cody or want to raise Cody. You need to let a person choose their own course. You can nudge a little bit, but don’t push.”
Eye on the Target
In a corner of Greg Coleman’s office, a humongous stuffed wild turkey peers down from a branch, its talon clasping a shotgun shell.
Coleman fired that deadly shot, the first turkey he’d ever bagged. And it took him four years.
He ate the turkey breast and gained bragging rights.
“Turkey hunting is probably one of the most difficult types of hunting in the world because turkeys have eyes that are about 100 percent more sensitive to movement than humans. Even if you twitch your finger, they’ll catch it from 100 yards away,” Coleman said.
“And a shotgun is only accurate to kill a turkey from a maximum 55 or 60 yards. That’s half a football field. So you have to be able to call them in. You hunt them during mating season because there are two things they are thinking about: food and getting as many hens into his flock as possible. They are going all over the place to find food and hens. If you are making a female hen call, he’ll try coming and finding you and adding you to his flock.
“So you have to know how to make those calls, but the trick is, they are very smart. Once they get to about 100 yards, they stop. They want the hen to go to them. It’s part of the ritual. The trick is to try to get them to break that 100-yard marker and get them within 50 yards so you can take a shot. And you don’t want to take a shot and just injure them because that’s not good. You want to make sure that you hunt appropriately,” Coleman said.
“It took me four years of going into the woods and sitting in blinds and making hen calls and getting bitten by mosquitoes and watching wild boars go by and hearing rattle snakes, and all the things that happen to you when you are by yourself in the woods, especially since you have to go in about an hour and a half before the sun comes up to get settled. I don’t care who you are: If you are in the dark woods in the middle of a cypress swamp at 4:30 in the morning, and you know you have an hour before the sun comes up, it’s spooky. You hear sounds you’ve never heard anywhere else because you are out in the middle of nature.”
Good buddy Byron Russell, owner of Cheney Brothers food distribution business, taught Coleman how to hunt on land he leases from the Lykes Brothers, near Fisheating Creek in Southwest Florida.
“He professes to be a good turkey hunter. The first time I ever took him turkey hunting, he said he knew what he was doing. I set him out in a blind, and I when I came back to pick him up, he had set his decoy 10 feet from the blind and he was sound asleep,” Russell said with a laugh.
“He must have woken up for a few minutes. We spent some time working with him and calling and being still. Somehow, he listened enough to call that turkey and get the biggest one. I give him credit.”
Tech Savvy Goals
Before Greg Coleman knew he would run unopposed for Bar president, he crisscrossed the state and talked to a lot of lawyers. He preached to the choir at Bar section meetings. He picked up the phone and randomly called lawyers he’d never met. Some, he said, are involved in The Florida Bar and are up on the pressing issues facing the legal profession.
“And the ones who are not engaged have this view of the Bar that it’s the police department because of the disciplinary arm. All they know is, the Bar is the police and they don’t want to get a call from the police,” Coleman said.
Coleman wants Florida Bar members to know he is here to help them, and he has two goals of “immediate deliverables” to bring lawyers up to speed with technology that will assist them in their practices.
Affordable Technology Products for Law Offices
Coleman is appointing a Technology Committee that will put together a suite of technology products appropriate for a law office.
“I’m not talking about a GreenbergTraurig-size law firm,
he said. “I’m talking about 10 lawyers or less. My firm is less than 10 lawyers.”
With an eye toward the future, Coleman said, this suite of technology products will include all of the recommended hardware, practice-specific software, case management software, document software, and ancillary devices.
“You are not going to see anywhere in this suite of products a fax machine. Why? Nobody needs a fax machine anymore,” he said, adding you won’t find one at his firm.
This suite of technology products will be available on the Bar’s website.
“So Sally Jones — who just graduated law school and can’t get a job and needs to open a practice so she can feed her family and pay her student loans — can at least handle the technology aspects of the practice.”
All she would have to do, Coleman said, is go to the Bar’s website, download the suite of products and go into Best Buy and say, “Here, I need this.”
The list of products would be continually updated, as products quickly evolve.
New Member Benefit: Low-cost IT Consulting Services
Coleman wants to offer a new member benefit for low-cost information technology consulting services, like an affordable “Geek Squad for lawyers.”
“The lawyers who work at the 100-lawyer firms, if their computer breaks down, they call the IT department and somebody scurries up and replaces their desktop or fixes it to do whatever they need to do to get it up and running. That’s our lifeblood now. No desktop, no business,” Coleman said.
“The problem is, if you are in a law firm of five lawyers or less — the demographic that’s having this problem, and that’s 59 percent of our Florida Bar members — they don’t have an IT person in their office. IT people that you hire outside, generally, are very expensive.
“They may not be able to afford it. And even if they can afford it, they may not want to spend the money. So what do they do? They put a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery and hope it works,” Coleman said.
“I want to present a member service that will be low-cost, and affordable, where you can have access to a group of technology specialists who understand the practice of law, as well.
“We can combine the purchasing power of the Bar and say, ‘Look, we’ll make this available to our 100,000 members.’ And, quite frankly, I think it would be a great service to be available nationwide.”
Preparing for the Future Practice of Law
In addition to that duo of technology-related member benefits, Coleman wants to educate Florida Bar members about rapid changes affecting the practice of law.
What will happen in the next decade when driverless, accident-proof cars zip along roadways? Driving will become 98 percent safe, and there won’t be wrongful death cases and rear-enders and roll-overs, Coleman predicts.
Sounds good, unless you’re a personal injury lawyer.
“What are these 50,000 lawyers going to do to change the direction of their practice? And when are they going to realize it?” Coleman asks.
That’s the kind of futuristic big-picture thinking Coleman engages in as he prepares to guide Florida’s lawyers into the future practice of law, continuing the mission of the Vision 2016 Commission, the brainchild of former President Gwynne Young, launched by Immediate Past President Eugene Pettis, and carried forward by President-elect Ray Abadin.
“The problem with that message is that we, by training and by experience, are not forward-thinking people, in general,” Coleman said.
“How do we handle cases? Well, we look backwards: What happened? The precedent of the case. We look behind us. What did the court do? What did the Legislature say in the statute? What does the Constitution say? We’re always looking back. That’s how we’re wired as lawyers.”
Coleman challenges his colleagues to turn themselves around and look forward so they will be prepared to cope with rapid changes already happening in the practice of law.
He recounted how Gerry Riskin, a Canadian lawyer, author, and management consultant, ran through a litany of changes now on the legal landscape when the Vision 2016 Commission met for the first time in Tampa in September 2013.
“How many of you know what a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement is?” Riskin asked.
Everybody raised their hands.
“How much do you charge for drafting one of those?” Riskin asked.
One lawyer volunteered: “My hourly rate is $400, and it usually takes me a couple of hours, maybe two and a half, to get all the information, meet with the client, and gather the requisite information about what is being protected. It’s about a $1,000 proposition.”
Riskin pulled out his cell phone and said: “This is an app that came out a month ago.”
To the dismay of his audience, with that app, he created a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement with the names of the individuals, the subject matter being protected, and had it electronically signed by the parties.
It took three minutes, and the app was free.
“You now have created a document that traditionally lawyers would create that is being presented, quite frankly, by a nonlawyer company. Using that app, the person prints a document and uses it to protect some great secret that they have and want to turn into a business,” Coleman said.
“Are they getting their money’s worth? I don’t know. Is the agreement any good? I don’t know. Does it matter? No. Because the client thinks it’s OK. And unless it goes to litigation, no one is ever going to know whether it’s a good product or a bad product. And that is just one example of how technology is affecting the practice.”
Talking about the rapidly changing law profession is not employing scare tactics, Coleman said, but pointing out reality.
“The train is coming at you and you’re standing on the railroad tracks. And somebody says, ‘Hey, there’s a train coming at ya!’ Is that scare tactics? Sure. Is the train coming at you? Yes. Are they trying to help you? Yes. Get off the train tracks.”
Coleman wants to engage more Florida Bar members in this crucial discussion so that, rather than getting run over, they can adapt their practices to rapid changes and continue to thrive.
Biography of Gregory W. Coleman
Partner/shareholder at Critton, Luttier & Coleman in West Palm Beach
Complex commercial litigation, insurance bad faith, employment litigation, professional malpractice defense, personal injury, and wrongful death.
• Critton, Luttier & Coleman, associate (1995); partner (2000)
• Walton Lantaff, associate (1991-95)
• 15th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, assistant state attorney (1989-91)
Professional and Civic Activities:
The Florida Bar
• President (2014-15)
• Board of Governors (15th Circuit, since 2007)
• Executive Committee
• Legislation Committee (chair, 2008-09)
• Strategic Planning Committee (co-chair, 2007)
• Client Security Fund Procedures Committee (chair, 2008-12)
• Program Evaluation Committee (chair, 2010-11)
• Communications Committee (chair, 2011-12)
• Budget Committee
• Annual Meeting Committee Liaison (chair, 2005)
• Judicial Qualifications Screening Committee (chair, 2008-12)
• JNC Fourth DCA Screening Committee (chair, 2008-09)
• Rules Committee (vice chair, 2006-07)
• Special Commission on Lawyer Regulation (Hawkins Commission, vice chair, 2011-12)
• Disciplinary Review Committee
• Board Liaison to the Special Committee on Diversity & Inclusion
• Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism
• Presidential Special Committee on Multi-Jurisdictional Practice
• Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Committee
• Speakers Bureau (co-chair, 2000-01)
• Annual Meeting Committee (chair, 2003-04)
• Long-range Planning Committee
• Young Lawyers Division (president, 1999-2000)
The Florida Bar Foundation
• Board of Directors
Stetson University College of Law
• Board of Trustees
Palm Beach County Bar Association
• President (2002-03; the youngest to serve in that position at the time)
• Young Lawyers Section (president, 1996-97)
• Florida Bar President’s Award of Merit (2009, 2011, 2012, the only member to receive the honor three times in Florida Bar history)
• AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell
• Profiled in The Best Lawyers in America
• Top Lawyer, South Florida Legal Guide
• Legal Elite, Florida Trend
• Stetson University, bachelor’s degree in business activities in finance, minor
in political science (1985)
• Stetson University College of Law, juris doctor (1989)