Attorney at Law Magazine First Coast publisher Tom Brady sat down with Chelsea Harris of Coker Law to discuss her story and her career in the 2021 Women in Law Special Issue.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
CH: When I was in the fifth grade, my class had to act out a scene from a book. The scene was a courtroom, and I was assigned the role of one of the attorneys. I enjoyed the assignment so much that from that point forward I told my parents I wanted to be an attorney – specifically, a trial attorney. My goal and plan never wavered.
AAALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way?
CH: When I was growing up, there was a family across the street that was very close with my family. The parents were both attorneys. They both let me shadow them to court when I was in high school and then intern with their firm during my last year of high school. I was also able to intern in the summers during college with an attorney who was a former student of my mom’s. I was so thankful for the opportunity to see the “real life” side of the legal world before I went to law school.
AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school?
CH: Be prepared! It didn’t matter if it was for class, for an oral argument for the Moot Court team, or for a clerkship – being prepared was critically important. Being prepared remains critically important to the daily practice of law. So much of my job is thinking on my feet and being ready to make an argument at a moment’s notice. I am much better on my feet if I’m prepared and have thought through potential arguments.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
CH: When I was at the State Attorney’s Office, my caseload was large, and I was in court almost every day. I would easily be in court in the morning for multiple hearings in different cases, followed immediately by starting trial in another case. This forced me to be prepared, organized, and ready to go every day. It also allowed me to constantly be in front of a Judge, making arguments, and preparing evidence. I feel like this experience allowed me to hone my trial skills and strengthen my ability to make persuasive arguments.
AALM: What first drew you to your firm? Tell us about your role there.
CH: When I started practicing in Jacksonville, I began to learn the different firms. I consistently heard positive things about Coker Law. When I began practicing civil law, I had cases against Coker Law. The attorneys were always prepared, and the legal work was exceptional. I also found the jury trial presentations to be extremely effective. As I learned more about the firm, I learned about the teamwork and strategizing involved in the preparation of each case for trial. All these aspects drew me to Coker Law, and I’m honored to now be a trial attorney with the firm.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of the firm?
CH: Our firm works as a team. There are multiple attorneys working on each case. We meet often, discuss, and roundtable cases. I believe this is one of the reasons we are successful for our clients. Each of us comes to cases with different experiences, different backgrounds, and different ideas for the best strategy for the case. These different experiences and strategies allow us to develop different ideas for how we should try the case and what arguments may be best in front of a jury. All ideas are considered and most importantly, the suggested ideas are respected.
AALM: What case most defined or redefined your practice?
CH: In 2014, I was hired to represent FDLE Special Agent, Rusty Rodgers. Rodgers was named in a lawsuit by St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeremy Banks. Banks’ lawsuit alleged civil rights violations against Rodgers, based on Rodgers’ investigation into the death of Michelle O’Connell, the girlfriend of Banks. The case gained national attention. After years of handling the case, conducting numerous depositions of St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office employees, including Sheriff Shoar, I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on behalf of Rodgers. The motion was granted and the claims against Rodgers were completely dismissed.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
CH: My husband, Joel Harris, and I have three children – ages 12, 9, and 5. Most of our extra time is spent watching our children’s sporting events and dance performances. When we do have extra time, I love riding our bikes in Atlantic Beach to restaurants and the Atlantic Beach Town Center. I also enjoy working out, spending time at the beach, and having dinner and drinks with family and friends.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future?
CH: Traveling!!! I have missed traveling during the last year and cannot wait to travel again! We enjoy traveling when our schedules allow and love visiting different areas, different countries, and learning more about different cultures.