[Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a series of brief profiles on the justices of the Florida Supreme Court as produced by the Bar’s Public Information and Bar Services Department. These profiles are to let Bar members and others get to know each justice as an individual.]
By Jennifer Krell Davis
Bar Public Information Coordinator
Justice Leander Shaw never consciously decided he wanted to become a Supreme Court justice.
“It would have been pretty optimistic to say, all of the sudden, ‘I want to be a Supreme Court justice,’” he says laughingly. When he was appointed as a justice, however, he saw it as an opportunity to have a direct impact on the lifestyles of the people of Florida, his adopted home state.
Justice Shaw names several U.S. Supreme Court justices who inspired his entering into law as a vocation.
“I thought when I got out of the service, this country was being changed by lawyers, especially in civil rights,” Justice Shaw said. “I was getting into medicine before that, but lawyers were changing this country.”
Justice Shaw said he admired Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan for being “visionaries. . . able to see where the country was heading.”
Justice Shaw’s legal career includes teaching law at Florida A&M University’s original law school, working in a public defender’s office, as well as in a state attorney’s office, then moving to private practice. He values all of those experiences as part of what he brings to the bench. “You’re a composite of all of your life experiences.”
One thing Shaw thinks that lawyers should learn in law school, but don’t, is to relax. As a lawyer and then as a judge you are primarily a problem- solver, and there are certain rules and parameters that you work within to solve these problems. And you do yourself, and you do your client, a favor when you just relax and you don’t climb on your horse and ride off in all directions,” Justice Shaw advises calmly.
The most valuable lessons from law school for Justice Shaw were that, “When you graduate you are going to be able to do things for yourself and for other folks that the average person cannot do. Forever and ever, now you will have a sense of confidence, as a result of being a lawyer, that you know your rights, not easily intimidated, and you can do things for people that they can’t do themselves. And you owe something back.”
Although he wouldn’t give up the legal profession, Justice Shaw jokes that in another life he “would probably like to be a forest ranger and be out there with Smokey the Bear doing nothing but fishing and looking out for forest fires.”
Last on the list of alternate occupations, however, is insurance salesman. Justice Shaw attempted that profession in college and wryly says that being a salesman was not his calling.
Justice Shaw, however, does feel strongly about his calling to the legal profession. He has learned that “when you are privileged or blessed, there’s a debt that goes along with that . . . because life is short, and when you leave here, many things that you think are so important are not important at all. And, if you are going to leave any type of legacy at all, it will be what you did for other people and how you helped their lives.”
Even at night Justice Shaw finds legal problems working themselves out. “It’s always on your mind.”
Outside the courtroom, Justice Shaw tries to keep life as stress-free as possible. Jazz and fishing are his top two passions. He enjoys fishing on the beach in front of his house near Jacksonville. He also loves to listen to his collection of jazz and blues artists. He doesn’t have to choose between them. Thankfully, his headphones accompany him on his fishing excursions.