Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Candice Brower, the agency head of the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, to discuss what drew her to the practice of law and more specifically to the public service she has devoted her career to for more than 12 years.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law?
Brower: My father was a New York City police officer and went to law school at night when I was growing up in Brooklyn. I loved learning about an individual’s due process protections, the burden of the state and the rights we as Americans hold dear to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I wanted to be a part of the process and protect it just as my father did in law enforcement and in his legal career.
AALM: Tell us a little about your philosophy when it comes to your practice. Do you have a personal motto?
Brower: As the head of an agency created to protect due process rights and to protect the fiscal interests of the tax payers, I take my practice extremely seriously. I encourage all who choose to put their work into this public service to be the best they can be. The work can be both the most grueling and the most fulfilling work there is. The attorneys who work within this agency fight for justice, defend those who cannot defend themselves, they reunite families and literally save lives. It is my duty to ensure they have the tools to succeed and that they be rewarded for the important work they do. I can think of nothing more meaningful than continuing to ensure their success.
AALM: Tell us about one of the most important lessons you learned from a personal or professional mentor.
Brower: I would not be where I am today without my husband who supports and encourages me on a daily basis. He taught me that if you believe you can do something and if you believe you cannot do something, you will be right both times. Learning that you have the control of your own destiny is the most important lesson one can learn.
AALM: What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?
Brower: My parents never doubted that I could do anything I wanted with my career. Eventually my own self doubts washed away and I learned to believe that they were right. There are no limits except the ones you put on yourself.
AALM: How is your practice today different from how you envisioned it in law school?
Brower: I was timid and insecure and never thought I could be a trial attorney, let alone be put in charge of a massive agency that covers 32 counties. I assumed I would be a transactional lawyer. I am thankful that I started my career as a prosecutor where I was trained to be a trial lawyer which gave me the confidence I needed to become a successful attorney.
AALM: What drew you to your current position?
Brower: I was the owner of my own practice when the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel was created by the legislature in 2007. I was hired by the first office to open in Gainesville in 2008 and worked part time as a juvenile attorney while continuing to run my private practice. As the Regional Counsel’s offices began to grow, I chose to come on full time to devote my career to public service. I loved the agency for both the autonomy it gave me to to do what I loved, which was practice law, and for the fact that it could be done without the concern of collecting fees. Once I came on full time I never looked back.
I was 100% invested in the agency by the time the governor had to appoint a new agency head. The fear of the agency changing from the place I invested my career was what drove me to seek to become the leader of the offices. I am devoted to ensuring those who choose this agency as I did 12 years ago, feel as devoted to it as I. The atmosphere lends itself to those who love public service, love to practice law and love standing up for justice.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of your offices?
Brower: We do not think of our agency as a firm, but a family. Although we are wide spread over almost 1/2 the state, having so many wonderful and dedicated public servants is what makes the agency a success. Technology allows us to stay connected and to ensure no one is ever isolated if they need help with the many complex legal issues of their clients. Our agency is a wonderful hybrid of criminal and civil cases where we not only defend people but protect families and preserve rights. We allow the attorneys to be the professionals that they were hired for, give them the tools to succeed and then get out of their way. Each of the six circuits within the region are headed up by a “circuit director” who is given the freedom to direct their teams as is suited to their specific needs.
AALM: Tell us about a single case that has significantly impacted you personally or professionally?
Brower: It was no single case but the process of representing both parents and children in criminal and dependency matters that impacted the direction of my career. I am proud to be able to be a part of reforming laws that will ultimately ensure the brightest futures for our children.
AALM: As technology changes the practice of law, how are you adapting? Do you believe these changes are good or detrimental?
Brower: It is one of those things that you wonder how you ever lived without. Technology has allowed us to become more efficient and streamlined, and we have transitioned completely to a paperless file system. Gone are the days where an attorney had to re-create a file in a co-worker’s absence or try to decipher the case information. Our clients are best served by this technology and their information is protected and secured by this technology.
AALM: What are some of the challenges you see negatively impacting the judicial system?
Brower: Costs and efficiency have always been a challenge and will continue to be. The creation of our Offices in 2007 has helped reduce costs significantly and has added to the efficiency in the courts where we handle cases. Before 2007, dependency cases did not have attorneys who regularly defended those cases as a consistent presence in the court room and now our attorneys are available in every dependency courtroom in the state. Having a “public defender’s office” of sorts for dependency cases has created an efficient, more streamlined handling of these cases. But there is still a long way to go and this will continue to be a challenge. New, well meaning legislation, has caused confusion and disagreement among jurisdictions about how to handle the new requirements to ensure protection of due process rights.
AALM: Tell us about a book, movie or event that changed your perspective on the practice of law or your approach to life.
Brower: Does any lawyer say anything other than “My Cousin Vinny?” Yes for me as well, it was “My Cousin Vinny” to both…
AALM: Tell us about your ambitions for your career. Do you plan to stay with your agency?
Brower: If I am honored enough to be permitted to continue to serve as Regional Counsel, I intend to stay with the agency until I retire. There is so much potential for this agency both in it’s public service and in its cost savings to the tax payers. For me, I would feel like I left unfinished business if I did anything else for the remainder of my career.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally and personally?
Brower: Professionally, becoming board certified in juvenile law and then being recognized by the Board of Legal Specialization and Education for excellence in the promotion of board certification were the proudest moments of my career. While being appointed to my position was an enormous honor, it was not enough for me to have such an important job without the recognition of being an expert in the field of law I chose to devote my career. It has allowed me to be an influence not to just the many people who choose to work for my agency but in needed policy changes in the area of juvenile law.
Personally, I could not be more proud of my two very own juveniles — my sons Jack and Edison. They are the purpose of my existence and why I want to set an example for them to be the best they can be.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the law.
Brower: Is there one? (LOL) But seriously, I feel that my life is law. Lawyers know that they are lawyers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Having the immense responsibility of running an agency that spans over 32 counties of Florida means that I think about it constantly. I worry about my employees and my thousands of clients and almost everything I do is with them in mind. I do have hobbies such as running and playing piano and of course spending time with my children is a priority when I am not working, but I do not feel like I can separate who I am from what I do and I do not mind that at all.
AALM: Tell us about your community involvement.
Brower: I am proud to consider Gainesville, Florida, my home and I serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission in that area. I am a member of the Florida Association of Women Layers, the Eighth Circuit Bar Association and the Federalist Society and I am always looking for ways to help contribute my time to those great organizations within my community.
AALM: At the end of the day, what makes you happiest professionally and personally?
Brower: Knowing my children are happy and proud of what I do makes me the happiest. Professionally, I am so honored to be able to work for the needs of my agency and every success feels like a personal and professional victory. Conversely, failures can be heart wrenching but those are what drive me to try harder every year.