The moment of clarity about her purpose came by chance to Jennifer Kifer when she was an associate. A rather routine request by the executive partner of Holland & Knight’s Jacksonville office to provide some support to another partner outside of her commercial civil litigation practice enabled her to enter the world of charitable gifts. Immediately drawn to it, Kifer shifted her practice to focus on trust and estate matters that benefit nonprofit organizations.
“There was nothing I had ever done before that made me feel so fulfilled,” said Kifer, now a partner in the firm’s Private Wealth Services group. “I am fortunate to represent some of the largest charities in the nation who are doing incredible work. I go to bed knowing that I made a significant difference to literally millions of people through helping charities fund their missions. My team works to increase and accelerate necessary funds for national and international non-profits so they can provide vital assistance to those in need.”
“My practice has a major impact, yet it is a unique and niche practice. Many are surprised to learn what I do. Legacy gifts are extremely important to the survival of non-profits, including charitable, medical, religious and educational organizations, which have their own fiduciary obligations with regard to the funds entrusted to them. As beneficiaries of trusts and estates, charities have important rights that my team helps protect,” Kifer said.
Kifer is excited by the opportunities given to her clients. “We are in the middle of the largest wealth transfer in the history of the world, and a significant amount of that wealth is being left to our charitable clients,” she said. “Philanthropic-minded Baby Boomers are making plans to transfer their wealth, and over the next 20-plus years, we will see large amounts of money being gifted to charitable organizations to support their missions. It’s a period of incredible growth.”
The Winding Path to Law
Pursuing her interest in radio took Kifer in a different direction after studying communication in college. While working as a local on-air personality bantering on late-night radio, attending Superbowl parties and meeting celebrities was fun, she realized she wanted more, and knew she had to find her life’s passion elsewhere. Influenced by her attorney father and judge grandfather, Kifer entered law school to become the lawyer she always knew, deep down, she would be.
“Going out in the world after college brought me back to my roots and I realized that was where my heart was,” Kifer said. “Having that period of uncertainty, almost staying on what was the wrong path for me, made me so much more grateful to find where I belonged.”
As she learned in law school, there is no substitute for hard work. “I put my life on hold for three years and buckled down and focused to get it done. There aren’t any shortcuts to take, hard work is the only way to make it to the top.”
That important reminder and lesson springs from her attitude and work ethic instilled when she was young. Her parents taught her to work for what she wanted. “I mowed our lawn. I worked at McDonald’s. I worked three jobs while attending college. My parents didn’t just hand me everything I wanted, even if they could have. My blood, sweat and tears made everything so much more meaningful and got me to where I am today. I never felt entitled, and I still feel I have to work and earn and prove myself every day.”
A Musical Life
With a devoted passion for music since she was a young girl, Kifer still enjoys performing and releasing original music. The local gigs as lead singer for the Jacksonville band Briteside give her a different perspective from the legal life she leads by day.
“I’ve had some incredible experiences. Once, when I was a teenager, I was booked to sing in a nightclub in Johnson City, Tennessee. My mom and I happened to meet some band members from Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd at the hotel pool. They invited us to attend their reunion concert, and then showed up at the club where I was performing and joined me on stage for a jam session together! That was the coolest experience, to be rocking on stage with these legends!”
Kifer participates in several community efforts, but the annual Holland & Knight Day of Service on 9/11 is one she finds deeply satisfying. “Each office takes on a project, usually with a community partner, clients, families and friends, and we spend the day together improving our communities. We find many ways to do good deeds for others to honor a fallen colleague who lost his life helping others on 9/11.”
With many accomplishments that bring her pride, two in particular forever changed her. “Becoming a partner at a large law firm is extremely challenging. It took a lot of long hours, grit, standing my ground and believing in myself when it would have been easier to give up,” she said.
A pro bono matter that transformed the life of a local family, and her own, has a lasting impression. Several years ago, Kifer represented a great grandmother seeking permanent custody of her great granddaughter whose life would have been in danger from parents unable to care for her. After a difficult year fighting to protect the child, Kifer obtained an order from the court that terminated parental rights and granted full custody to the great grandmother, who ultimately adopted the little girl. “On the day of the court order, my client asked me to be the little girl’s godmother. While my day-to-day work is important, what I was able to do for this family makes me most proud.”
“I found my purpose. All of my work touches my heart, as my life is spent serving the greater good,” says Kifer.