Ramón A. Abadin: President of The Florida Bar
Soot and smoke swirled in the engine room of the Langfitt, where young Ramón Abadin sweated in 120-degree heat as a “wiper” cleaning behind boilers.
Abadin was glad to snag this job working on the 351-foot dredge boat at the mouth of the Mississippi River for two summers after freshman and sophomore years at Tulane University in New Orleans.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paid $15 an hour, big money for a kid working his way through college in the late ’70s.
His Cuban-American parents in Miami couldn’t afford to send him away to college, so Abadin cobbled together tuition and living expenses with financial aid, a little scholarship money, and his own resourcefulness.
Experiences gained working on the Langfitt : Bunking with good ol’ Southern boys who told wild stories. Using a bathroom with no doors on the stalls. Knowing not to sit in someone else’s chair at the table or a gruff bark would order him to move. Tasting Mississippi moonshine out of a Clorox bottle for the first time. Pushing himself to the limit.
Usually, the work schedule was 10 days on and four off. But it was a month-long gig when they moved the boat from New Orleans Southwest Pass around the Florida peninsula en route to North Carolina.
On a Sunday afternoon, Abadin squinted toward the sparkling coastline of Miami, where friends from Christopher Columbus High School no doubt were hanging out at South Beach having a good time.
Abadin went to the fantail and thought: “I’m jumping off this boat. Enough of this!”
A strong swimmer, he knew he could make it to shore. But he also knew he couldn’t quit. It would embarrass his cousin who got him the job. It would be bad for the captain.
“And it would not be cool for me,” Abadin said. “I needed the money. So we went to North Carolina.”
Dr. Clifford Clark III, a high-school friend and college roommate who’s now a plastic surgeon, didn’t last half the summer working with Abadin at that “ridiculously unpleasant job” on the dredge boat chipping paint.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever met a harder working guy,” said Clark, whose own attorney father paid his way through medical school.
“We met on the football field when we were freshmen at Columbus. He was a middle linebacker and I was a defensive tackle. It was 100 degrees in the shade in August, and I leaned on his shoulder, and he said to me, ‘I’m tired, too.’
“I remember those exact words when we met, and it was an amazing start to a lifelong friendship, and underscored all of the things I love about my friend Ray. He has an unbelievable work ethic. And you could tell that when he was 14 years old.”
Now 56, Abadin is a partner at Sedgwick LLP, an international litigation and business law firm, working at the Miami office with his wife, Kimberly Cook, who is managing partner.
Described by many as a free-thinking adventurer who revels in pushing people out of their comfort zones, Abadin is ready to roll up his sleeves and work hard as president of The Florida Bar.
He’s risen in leadership at a time when technology and increased competition from nonlawyers are rapidly transforming the legal services marketplace. His year will be devoted to continuing the work of the Vision 2016 commission to identify challenges lawyers face in the areas of technology, legal education, bar admission, and access to legal services.
“Ray believes that sometimes you have to stir things up and create some chaos to initiate creativity and to really be able to dissect an issue, tear it apart in debate, and put it back together,” said Greg Coleman, immediate past president of the Bar, who describes himself as “more cautious and contemplative” by comparison.
“Ray will bring a different perspective to the Bar that is, quite frankly, needed. Ray is doing a good job of waking up people to the fact that this profession is changing more rapidly than we can even see, and we need to at least educate people.”
Asked why she thinks her husband wants to be the leader of Florida’s 100,000 lawyers, Cook answered: “Ray is a history major and loves the evolution of things. The profession is changing so much and he’s living through it. He’s one of those guys who pushes the envelope, and he has a lot to say.”
“I Am an Immigrant”
In 1961, when Abadin was two years old, his father left his law practice and his mother said goodbye to her beloved home in Cuba. They packed a suitcase and boarded a plane for the United States, thinking their escape from communism to this strange new country would be a short stop. But they could never go back to Cuba, leaving behind everything they had and everything they knew.
Abadin’s father, Ramón Abadin, Jr., could never overcome the language barrier to practice law in the U.S. Instead, he did odd jobs, parked cars, mowed grass, worked as a ships chandler providing dry goods along the Mississippi River in New Orleans, stocked Italian olive oil in grocery stores, and managed apartments, among his many ways to support his family.
First, the Abadins lived in Atlanta for two years; followed by a decade in Terrytown, a suburb of New Orleans; and finally landing in Miami in 1973.
“My parents talked about Cuba every day, all day. They very much longed to go back,” Abadin said.
“Living the immigrant experience” is a big part of Abadin’s reason for wanting to be Bar president.
“I am really in awe of this country. I am an immigrant. I never forget that,” said Abadin, who speaks perfect English as his second language, as well as his native tongue, Spanish, and Portuguese, which he minored in as an undergrad at Tulane.
“I always felt a desire to nurture the process and the peace of our government, which is the rule of law.”
Growing up in a multi-generational, Spanish-speaking household where the aroma of arroz con pollo and frijoles negros wafted from the kitchen, Abadin describes himself as “very much a bi-cultural and bilingual person. And, I’m very American.”
A former president of the Cuban American Bar Association, he is mindful he was not born in the United States.
“Psychologically, that is just a different facet. You know, I could get deported if I commit a crime. My citizenship could be revoked. I’m a naturalized citizen. If you look at it that way, I could lose the privilege of being an American if I do something stupid. I don’t think about it every day, because I don’t think I’ll do anything stupid,” Abadin said.
“So I am an American, but I could not be very quickly.”
Abadin got a chance to go back to his birthplace in 1999, under unique circumstances as a court-appointed guardian ad litem in a tragic case.
Two years earlier, a Fine Air DC-8 cargo jet dropped out of the sky west of the Miami International Airport, killing four people aboard the plane and one man sitting in his car.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Hy Montero represented the family of one of the fatalities, a 32-year-old security guard on the plane, whose 11-year-old daughter living in Holguin, Cuba, had hoped her father would help her immigrate to the United States.
When the case settled, Montero and Abadin traveled together to Cuba, flying into Havana and renting a car for the 500-mile journey to Holguin.
“We drove through a country that is so beautiful — the mountains, the rivers, the waterfalls. But the system is so bad. We gave thanks to our parents for having the insight and wisdom and drive to leave that country. Otherwise, we would be stuck in that totalitarian society,” said Montero, whose parents had fled Cuba before he was born in the United States.
On their way to Holguin, with Montero’s Cuban cousins in the car, a rainstorm forced them to check into a hotel for the night.
Abadin and Montero were flabbergasted when told the Cuban cousins could not check into the hotel because the government did not want Cubans to fraternize with foreign tourists. Montero will never forget witnessing this exchange:
“Why can’t they stay here?” Abadin asked the hotel attendant.
“They’re Cubans,” the attendant answered.
“What are you?” Abadin asked.
“I’m Cuban, too, and I can’t stay here, either.”
“What do you think about that?” Abadin asked.
“Sir, I haven’t thought in years.”
Abadin asked to speak to the hotel manager, who insisted the rules must be followed, and said: “They can stay in the car out in the parking lot.”
After what Montero describes as “some diplomatically frank and direct exchanges for 15 to 20 minutes, my cousins were allowed to stay in the hotel.”
“The manager then invited us to stay in the hotel on the way back to Havana from Holguin,” Montero recounted. “Done deal. Ray’s ability to engage and diplomatically defuse an uncomfortable and potentially volatile situation enabled my cousins to stay in the hotel with us.”
The trip was particularly moving for this pair of Florida lawyers with Cuban roots, Montero said, “Because this is where our parents were born, where our parents were educated and began their lives, and left because of the political situation. We had an opportunity to drive through neighborhoods that our parents grew up in and meet people along the way.
“When I got home,” Montero said, “the first thing I did was hug my father and thank him.”
Living the American Dream
Abadin’s parents have been deceased for many years, but his aunt, “Tia Nora” Abadin, who married his dad’s brother, described leaving Cuba as “very, very sad.”
“We never thought Fidel would be so long in Cuba. We came here in October, and my father said we’d be back in December,” Nora Abadin said.
Describing her brother-in-law as a successful lawyer in Cuba, she said, “The problem was they were 30-something and they had to leave with no money. You have to start working at whatever you find. He loved his family and was a really good father.”
“And you see how handsome Ramón is,” she said of her nephew. “He has his mother’s face.”
“Tia Emma” Fernandez, sister of Abadin’s mother, described Alicia as “a beautiful Latin type, with black eyes.”
“My sister was an English teacher in Cuba. When she came here, she started to be a secretary. They had left the good life behind. It was very hard for them,” Fernandez said, describing how she and her husband and two children lived with the Abadin family, crowded in a small apartment, when they first came to the United States in 1962.
Brother Frank Abadin, a door hanger and finish carpenter in Miami, described their extended family of grandparents, parents, and three children, as a “traditional Catholic family, always very close. My mom and dad worked their — pardon my French — asses off to put us through whatever they had to do to make our lives what they are today. They struggled very hard.”
Wishing he could bring his parents back to see their older son sworn in as president of the Bar, Frank Abadin said: “I’m in tears right now. I don’t know what words I could say, but I know they would be super, super proud.”
High-school buddy Clark recalls dinners at the Abadin home.
“His grandparents spoke broken English, and his parents spoke English, but you could tell they still had a foot in both sides of the Gulf Stream,” said Clark. “Even though Ray identifies, as he should, with his proud heritage, he’s as American as I am — until he starts speaking Spanish. His cultural identification and struggle give his thought process richness…. He is a champion at embracing different cultures.”
Tom Byrne, an attorney and commercial real estate broker, calls Ray one of his “first-string friends” who bonded for life in high school.
“Ray is the kind of guy my kids would call in an emergency,” Byrne said. “The most amazing thing about Ray is that he is the textbook version of the self-made man. He worked his way up from the bottom and never with the slightest chip on his shoulder.”
Dr. Tracy Baker, another high-school and college friend who is also a plastic surgeon, said: “Ray is the American Dream. He is an immigrant, a minority, and he comes from much less than a privileged background. He is the perfect American story: work hard, apply yourself, and be diligent. He did all of this with the vision of where he is right now.”
At Columbus High, the tie-wearing students at the strict all-boys Catholic school were seated alphabetically, giving Baker a perfect vantage point to poke Abadin in the back during Brother Kevin’s freshman algebra class.
“Ray was a young man. I was an annoying little scrawny guy. I would wait for the teacher to call on him. I would take my freshly sharpened pencil and lightly stab him in the back. He would flinch in his answer,” Baker recalled.
“The first time Ray gave me a dirty look. The second time, he turned around and grabbed me by my collar and said, ‘I will tear your head off!’ That straightened things out. We were friends from that point on. Ray is not the kind of guy to beat around the bush. I realized quite early, he was a very colorful and direct communicator.”
Dr. Baker credits talking to his friend Ray for helping get him through six grueling years of medical training.
Back in the day before cell phones, he could make long-distance calls for free on the WATS line during lulls in the graveyard shift in the emergency room in Brooklyn. He often dialed Ray to help him through the emotional aftermath of patching up gunshot victims, the craziness of living next to a crack house in Brooklyn, his crushing exhaustion, his homesickness for Miami.
Even at 3 a.m., Ray would gladly take his call.
“Ray was always my little oasis, always the guy who would make it right, always the guy with his head screwed on. He wouldn’t sugarcoat anything. Don’t ask Ray a question you don’t want the answer to,” Baker said. “He’s the guy to give you the big-guy talk: ‘Put on your big-boy pants, wipe your eyes and you’ve got to get through his, and no one will hold your hand.’
“I never hung up the phone and thought that wasn’t a great call.”
To this day, whenever Dr. Baker “needs a smart ear, it’s always Ray.”
Even as a teenager, Abadin was a good listener.
Born a day apart, Michael Bronner and Abadin met when they were 13, living down the hall of the same apartment building in Miami.
“I’ll tell you what I remember most about Ray back then. Every time I would come home, he would be sitting with all of the older men around the pool, and he loved just listening and learning. I remember being struck by his desire to hang out with the grandfathers and just talk. No other kids our age would want to hang out with them,” said Bronner, a Boston entrepreneur who founded Digitas, the largest digital marketing firm in the world; uPromise, a college savings company owned by Sallie Mae; and Unreal, a food brand aimed at getting the junk out of junk food.
“Now I get it. Ray was wise. Or he wasn’t wise and he wanted to get wise. Ray is interesting and interested,” Bronner said.
“That’s probably what makes him such a great attorney, too. He has a potent listening skill and an ability to focus and be present. Because Ray is a very authentic person, you don’t feel like you’re being BS’d or sold or coerced.”
With those dark penetrating eyes, Abadin has always been a thoughtful person, even as a kid, Bronner said, but that doesn’t mean he’s dull. Far from it.
Right after law school, Bronner gave Abadin a job at his business in Boston, “even though there wasn’t a lot for him to do. We weren’t being sued. Mainly contracts.”
One windy January day in Boston, Bronner said, “Let’s leave work and go windsurfing off Cape Cod.”
They bought gloves and hoods at the sailing store, and it was so cold there was ice on the water. Undaunted in their wetsuits, they windsurfed and declared it a great day.
“Ray is always up for an adventure,” Bronner said. “We went to Brazil and it was New Year’s Eve, and there’s some spiritual thing where everyone goes walking into the water with their clothes on. There goes Ray, walking into the water.”
Just going out to dinner with Abadin is an adventure.
“We’ve traveled the country together and Ray has me out on some eating adventure, way outside my comfort zone,” said Greg Coleman.
“In Boston, I finally gave in, and ate jellyfish and eel and frogs, all alive in aquariums. I ate some of all of it. The frogs were terrible. The eel was pretty good. And the jellyfish was like spaghetti that tasted funny,” Coleman said.
“When we were in New Orleans, Ray said, ‘Want to get some lunch?’ We bobbed and weaved through tiny alleyways. It was like cave diving; you needed a rope to find your way out. It was a diner, not fancy, but the food was absolutely off the charts.
“Ray tests the borders of life and society and makes you think from a different vantage point. That’s a unique quality he has. It’s a rare person to get you out of your comfort zone and make you enjoy it.”
Spreading His Wings
“I grew up in a Catholic environment, which in many ways limited my exposure to other beliefs and cultures,” Abadin said. “But at that Miami apartment building, I met Michael’s mother, Diana Bronner, and Nancy Friedman, who became my ‘Jewish mothers’ and truly expanded my thinking, my values, and my sense of self. They ran interference for me with my overly protective Cuban mother.”
Abadin’s mother wanted him to stay in Miami and go to community college.
“I needed to spread my wings. I needed to get away from my mom, who was very clingy,” Abadin said.
He understands that immigrants tend to hoard whatever they bring with them to the new country, and in his parents’ case, they brought him and very little else.
“My mom wanted me to do things a certain way, like they did in the old country.”
But Abadin was raring to grab a new life. The world cracked wide open when Abadin went to college in New Orleans, “a very open-minded, very free-thinking city cloaked by a religious, Catholic underpinning, but not really, because New Orleans is everything it isn’t and nothing that it really is,” Abadin said.
“Looking back, it fit where my mind was at the time. I started meeting lots of different people and started reading more and becoming more educated about the world.
“When you are raised with a particular point of view in an immigrant family, you have a tendency to believe there’s only one way and one culture. I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s kind of silly.’ It never made sense to me.”
That’s why it was no big deal to Abadin when Patrick Hoyne, his roommate at the time in New Orleans, came out as gay.
“Those things don’t really bother me,” Abadin said. “I don’t really understand people’s fear.”
Hoyne, an artist in Chicago, said: “Ray was a very good friend in a period when I was coming out. I probably had the easiest coming out of anyone I’ve met. I never thought people who loved me would feel any differently.
“Ray is an alpha male type. People who are comfortable in their own skin don’t let other people make them uncomfortable. What is the point of wasting time and energy on something like that?”
With a laugh, Hoyne describes their poor college days together as “loving red wine and brie, but we lived on avocados and saltine crackers when we couldn’t afford anything else.”
Describing Abadin as no-nonsense and trustworthy, Hoyne said: “He’s one of these guys if you had to be dropped in the middle of the Amazon, he would be one of the few people who would get you out alive. He might make you eat bugs and make you do things you don’t want to do, but he would get you out alive.”
In college, Hoyne said, “Women were like butterflies around a light with Ray.”
Hoyne was rooting for Kim Cook to wind up with Abadin because of “her intelligence and her heart. I knew other girls Ray dated and, well, they weren’t up to the task. Ray is both simple and complicated, and it’s a lovely mix.”
Married in Blue Jeans
One of Abadin’s best jobs during college was valet at Commander’s Palace. One evening, Cook was out celebrating a friend’s birthday at the landmark New Orleans restaurant in the Garden District.
“He parked our car, and I just thought he was the cutest thing I had ever seen. And it was seared in my memory,” said Cook.
Good thing she left him a big tip. Later, she ran into him at Loyola University School of Law, where she was a year ahead, and Abadin borrowed Cook’s notes for property class.
She couldn’t help but notice Abadin running up and down St. Charles Avenue and Audubon Park.
“I really wanted to get to know him better, so I came up with this scheme to go running,” Cook said.
She was doing her stretches in Audubon Park, when Abadin arrived and asked how fast she wanted to run.
“Whatever you want to run,” she answered, but Abadin said, “No, we’ll run your pace for a while and let’s see where it goes.”
About 100 feet later, Cook started wheezing, admitting she has asthma and the run was just a ploy to be with him. So they ended up walking around Audubon Park getting to know each other better.
While in law school, Abadin deejayed at WTUL, Tulane’s radio station, and played “The Girl from Ipanema,” sending out this message: “She knows who it’s for.”
That’s the moment Abadin won Cook’s heart.
In 1987, when they were living in Miami and decided to marry, Abadin wanted to skip the big, fat Cuban wedding.
Instead, they got married in blue jeans and sweaters standing on the rocks at Lake Tahoe, with Cook’s mom and step-father as witnesses. The laid-back ceremony was accompanied by a tinny-sounding Indian wedding song playing from a Walkman. Abadin loves that their “wedding album” consists of two snapshots.
Not only did they manage to raise three children — Michael, 24; David, 22; and Julia, 19 — they practiced law together at Abadin & Cook and now at Sedgwick.
“Had anyone ever asked me if I thought I could work with Ray, I would have said, ‘no way,’ just because it’s too much time together,” Cook said.
“It’s worked. I look back and wonder how it has worked, particularly raising three kids and both of us are trial lawyers. We have ‘trial immunity.’ The one that’s in trial has no obligations to do anything.”
Working together means never having to explain why you’re exhausted and stressed, Cook said. One time when Cook was embroiled in trial, Abadin arranged for a masseuse to come to their house to give her a massage.
“We spend a lot of time talking about cases and bouncing ideas off each other. The lines of work and family can get blurred. Sometimes it makes both more difficult. Sometimes I have to say, ‘As your law partner, this is how I feel. Let’s separate the marriage from the partnership.’ In general, it’s worked very well,” Cook said.
As trial lawyers, their styles are different — with Cook more formal and Abadin more casual — but both of their reputations are exemplary.
Recently, Abadin was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers, making Abadin and Cook one of five couples in the country to be so honored by this selective, invitation-only professional association.
“First of all, Ray and Kim are two wonderful people separate and apart. Together, two plus two equals 10. They are loving and grounded, and it’s no surprise that two super people like that can manage the demands of a family and law practice,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Todd Payne, who first met Abadin 23 years ago on a complicated case with multiple fatalities, representing co-defendants that required traveling together to Paris, South America, and Canada.
“Ray is a great communicator, which is one of the reasons he will be a great Florida Bar president,” Payne said. “He more than communicates, he relates and connects.”
Connecting with law students at the annual Minority Mentoring Picnic in Hialeah happens around “Ramón’s Lechón,” a pair of whole pigs roasting atop coals, with Abadin arriving at dawn, smoking a fat cigar while supervising the pork sizzling to perfection.
“He’s there at 6 a.m., wearing a dirty T-shirt, and if a kid wants to get up at 6 a.m. and doesn’t mind getting greasy, and sweaty, and dirty, Ray’s all for sharing his ideas and trying to pass on the things that helped him succeed,” said Miami lawyer and picnic founder John Kozyak.
“I think what makes him tick is he loves to see younger people learning and taking advantage of opportunities. Ray learned and took advantage of opportunities, and he wants to pay back,” Kozyak said.
Ben Hill, The Florida Bar president in 1991, has been up at dawn to help with the pigs and hang out with Abadin at the picnic.
“He doesn’t have to cook a pig to be popular,” Hill said. “I saw his ability to relate to law students, families, and judges. It’s really impressive. He relates to people and at the time he’s talking, that person is the most important one around. He’s got that quality, and he’s a great listener.”
In 2010-12, while chairing the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, charged with the responsibility of evaluating and rating potential federal judges considered by the president, Hill had an opportunity to watch Abadin in action.
Abadin was the representative from the 11th Circuit of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and would investigate and write reports of nominees to federal judgeships in those states. Hill described it as a “huge amount of work” involving hundreds of hours.
“Ray was extremely conscientious and very thorough,” Hill said. “He brought not only his expertise as a trial lawyer in evaluating the person; he also brought the human element. He understands people. I had the opportunity to see him with his oar in the water and really pulling hard for the profession.”
Abadin’s Miami house is on the way home for attorney Javier Rodriguez, who often stops by to philosophize over drinks and cigars.
“Ray is a complex person. Without a doubt, he is a big-picture guy who thinks in big ideas. He is a person with absolutely no qualms about thinking about new things and in new ways. He is somebody not at all invested in the status quo, and is always willing to embrace change, rather than resist change.”
That’s why Abadin is the right president to lead The Florida Bar at this time, said Bill Schifino, president-elect, who first met Abadin at Tulane.
Schifino remembers Abadin as a fun guy who played Ultimate Frisbee and listened to the Radiators and the Neville Brothers in small venues, while swigging Dixie Beer and eating crawfish in the bag.
“I think Ray will do a tremendous job opening our Bar’s eyes to the changes underway in the profession. Ray has studied what is happening. Ray is a visionary and sees where this is going. Ray is not afraid to effect change. He embraces change and encourages it.”
Son Michael Abadin, a Realtor in Miami, calls his father “the most against the grain, free-thinker. He’s worked very hard to get where he is, never cut any corners, never done anything the easy way. There is no fluff. He is straight to the point.”
A gift from college friend Patrick rests atop Abadin’s bedroom dresser — a sign that says: “I am still learning.”
“He looks at it every day,” Michael Abadin said. “No matter how far you’ve come, you’re always learning until the day you die. That’s my dad.”
Jazz and the Trial Lawyer: Keep it Loose
Valerie Shea, a partner at Sedgwick LLP, likes to kid her friend Ramón Abadin that he could go to trial with a folder full of blank pages and he would never know the difference.
“He likes feeling that the ‘props’ are there, but he is less tied to them than any other attorney I have seen in trial,” Shea said.
“His favorite saying during trial is ‘Keep it loose,’ and by that he means be completely in the moment and adapt and adjust as things happen. Of course, this approach only works when one has mastery of the essentials of the case, but part of Ray’s genius is that he makes it look effortless.”
At trial, Abadin is like a jazz musician who has practiced arpeggios and scales to master his instrument, and freely improvises while performing with the band.
“I like being a trial lawyer because it’s so creative and dynamic and so fluid in the courtroom,” Abadin said. “The exciting part about being in a trial is that nothing is the same twice, and you expect the unexpected and prepare for that. To me, that’s viscerally and intellectually very stimulating, to push that edge.
“As Miles Davis said, ‘If you want to hear something from my record, buy the record. But if you come to a concert, you’re going to hear whatever I want to play.’ I get that.”
Ernie Svenson, a Loyola law school friend who blogs as “Ernie the Attorney” and has a business called paperlesschase.com, where he teaches lawyers how to leverage technology to be more efficient, often meets up with Abadin at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and agrees with the analogy.
A lawyer who does wills and probate is akin to a classical musician who reads music with proficiency, Svenson said, but Abadin the trial lawyer, where the “ground is always moving,” is like a jazz musician ad-libbing.
“Ray is not only comfortable with uncertainty, he flourishes,” Svenson said.
Abadin’s talent became apparent during a two-week jury trial in Florida state court in 2014.
He was the lead trial lawyer, along with Shea, Al Warrington, and Charles Davant, representing a Lloyd’s reinsurance broker in a matter involving claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud brought by a large Costa Rican insurance company.
S edgwick’s client worked with a co-defendant, a Florida-based reinsurance broker, to place $300 million in facultative reinsurance in the London market. The plaintiff sued the Florida broker and Sedgwick’s client, alleging one or both brokers impermissibly “grossed up” and overcharged the insurer.
At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the judge entered a directed verdict in favor of the defendants on six of the nine claims. The jury then returned a defense verdict on the remaining counts, finding that neither defendant breached duties owed in contract or as fiduciaries.
& #x201c;It was the most complicated case I’ve ever worked on,” said Davant, an associate at Sedgwick, who detailed how the discovery involved tens of thousands of documents, most requiring translation from Spanish, with emails spanning time zones in Costa Rica, Miami, and London.
“Ray came into the firm when the case was becoming mature and looking like it was going to trial. He was able to make some key decisions where the experts were headed, and he shaped the trial strategy going forward,” Davant said.
“From a mentoring standpoint, it was incredible. Ray let me be in on key conversations. I was not just the document boy. Ray will throw you in the water, but only if he knows you can swim.”
When the trial judge entered a directed verdict on six counts, all that remained were the three contract counts.
“We stayed up most of the night discussing whether we wanted to put on any witnesses. We just felt the case wasn’t getting any better for us by putting witnesses on the stand and allowing them to be cross-examined,” Davant said. “We didn’t put on any witnesses.”
In an hour and a half, the jury came back with favorable verdicts for their clients.
“Ray is very, very loose during trial,” Davant said. “He is jovial and joking with the whole team. It was very refreshing. Part of his brilliance as a trial lawyer is Ray is able to respond to a change in the weather at any time. He was excellent at thinking on his feet when the moment called for it.”
Warrington said: “When our client wanted to go to trial, we got Ray involved. Ray is able to make the very complex simple.”
On the opposing side was Pieter Van Tol, a partner at Hogan Lovells’ New York office.
“One of the best cross-examiners I’ve ever seen,” Van Tol said of Abadin. “I think what’s special about his technique is that he is calm and very measured. He’s not yelling and putting his finger in a witness’s face. He keeps asking his question until he gets the answer he wants.
“He does it in a way that the witness thinks, ‘That wasn’t so bad.’ But it was pretty bad,” Van Tol said.
“As much as one can enjoy litigation, I enjoyed litigating against him. Ray Abadin fights very hard, but in an admirable, courteous, and professional way. Even though it was a hard-fought case and he won, we’re still friends.”
Abadin is still friends with Denise Mills, a woman he represented in a tough personal injury case 25 years ago. Previously, Mills injured her spinal cord when she went through the windshield of a car and broke her neck. In this separate incident, Mills fell and broke another part of her spine.
“Her husband is an F-15 fighter pilot, and those guys are at the tippy top of the food chain. I got to know him and started wanting to be competitive with him, in terms of executing this extremely difficult case,” Abadin said.
“Denise is one of the bravest people I’m ever going to meet. Period. End of story,” Abadan said. “She’s one of the few walking, sort of quadriplegics on the planet.”
After her first spinal cord injury, Abadin said, she was told she would never walk again, but she walks.
“There was negligence on the part of the defendant, and they weren’t taking it seriously,” Abadin said. “I was able to get her a very good result that is going to help her for the rest of her life, which is really the pleasure and the privilege of being a lawyer.”
As Mills said: “Ray goes in with guns blazing, but he’s still very compassionate about his client. It was in his heart to do the right thing for me….It’s hard to be compassionate and aggressive at the same time, but that’s how Ray is.”
Said mentor Gordon James, who first worked with Abadin at Conrad Scherer from 1991-94, “Ray has very good people skills and instincts. He’s creative and resourceful and connects very well with jurors. He gets it. And that’s not a phrase I use much.”
Pete DeMahy gave Abadin his first job as a lawyer in 1987.
“He obviously was young and inexperienced and just out of law school. But I saw a young man who was very energetic and very committed to whatever he was handling at the time,” DeMahy said. “I also saw personality traits in him that ultimately make someone a real trial lawyer. He had the charisma, just a personality that made him likeable and easy to talk to. Over the years, Ray has proven he has the right stuff.”
Altering the Legal Landscape
Traditionally, the legal profession has chugged along comfortably in a conventional, rigid, and rule-oriented way.
Now, technology is dramatically altering the legal landscape.
“If The Florida Bar is going to survive, what it needs is completely radical, unconventional thinking. It needs to let go,” insists Ramón Abadin.
And he’s just the big-picture free-thinker for the job, say those who know him best.
“I agree that I am the type of person who doesn’t think conventionally,” Abadin said. “As a normal course, I don’t necessarily adhere to tradition and conventional thinking. This is not the time for the president of the Bar to be rigid and resistant to change.”
His year as president will be devoted to helping educate Florida Bar members on how the legal profession needs to adapt to changes in the legal marketplace.
Virtual law firms are competing for business online, with a fraction of the overhead of traditional firms.
UpCounsel helps businesses hire lawyers for everything from contracts to taxes to copyrights online. Valorem Law offers trial services, but does not bill by the hour.
Another new company, which grew from the Stanford law, computer, and design schools, may change the way legal research is done.
Nonlawyers offering online legal forms raise both UPL and legal access questions.
The marketplace has reacted and billions of dollars of venture capital from nonlawyers are encroaching on lawyers’ traditional space.
Asked how he is going to prep 100,000 lawyers to adjust to these dramatic changes in how they practice law, Abadin said:
“The question is: How are you going to bring 100,000 along toward change? And the answer is kicking and screaming.”
He laughs and says, not really. Young lawyers, he said, already get it.
“They grew up in a time when technology has driven changes on everything all the time. To them, it’s more normal that they went from MySpace to Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat.
“We in the 50-plus range are still trying to figure out what Yahoo is.”
Rapid changes confronting the legal profession are already being explored by the Vision 2016 commission members and the Board of Governors, and Abadin wants Florida’s lawyers to be part of the debate.
He likens the challenge of delving into the four main issues of Vision 2016 — technology, legal education, bar admissions, and access to legal services — to renovating a house.
“When you’re building a new house, you’re controlling everything. When you’re renovating, you don’t know what’s behind the wall. You don’t know what you’re going to find.”
Abadin acknowledged that Bar leaders didn’t really understand what they were going to find when they started looking.
“The more we looked, the more we found. I think of this whole process as multi-dimensional and things are moving in all dimensions.
“We are trying to wrestle unauthorized practice of law, but fee-splitting issues are moving, or national unified bar exam issues are moving, or private ownership of firms is moving, and other businesses are coming into the legal space.
“The walls are crumbling; all of them are crumbling. We’re in that real-time change. And we’re the least capable of adapting to that change because of our very nature as lawyers.”
If lawyers continue to think like lawyers, Abadin said, “we will overanalyze and be run over. But if we think like business people and opportunists, we can still be successful and provide a space for our lawyers and clients and help the 60 percent of folks in Florida who can’t afford traditional legal services.”
The door has been opened. The lid is off the box.
Actually, Abadin says, “We took the lid off four boxes,” referring to the four study areas of Vision 2016.
“And what we found was that the four boxes are autonomous and independent and co-dependent, but not really. They weren’t talking to each other, and there is this giant dysfunction in the management of the legal profession by those who are the custodians of the profession: the Bar, the law schools, the courts, and the bar examiners.
“What we are really going to try and undergo is at least to begin hard questions and hard dialogs and an attempt to effect change,” Abadin said.
His year as president will continue the work Immediate Past President Greg Coleman has done talking about the effects of technology across the spectrum of the legal profession.
“It’s institutional change in the entire ecosystem,” Abadin said.
He offers the analogy of turning the Amazon Rain Forest into glaciers in a day.
“To me, that’s a fair analogy. Every day there are incursions into the space that has been held near and dear to lawyers. We really have lost touch with our customers, who we really serve: our clients. The third branch has lost touch with who it serves: the citizens of the country, the Constitution, we the people.
“We the people want a third branch of government of judges who are independent, free thinkers. It’s we the people. That’s how it starts.”
The rules of procedure are too complicated for people to access the courts, Abadin said, and he wants to work on making them simpler.
“When you think about it, if we make the rules complicated, then nobody can use them except we who understand the rules and can charge the customers a lot of money.
“What’s already happening is the business community is saying, ‘We don’t need you, lawyers. We don’t need you to do a lot of stuff that the customer needs.’ And that’s both the high-end customer or the low-end customer…. Anyone who needs to access the court system should be able to access it with relative ease.
“Now, is it going to hurt the lawyers? Yeah. But it’s not me hurting the lawyers by making these decisions. The system is going to hurt the lawyers if the lawyers don’t adapt.
“The real art form is how to convince lawyers that they have to do things a different way; how to convince the Supreme Court that they have to look at things a different way. They have to be more fluid. They have to move faster. Can we cut the rule book in half?”
What lawyer thinks like that?
“I don’t think like a lawyer. When you need me to think like a lawyer in a courtroom, I don’t think like a lawyer. I think like a trial lawyer,” Abadin said.
“You’ve got to be loose. You’ve got to be looking around. It’s a hostile environment, and there are a lot of moving parts.”
The best way to solve a problem is to talk through it, to have multiple parties at the table talking honestly, Abadin said.
“The point is, we have to have an honest conversation with ourselves.”
Until now, that has never happened, Abadin said, “Because we didn’t need to. The threat wasn’t there.”
Abadin’s agenda is to bring information to Florida lawyers and identify that they need to make changes very quickly.
“Or, we’re just going to be obsolete.”
Abadins’ Extreme Adventures
At South America’s southernmost point, the father and son duo of Ray and Michael Abadin climb aboard a small cruise ship en route to Antarctica.
It was by far the coolest adventure of his young life, and 24-year-old Michael Abadin tells about the 10 days of seeing icebergs and penguins and whales.
But before they even set foot in Antarctica, Michael lost his dad aboard the ship carrying about 300 passengers, and there were no cell phone connections in that watery wilderness to track him down.
“I finally found my dad driving the boat! He convinced the first mate to let him drive the boat through Drake Passage,” where rough seas are common in this body of water connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
“He had a smile, like he was a little kid again,” Michael said.
“He embraces an attitude that he is willing to go out and push the envelope. He tests the barriers. Sometimes, it may be a little tough on us, but it’s all for the benefit of being raised as good kids. My dad is so free-spirited.”
David Abadin tells about a rugged trip with his dad and brother to Alaska. After hiking five hours down an inaccessible wilderness road, they rafted 120 miles for a dozen days down the Alsek River that flows from the Yukon into Northern British Columbia and into Alaska.
Wearing dry suits to protect themselves from frigid 33-degree water, they conquered the Lava North Rapids.
“My dad sent me to China by myself when I was 16,” said David, 22, who recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in marketing.
“A friend of his met this monk at a seminar he does in Boston, and said, ‘Hey, do you want your son to come with me and this Taoist monk and live on a mountain in China for three weeks?’
“And my dad said, ‘David, do you want to do that?’ Three and a half weeks later, I was on a plane to China. Ignorance is a little bliss. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I’m very glad I did it.”
There are no routine family vacations for the Abadins because staying in a five-star resort is boring.
“Comfort is no fun. It’s not exciting. It’s not appreciating the texture and complexity of life,” Ray Abadin expounds. “What makes me frustrated are people wanting to live a comfortable life. It’s not real. Nature is not comfortable. Nature is dynamic. It’s evolving. It’s changing. So, why not?”
That’s why the whole Abadin family rafted the Colorado River gushing through the Grand Canyon.
“I learned more about myself going on that rafting trip for 13 days with no walls, no bathrooms, no facilities, no shower, no bed,” said Kim Cook, Abadin’s wife.
While she loves nature, hiking, and the West, this was taking adventure to a new level.
“I was a little bit concerned how I would do on that trip, and I did just fine. It was an incredible trip,” she said. “It was awe-inspiring to be with our children.”
Nineteen-year-old Julia Abadin describes her father as “adventurous, a daredevil, a thrill-seeker.”
Once a regular cave diver, Ray Abadin often explored Ginnie Spring, on the Santa Fe River in High Springs, Florida. He loves the adrenaline rush of high adventure, and insists there is really not as much risk as you would think as long as you are prepared.
“The last time he went, I was pregnant with Julia,” Kim Cook said. “I’m not the kind of wife to say don’t do anything. He can do what he wants. But I told him it was a little crazy.”
Ray Abadin tells about a close call while deep-diving a shipwreck.
“I misjudged the current and got slammed against the bulkhead for a few minutes in 200 feet of water,” he recounts.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’ The cool part about it is the more stimulation you put on yourself, the more you have to calm down so you can handle it. That is really the interesting part to me. It’s liberating.”
Once Julia was born, he stopped cave diving.
“I miss it. I want to go back tomorrow,” Abadin said. “Unfortunately, the guy that I dove with and trusted implicitly died of stomach cancer. Then a career and three kids and baby showers and weddings and play dates and all that other stuff got in the way. If you don’t do it frequently, you can hurt yourself. It’s not a skill that you keep. I could sit here today and plan through a cave dive, but I would never go in a cave by myself. You need to train for it.”
Taking out his cell phone, Ray Abadin proudly shows a short video of Julia wearing a helmet as she wriggles under a tight boulder in a cave 150 feet below Budapest, Hungary.
“Yes, Dad is recording it, and his eyes are bigger than an owl,” Julia said of her cave-climbing feat.
An international business major with a minor in Spanish at Loyola, Julia told her father she wants to study abroad.
“He always says, ‘Go! You go live your life, and when you graduate you will have your real life. Sleep is for Sundays.’ He’s very supportive of us and wants us to be happy. He loves that we’re independent.”
Independence is what Julia said she has most learned from her father, who calls her his princesita.
“My mom is a little bad ass. She didn’t change her name and he didn’t want her to be Ray Abadin’s wife. He wants me to be just like her,” Julia said. “My dad doesn’t like to go on the tour bus. He likes to experience and learn everything. He is cool. If he wasn’t my dad, I would be friends with him.”
Biography of Ramon A. Abadin
Partner at Sedgwick LLP in Miami
Complex commercial, insurance, and corporate litigation; specialty tort defense, premises liability, professional negligence, and insurance litigation
DeMahy & Greenberg (1987-89)
Levine Geiger Kuperstein Freud (1989 -90)
John S. Freud, P.A. (1990-91)
Conrad Scherer (1991-94)
Carroll Halberg Jones & Abadin (1994-97)
Abadin Jaramillo (1997-2000)
Abadin Cook (2000-13)
Sedgwick LLP (2013-present)
Professional and Civic Activities:
The Florida Bar
Florida Bar President (2015-16)
Board of Governors (2006-present)
Program Evaluation (2009-present) (chair 2013-14)
Strategic Planning (2007-present)
Communications (2007-09) (chair 2008-09)
Legislation (2007-12) (co-chair 2011-12)
Rules (2009-10) (chair 2009-10)
Disciplinary Review Committee (2006-07)
Member Outreach, board liaison (2005-08)
Judicial Nominating Procedures, board liaison (2010-13)
Committee on Professionalism, board liaison (2008-10)
LOMAS Advisory Board, board liaison (2006-09)
11th Judicial Circuit Grievance (1996-99), designated reviewer (2006-14)
11th Judicial Circuit Arbitration (2001-04)
Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2010-13)
Vision 2016 (2013-16)
Annual Diversity Symposium, chair (2005)
General Practice, Solo & Small Firm, board liaison (2010-12)
Equal Opportunities (2005-13)
Trial Lawyers (2008-13)
Other Bar Service:
Lifetime Fellow of The Florida Bar Foundation
JNC for the Third DCA, (2004-08), (chair 2006-07)
Florida Supreme Court Committee on Fairness and Diversity in the Court (2006-08)
Florida Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism (2005-08)
ABA Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary (2010-13)
ABA President’s Commission on Diversity
Cuban American Bar Association (director 1997-03), (president 2004)
Cuban American Bar Foundation (president 2005)
American College of Trial Lawyers (2015-present)
American Board of Trial Advocates (2015-present)
Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel (2008-present)
Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice (2014-present)
International Association of Defense Counsel
Litigation Counsel of America
Florida International University School of Law, Dean’s Advisory Council (2005-present)
11th Judicial Circuit Business Court Committee (2011-present)
Florida Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company, board member serving on the Investment, Nominating, and Claims Committees (2005–14)
WestCare Foundation, board member (2006-present)
Broward County Hispanic Bar Association’s Gracias Award (2014)
CABA’s “Passing on the Leadership” Mentorship Award (2009)
The Florida Bar G. Kirk Haas Award (2005)
Haitian Lawyers Association Significant Contribution Award (2006)
Bachelor of Arts, History, Tulane University (1981)
Juris Doctor, Loyola University School of Law (1985)