Attorney at Law Magazine Palm Beach Publisher Rhenne Leon sat down with David Steinfeld to discuss his career and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
Steinfeld: During a summer internship in Tokyo with a Japanese company in the early ’90s, I was asked to review the grammar in an English language contract. In the agreement, the company was going to pay a California man to travel to Tokyo to produce retail coffee table models, provide lodging, and pay for him to see his family in Los Angeles. Although I was only a college student, as I read the document I started thinking about undefined terms like what if he is injured, how many models does he have to make, and how often he could return home. That experience ignited my interest in the law and to the possibility of a legal career.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way?What is the best lesson they taught you?
Steinfeld: In some international law classes I took from Professor Bernie Oxman at the University of Miami he instructed about oceanic territorial limits that once saved the day. When I was in Army Intelligence, I was on a U.S. Navy ship in the East China Sea operating very close to the naval border with North Korea. The North sent out several ships to investigate why we were there and being the only one on board with top secret clearance, I had to be sure they didn’t interrogate me. So, I explained to the captain what Professor Oxman had taught about those limits and that North Korea didn’t respect them and he turned the ship around and left the area. It was an interesting experience and belied my thoughts that I would never use that information in practice.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?
Steinfeld: The satisfaction that my clients express about my services is what is rewarding about my practice. Our business demographic is largely closely held enterprises that can’t always afford large legal bills. So, one challenge I face as a sole practitioner in business litigation is to provide legal services to businesses and their owners that convey a benefit at an affordable price. As many of us know, our society has a deeply rooted prejudice about lawyers. Providing targeted legal services at a fair price helps change attitudes about attorneys, so I hope I am improving the public’s perception of our profession.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional? What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?
Steinfeld: Without claiming to be a perfect attorney, in the 20 years that I have been in practice, from criminal law in the U.S. Army to corporate law in private practice, I have observed and interacted with enough attorneys to recognize that patience makes an attorney exceptional. The better practitioners I have seen evaluate and then advocate; they don’t internalize their client’s issues or proceed on assumptions without question. They take the time to evaluate facts before drawing conclusions. This is a learned and difficult skill because it counters human nature particularly today when we are bombarded with great amounts of information that force quick decisions and breed snap judgments. So, what makes an attorney exceptional? Patience.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Steinfeld: Board certification. Board certification in business litigation tells prospective clients that the attorney has the trial experience to be able to properly evaluate their case. As an Army JAG attorney, I tried many criminal cases, but when I transitioned to business litigation in private practice I started over because the evaluation of a case is entirely different. It took me many years to learn that and to try enough bench and jury trials to qualify to take the exam. I now proudly wear my certification pin when I go to court and regularly encourage fellow business litigators to seek certification.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10?
Steinfeld: In the coming years, I would like to serve as a circuit court judge. Several attorneys and judges have encouraged me to seek that position and I would be honored to serve the Bar and the community in that capacity. I have taken great pride and pleasure from serving throughout my life. I learned the value of serving my community as an Eagle Scout. I proudly served my country as an Army intelligence officer and a JAG attorney. I have also greatly enjoyed serving the Bar. I have served the Florida Bar on its business litigation board certification committee and the Supreme Court’s business and contract jury instructions committee. I have also been involved with the Palm Beach County Bar by chairing its business litigation CLE committee and serving on the north county section board and now as president-elect. Personally, I gravitate to opportunities to serve our profession and I believe that serving the Bar and the community as a circuit court judge is one of the highest callings we, as attorneys, can meet.
AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
Steinfeld: In the coming year, I look forward to getting to know attorneys with whom I will have the pleasure of working on disputes. I do not view opposition as the proverbial enemy; I prefer to view them as fellow professionals from whom I can learn and improve. When I was first assigned as an Army JAG attorney, I called the person who would oppose me in court to get to know him and we remain close friends to this day. In my practice, I still make a habit of interacting with opposing counsel on a personal level because we are all in this profession together and today’s opposition may be tomorrow’s co-counsel or someone to whom I can refer a client and vice versa.
AALM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Steinfeld: Technology is impacting our profession in all practice areas. The bar has mandated that we all obtain technology credits and may soon set goals for technological competence like other state Bars. In my practice, I have embraced technology and to help fellow attorneys, I created a 17.5 credit Florida Bar approved e-discovery CLE. This program instructs how to perform electronic discovery and is available at EverythingE-Discovery.com. To help fellow litigators and law firms evaluate the software used for e-discovery and to insulate them from malpractice claims in this new area, I also created e-DiscoverySoftwareReviews.com. I think that we all try to improve our profession and these are my contributions to hopefully make this e-discovery area a little easier for my peers.