Law as a vocation attracts people for reasons wide and varying. We often find people’s motivation to adopt the law as a calling to be as unique, thought provoking and inspiring as the individuals themselves. Here we share the personal journey of our own John D. Metcalf.
I have had many jobs and even a few careers throughout my life. Before deciding to make the transition to the practice of law and undertaking an additional three years of coursework at a wonderful, highly-ranked law school you may have heard of, The University of Florida Levin College of Law (I think the University has athletic programs that also get attention), I had a fairly long stop in a separate profession. I had been a practicing Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with an active license in both Texas and North Carolina, and worked with Arthur Anderson in Houston Texas and, later, Ernst & Young in Raleigh N.C. as an auditor, and in private industry as a financial officer.
To obtain that original personal goal of CPA, I studied at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL), where I received my undergraduate degree in accounting. While at UHCL, I was honored by both membership in, and leadership of, Beta Alpha Psi (an accounting honor society) and Omicron Delta Kappa (or ΟΔΚ, a national leadership honor society), also known as “The Circle.” The education, mentorship and preparation I received from my professors at UHCL no doubt helped me to obtain positions with those top-tier CPA firms. Each firm was an amazing professional training ground and helped prepare me for the practice of law in ways that other attorneys have not likely experienced.
Prior to college I had my own small business, a vehicle detail shop, and worked in sales for a plush retailer, a for-profit education organization, and others – again, two perspectives that are invaluable to me as an attorney who counsels and assists clients. I think clients appreciate that the person they are entrusting with their legal matters has a depth of understanding that interplays with real life, real circumstances, and has seen the other side as a business owner/employer.
Since I temporarily have this platform, I must mention my time in the U.S. Navy. It changed my life. After graduating from high school at 17, I enlisted, and because I was a minor my mother was required to sign papers to allow me to enter. She told me years later that my asking her to do that was one of her most difficult acts – she was afraid of the fundamental duty of all enlisted personnel: to place yourself in harm’s way and, if necessary, make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, our fellow Americans, our families, friends and neighbors, and, ultimately, our freedom. My mom could not have known that her struggle and sacrifice would lead to my ultimately becoming a better person than I believe I would have been without that service. There is perspective attained from such a substantial duty.
I gave the Navy six years of my life on active duty and it gave me opportunities I would never have had with my humble beginnings. The Navy showed me that I could overcome obstacles, both literal and figurative; that true teams go through the good and the bad together, and with each test comes a more meaningful experience and a tighter bond; that America and those who serve her are diverse; and that there is something beautiful in every land and every people. The Navy provided me the opportunity to experience that sense of wonder that comes only from traveling to foreign countries and interacting with those who live there. I have a few stories I could tell from boot camp in San Diego: training in “A” school and “C” school at Great Lakes Naval Station outside of Chicago, where I was an Electronic Technician training to repair navigation, communication and security equipment and systems; in Orlando back when it had a training center; and during my overseas duty station in Sigonella, Sicily, Italy (que bella) for two and a half years. As for my last duty station, I will never forget getting paid to live in Panama City, Florida, while working on commissioning the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC, aka hovercraft). Importantly, I contributed to the Veterans Educational Assistance Program, which later gave me assistance in financing college, even though I still have the dreaded student loan debt.
I know that is a long way to get to this point: me as an attorney. Candidly, I was not one of those people who knew they wanted to be an attorney when they were in high school. I did not have attorneys in my family tree (no criminals either, so fair trade, I guess). I did not have need of an attorney, and had never been around attorneys. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that my perception of attorneys was driven entirely by books, television shows and movies.
I did, though, have a friend from UHCL who was a paralegal working to get his degree so that he could then put himself through law school. The idea was planted, but I was already nearing graduation in my field of accounting, so nothing crazy to announce, not yet.
During law school I had the very good fortune to be interviewed by two excellent attorneys in their practice area from McLin Burnsed – Phillip S. Smith, my litigation partner to this day, and our outstanding Estate Planning (Wills, Trusts, Probate Administration and Trust Administration) partner Jeffrey P. Skates. They opened the door for me here at McLin Burnsed by inviting me to work as a summer intern in 2003. During that period, I was new to central Florida, and did not know the reputation that McLin Burnsed enjoyed so I owe a debt of gratitude to the two attorneys that saw enough in me to make the hire and allow me to share in the nearly 50 years of respected legal solutions that form the standard this Firm is known for in central Florida.
After graduating law school, I came on full time at McLin Burnsed with a focus on civil litigation, mostly plaintiffs’ work, but also defense. I was predisposed to litigation from the exposure I had at law school, from sharing the experiences of my good friend from UHCL that had been practicing for years while I was still a CPA, and because the position would be working with Phil Smith, and Matt Black. In having worked with them while interning with the Firm I wanted to emulate their success. I wanted to command the courtroom, make deals for my clients, save money for clients, cut losses, strike the right balance of risk/reward, and wear the white hat.
The initial days, months, and years were tough, fast-paced, intense. They still are. I have stayed with McLin Burnsed for 14 years, and my partners have stayed with me. In the process, I have had the opportunity to litigate, mediate, arbitrate, negotiate, and ultimately settle cases in
real estate (Foreclosure, specific performance, quite title, partition, Landlord/Tenant Leases and eviction, ejectment, valuation, taxation, restrictive covenants enforcement, constructive trust, liens and satisfactions),
enforcement and defense of employment contracts with restrictive covenants,
construction defect cases - both General Contractor/subs and Owners,
termination of contracts,
Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA),
enforcement and execution of judgments,
business ownership issues,
professional license grievance representation,
testify as an expert for attorneys’ in fee hearings,
and various torts.
A litigator always must have an eye to trial. Every step is directed in developing your matter so that you can prevail at trial, if needed. The peculiar thing about trials is that because the matter has been fully developed both parties should, and usually do, have a good assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. That preparation and assessment puts the parties in a position to determine their own fate and settle the matter without resort to a Judge or jury. Who would pay to try a case if they understood they were going to lose, that the opposing party had a stronger case? Reasonable people don’t, which is why greater than 90% to 95% percent of pending lawsuits end in a pre-trial settlement.
Trial practice requires that your attorney know the rules of procedure, local rules of the Court, and Rules of Evidence, not to mention the facts of your case and the elements of the causes of action, and defenses to those causes. McLin Burnsed and I offer a complete evaluation of a client’s situation. Clients bring their matter to us because the risks of getting it wrong are high. Paying for sound legal advice applied to your facts, the circumstances you are in, is usually an expensive proposition and one that most people are not accustomed to considering.
It is much more expensive to get it wrong. I am not a carpenter, but I know what it means to measure twice, cut once. That translates into any matter entrusted to us, there is a planning component at the time it does the most good, the early stages: the intake meeting, the collection of client documents and the client’s detailed account of the timeline. Facts are important, so communication of the facts to me, as the attorney, is crucial. That is why the attorney client privilege is so fiercely enforced, so you do not feel constrained and can tell your attorney all that is significant in your case. The flow of information is fundamental to getting valuable, germane advice that cannot be achieved with just some of the facts, most of what happened, or all but the part that might make you look bad. Everything that impacts a case (the relevant facts) needs to be laid bare before I can make a reasoned analysis of those facts and apply the law to make recommendations to clients. That is it in a nutshell. You are paying for legal advice because, at the end of the day, it will save you money, aggravation, and time. Hiring the right attorney allows you to do what you do best, while I do what I do best. We work to give you an advantage in settlement or in the courtroom.
Giving Back to the Profession and the Community
Outside of litigation I stay active in several forums. An important one is The Florida Law Network. McLin Burnsed is a member law firm of The Florida Law Network which is a group of independent law firms practicing throughout the State of Florida that have combined their knowledge, efforts, and resources for the primary purpose of expanding the scope and improving the quality of legal services each firm provides to its own clients as well as increasing efficiency and lowering the costs of providing those services. The member firms of the Florida Law Network are better able to serve the interests of their clients because of the statewide geographical reach, cumulative expertise in both general and specialized practice areas, and local community knowledge and legal credibility before a specific court or other decision-making body.
One of the special committees that I serve on is the 5th Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee, Committee "A." I am currently the Vice Chair serving a three-year term on that committee which is made up of volunteer members, at least one-third of whom are not lawyers. The grievance committee reviews complaints with much the same purpose as a grand jury. That is, the committee decides, after a case is submitted to them by bar counsel, whether there is probable cause to believe a lawyer violated the professional conduct rules imposed by the Supreme Court of Florida and whether discipline against the lawyer appears to be warranted.
I also am proud to be a “Guardian of Justice” as recognized by Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida which promotes equal access to justice by providing civil legal aid to help low-income people protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. On February 28, 2018 I received a letter of congratulations, and a pin, from the Supreme Court of Florida as recognition of “exceptional pro bono service in 2017.” It is my privilege.
Recently I was able to participate as a Moot Court Judge in a national competition, the 2019 American Moot Court Association National Tournament which occurred on January 12, 2019, and was hosted by the University of Central Florida and held at Florida A&M University College of Law, Orlando, FL. It was a stellar day with brilliant young minds competing. I was joined by two other lawyers from McLin Burnsed, Christina Campbell and Elizabeth Turner who assure me that they were impressed as well.
You may not know but attorneys undergo continuing education in the legal field. In my current reporting cycle, a sample of the courses I have taken include 2019 Technology in Lake County Courtrooms; Tips for Automating Your Law Practice; Eliminating Bias in the Courts; Superstars in Trial; Jury Selection Portion of Superstars in Mock Trial; Using iPads in Your Law Practice; and Post-Disaster Housing for Tenants Webinar. All to make me a better attorney.
Last, I will share a little personal information about my family. I have three children, who are now 16, 14, and 12, and remain amazing to me in their academic successes and bustling extracurricular activities (band, volleyball, baton, and recently tennis) spread among them. Of course, my wife makes much of this happen by her shear will. I understand that one day we can rest, but today is not that day.
In closing, I realize that many potential clients have never had contact with an attorney before and therefore don’t know where to go for referrals other than to search online. I hope this introduction to me and some of my past experiences helps answer questions about who you want to represent you and informs you in your selection for your important matter.