Attorney at Law Magazine Miami Publisher Rhenne Leon sat down with Jerry Hamilton to discuss what case defined his practice.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional? What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?
Hamilton: Be genuine. Be yourself. There is no one else in the world like you. Master the art of being you. That’s exceptionalism. All good attorneys know the law. They can communicate it. That’s a given. The exceptional ones, the ones who set themselves apart, display an ease, a confidence and comfort within themselves that shines through. All of my accomplishments are meaningless if I can’t stand up and be me. Learn to use your idiosyncrasies to your advantage. One of my mentors always told me if you want to beat Jimmy Connors (yes, going a while back), you can’t play Jimmy Connors’ game. Play your own game. Master it.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of the firm?
Hamilton: Our attorneys and staff are passionate individuals and some of the hardest working people I know. When we step away from the office we know how to have a good time. We often tag our social media posts #workhardplayhard because it accurately expresses our philosophy. It is amazing to see the families in our firm grow– from one firm picnic to the next we see babies grow to children and from children to young adults. It warms my heart to know that the culture of our firm plays a part in the support and development of each family.
AALM: What case most defined or redefined your practice?
Hamilton: The case that had the most profound impact on my practice was being lead trial counsel in the case involving the sinking of the SS El Faro, and the loss of all her crew during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015. Its loss was regarded as one of the worst maritime shipping disasters in modern U.S. history. The families of the crew filed numerous wrongful death claims and there were multiple ongoing governmental investigations. To head a team as the lead trial counsel, which included talented lawyers from firms such as K&L Gates, Holland & Knight, Baker Hostetler, Blank Rome, Burke Parsons, Fowler White, and Reed Smith, was definitely a defining moment in my practice. However, it was not the exceptional team or the powerhouse of legal talent that had the most profound effect on me; it was not the management of the crisis or the six weeks of governmental hearings which left an indelible mark. It was how our client came to the aid of the families who lost loved ones that impressed me the most. How they cared. Within 19 months, the president, the CEO and general counsel of the companies made sure that every family members’ claims were resolved and that the important task to ensure that the tragedy never happened again was well under way. To witness this confirmed my faith that there are leaders in the industry that are fair, compassionate and caring. People who did not just look at the bottom line, but who made sure this tragedy was not in vain. That was what mattered the most. It was my biggest takeaway.
I adopted the general counsel’s credo that he gave before every meeting – transparency, communication, and teamwork. Those words are truly the foundation of any successful relationship. Live by those words and I truly believe anyone can have a fiourishing law practice.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future?
Hamilton: I am on a mission to create a firm that will have a significant impact on the legal and social landscape of our communities. In the next five to 10 years, I see our continued growth in the defense of commercial general liability matters, employment, construction, professional malpractice, retail and hospitality and complex commercial claims. Our insurance defense and coverage practice, maritime and international practice in the Caribbean will continue to expand. Our footprint in Puerto Rico will be bigger. In 10 years, we will probably plateau around 100 lawyers. I see our firm’s involvement in our communities expanding to other schools and causes to make sure our children get the education they need. We want to be the champions of laying the foundations for an unshakeable childhood education because we as a firm and our lawyers have that burning passion inside of us. Our diversity is essential to these long-range goals and is always in the forefront of our minds.
AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
Hamilton: The event I cannot wait for is the completion of the Law Academy Program at Brownsville Middle School. The Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel Charitable Foundation is proud of its collaboration with the New Education Initiatives and other community partners to create a unique program advancing legal education at Brownsville Middle School. We are well on the way to completing the construction of a 21st century mock courtroom with audio visual technology, juror observation rooms and much more for its students. It is anticipated to be completed by the end of the year. The excitement I see on the children’s faces when we have mock trials and mock appellate arguments and when we take them to visit the state, federal and appellate courts, is incredibly inspiring.