With a personality that’s as expansive as the Florida coastline (and sometimes with as much tempest), attorney Kenny Leigh could write a book describing how it feels to be pigeonholed or prejudged. The mere fact that his firm represents only male clients automatically engenders the wrath of women’s rights activists and, at least a disapproving raise of an eyebrow from those females not so politically motivated.
Leigh, a divorced father of three and as well as the founder and CEO of the largest family law firm in Florida, is frequently perceived as a misogynist or, at the very least, someone who suffers from a male superiority complex. Neither is true. His reasons for representing men exclusively is born of the belief that, despite obvious discrepancies in how men and women are treated in our society, the divorce courts in this country still favor women, particularly when it comes to custodial rights. Offering men, effective and skilled representation is a natural remedy, particularly for someone who has experienced the unpleasant experience of a dissolved marriage.
“It’s probably the only area where women are given the advantage,” Leigh says. “I’m not suggesting that men should be favored; only that all things being equal, the father should be allotted the same considerations as the mother.”
Outgoing and gregarious, Leigh’s boisterous personality has also sometimes led to his being unfairly judged; frequently misconstrued as boastful or arrogant. Hence his familiarity with being pigeonholed. However, a more unbiased view would take into consideration that anyone who builds a successful practice that includes nine locations spanning a significant portion of the state, should be granted some bragging rights. To take it one step further, those who are better acquainted with Leigh, know that he’s just as quick to point out his shortcomings as he is to preen about achievements.
For instance, he freely acknowledges that his was not a direct or even particularly impressive route to earning his Juris Doctor. With self-deprecating humor, he freely admits to feeling “lost” as he worked his way toward an undergraduate degree.
“People think I’m trying to be funny when I say it took me seven years to earn my associate’s degree,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s true! After seven years, most people have an advanced degree, I had a two-year associate’s degree. But somehow, holding that degree in my hand suddenly motivated me – got me back on track. From that point on, I got very serious about my studies and with tunnel vision focused on my goal.”
Leigh was not quite 6 years old when his paternal grandfather, a Florida county judge, posed the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Leigh’s answer was swift and certain. “A policeman!”
Smiling proudly, yet knowingly, grandpa responded, “Well, that’s a fine profession, but when you’re around other people, say lawyer, it sounds better.”
Recalling the incident Leigh laughs. “I guess it sunk in,” he says. “Look where I am!
As previously indicated, the path to becoming not only one of Florida’s most successful attorneys, but the founder and CEO of the largest divorce practice in the state, was not as direct as that anecdote might imply. To begin with, despite his impressive lineage – a grandfather who served as a county judge and a father who was a successful real estate developer, Leigh was actually the first in his family to earn a college degree.
“In fact, my grandfather had only an eighth-grade education,” says Leigh. “That surprises a lot of people, the fact that he could serve as a judge without a college degree, but it has to do with a change in Florida statutes. You see, my grandfather was a justice of the peace, which at that time was essentially a glorified police officer. Then, in the early 1970s, the statutes changed as did the title. All those serving as a justice of the peace became county judges, and anyone, such as my grandfather, who was already serving was grandfathered in. Consequently, for a period of time, there were a significant number of county judges who did not have a law degree. Or, as in the case of my grandfather, even a high school diploma.”
Lawyer Without a Job
There’s no false bravado as Leigh talks about his life immediately following law school. “I started working at a complex commercial litigation firm,” he says. “The owner of the firm, Campbell Ford, was a mentor to me and taught me a lot. In fact, I still use many of the things he taught me, and call him for advice to this day.”
While he became close with Ford and, as he indicated learned a great deal from the man, the work itself was not how Leigh had envisioned life as a lawyer.
“It just didn’t do it for me,” he says. “So, I became a prosecutor with the state attorney’s office. It was a lot of fun. I did that for a little while, then decided to move on. However, I was once again feeling kind of lost. To be honest, I thought I was a bad-ass trial attorney and figured I would easily get another job. At that time, I had no desire to open my own firm.
“Unfortunately,” he continues with a wry grin, “the universe said, ‘you’re not such a bad-ass and nobody wants you.’ So really, out of necessity I started my own law firm.”
It was a humble beginning for Kenny Leigh & Associates. One secretary, which Leigh could only afford to retain part-time, was all the help he had in those early days. Then, providence stepped in, bringing paralegal Kimberly Santiago into the picture.
“She literally changed my life,” says Leigh. “It was the perfect relationship right from the beginning. We were on the same page philosophically. We actually finish each other’s sentences.”
Eager to build his new practice, Leigh happily accepted virtually any case in those early days. However, he knew in his heart he didn’t want, as he says, “to be the proverbial jack of all trades.”
A Finer Take on Family Law
Always drawn to family law, Leigh began narrowing the focus of his practice to these cases. Soon, influenced by a fellow attorney whose small practice specialized in a “male only” clientele and who was retiring, Leigh decided to step in to fill the void. It appealed to him on a number of levels, but primarily he was interested in addressing what he perceived as an imbalance in the judicial system.
“I believed then, as I do now, that men are not treated fairly in family law,” he says. “Now, to be very clear, the laws are written fairly; they are gender neutral. But, I don’t believe they are applied fairly. I’m not blaming or shooting across the bow at any judges; it’s a societal thing.”
A voracious reader of business books, Leigh discovered a natural affinity for the mechanics of building and operating a business. In fact, it soon became apparent that he seemed to have an innate talent in this area. Working closely with Santiago, the firm grew with remarkable speed. New associates, attorneys and other staff were added to serve the constantly growing roster of clients.
Astute in the ways of structuring a successful business, Leigh determined that his would not be set up in the typical law practice template. In fact, the design which follows a very precise organizational chart that includes Leigh at the top, followed by a president, nine directors and then in descending order, the remaining staff , more closely resembles that of a major corporation than a family law practice. It’s a system that works.
At the heart of all this, and according to Leigh what drives the firm, is the belief that customers must come first. “I run it like a corporation not like a typical law firm,” says Leigh, “and it’s all based on the premise of customer service.
“I waited tables for 10 years, and hated every second of it, but it drove home the importance of excellent customer service. In fact, we have a saying in our firm and it’s what everything else is predicated upon: ‘We are not a law firm, we are a customer service firm that happens to do family law.’”
Taking the best from the hundreds of books he’s studied over the years, Leigh says one idea that he found particularly appealing came from a lawyer who had a small criminal defense practice. “Her concept was, no matter whether you think the client has money or not, you treat them as though they are the biggest client on the planet. I think that makes a lot of sense. Also, we are always sensitive to the fact that, even though we have gone through the process hundreds of times, for our clients this is brand new and both emotionally and psychologically charged. Our job doesn’t begin and end in the courtroom, we are there for emotional support and to educate them as to what to expect. “
Comprised of a layered structure not unlike multimillion-dollar corporations, Kenny Leigh & Associates operates like a well-oiled machine so that the attorneys and support staff can give their full attention to their client’s needs.
Unfortunately, human nature, particularly in the area of family law, is to find someone to blame. Frequently, guilty or not, the blame falls on the attorney or firm. It’s probably to be expected, albeit surprising, that amongst the hundreds of comments online critiquing the services of this customer-service focused firm, there are a handful of disgruntled comments. Here Leigh is philosophical.
“Our firm gets about a thousand new clients ever year,” he says. “If you look at the totality of negative reviews online, that aren’t repeated, there are about 20. And, that dates all the way back to the beginning of the firm. I think all you have to do is look at the incredibly high percentage we have of repeat and referral business to know that this small handful of negative comments are not worth our concern.”
Of course, in the age of anonymous attacks, it has to be noted that many of these can also be written off as fake or simply disgruntled clients who didn’t walk away with as much of the pie as they had hoped.
“I have utmost confidence that every member of our team is providing the best service possible,” Leigh adds. “Despite the fact that everyone is completely dedicated, our firm is under the very capable hands of Stefani Nolan who serves as the president. Under her guidance, every office runs smoothly with efficiency and outstanding customer service. She runs the firm so well, traveling the state and overseeing as aspects of our operation. She deserves so much credit.”
Another Side of the Divorce Attorney
As mentioned previously, Leigh is the father of three children, ages 9, 11 and 13, two sons and a daughter. And, while it’s not typical for the writer to directly interject his or herself into the writing, in this instance it seems imperative to temporarily suspended that rule.
Approximately 35 minutes into the interview that would eventually serve as the basis for this profile, an entirely different side of Leigh surfaced. The insistent ringing of his cell phone caused him to make a quick check of the caller ID. Politely apologizing he said, “I’m sorry I have to take this call.”
Could this be a carefully orchestrated call designed to allow Leigh to showcase his brilliance in legalese or a business call that courtesy should dictate could wait? It was neither. The tenor of his voice altered immediately, replaced by a gentler, soffer tone. Gone was the carefully modulated, “command of the courtroom” pitch. Based on his end of the conversation, “daddy” was being admonished by his young daughter for not yet delivering a promised smoothie.
“I’m so sorry honey,” Leigh offered sincerely and sounding properly chastised. “I’ll be right there!”
It was at this point the interview suddenly took an unexpected turn. The previously “all business” Leigh, CEO of a multimillion-dollar law firm with more than 50 employees under his command, was no longer in charge. Quickly and without any embarrassment, he sprang into action; his sole focus keeping a promise to a 9-yearold little girl.
Minutes later, we were seated in his car, speeding our way to procuring the promised treat.
“My kids are my world,” Leigh offered by way of explanation. “I love all my kids, but my daughter definitely has me wrapped around her little finger. And, while I’m sure most people assume I really took my ex to the cleaners, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, we have a very amicable relationship and I made sure she came out better-than-average financially. She’s the mother of my children and I want to make sure she’s taken care of.
“I know a lot of people think I’m a sexist,” he says, “but all I really want to do is give dad’s a fair shake. I can’t imagine the excruciating pain of not being able to see your kids when you want to. Truly, I think that would kill me.”
Delivering the smoothie, father and daughter talked briefly, and Leigh left her with instructions to remember to walk the dog. As they exchanged “I love you’s” we once again headed back to his elegant offices.
“Here’s the real kicker,” he said, with a devilish twinkle in his eyes. “Maybe, when my daughter is grown, I’ll want to change the firm to a ‘women only’ practice.”
Of course, he’s teasing. Despite any preconceptions or misconceptions regarding Kenny Leigh, three facts hold true: he loves his children, he’s an astute businessman and he 100 percent, passionately believes in fighting for the rights of fathers.