Attorney at Law Magazine First Coast Publisher Tom Brady sat down with Jay Howanitz of Spohrer Dodd to discuss his career and his aspirations for the future in the latest Litigation Spotlight interview.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
Howanitz: When I was in high school and college, I had a few jobs – factory worker, moving company, concrete company, funeral home and a runner at my cousin’s law practice. Needless to say, the practice of law seemed like a good choice. My cousin would take us to meetings, hearings, trials, etc. It was amazing to see the process at work. I loved the fact that your hard work and effort had such a direct influence on someone’s life.
AALM: What drew you into litigation? Have you ever considered a different type of the law? What do you enjoy about being a litigator? What are some of the frustrations?
Howanitz: Litigation just has that competitive component to it. If you played sports, it’s tough to give that up. I knew I was never cut out to be a transactional attorney. I love the fact that you can have a difficult case and lengthy debates with opposing counsel, but you can still shake hands and the end of the day. I think that is something special about the Jacksonville legal community. One of the biggest frustrations is losing that level of civility when you practice outside of Jacksonville. I am also licensed in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and when you handle cases outside of the area, you appreciate the attorneys we have here.
AALM: Who is your current mentor? What is the best lesson they’ve taught you so far?
Howanitz: I’ve been very lucky to work with Bob Spohrer and Steve Browning throughout my career. The biggest takeaways have been: (1) always be prepared and on time; and (2) always think outside of the box. If you spend some time outside the box, you can expect the unexpected, prepare your case/ client accordingly and allow your own outside-the-box thinking to catch your opponents off guard and add value to your case.
AALM: How did you envision your career unfolding while an undergraduate or law student? How has your career path differed from those ambitions?
Howanitz: I, honestly, had no idea how my career was going to unfold. When I was in college, I remember my uncle asking, ‘What the heck type of job can you get with a political science degree.’ It was a really good question. I played sports throughout high school and college, and that got the competitive juices flowing. I knew I wanted to do something that sparked a competitive drive and kept me on my toes. Law school was the end goal of what could be done with a political science degree, and litigation, to say the least, sparks the competitive drive and keeps you on your toes.
AALM: What drew you to your current firm? How would you describe the culture there?
Howanitz: I’ve been extremely fortunate to be with the same firm for my entire career. Ever since I started as a law clerk, it has always felt like my second family. It is truly a place that has an open-door policy, and that culture allows for a team approach and a lot of creative ideas. We have handled a great amount of unique cases throughout the years, and that is a huge part of what makes me love what I do.
AALM: Of the cases you’ve worked on, what has stood out most in your mind?
Howanitz: The cases that stick out most in my mind are the ones that everyone has told you and your client that you just can’t win. When you can make something out of what is perceived as nothing, the reward comes from a client that is forever grateful and well-earned respect from opposing counsel.
AALM: Working with senior partners, what is a trait they have that you would like to carry through to the next generation of lawyers?
Howanitz: One of the biggest traits is being able to think on your feet and maintain your composure throughout the process. I’ve watched the generation of attorney, who did not have the benefit of numerous depositions and prolonged discovery, use that trait to their advantage in every aspect of the law.
AALM: What experience in the courtroom has taught you the most about being a good litigator?
Howanitz: I believe it’s the fact that everything you do has to be done with the belief that it will be presented to/heard by the jury. When you keep that in mind, it makes you prepare every part of your case, from pleadings to depositions, with the jury appeal in mind.
AALM: What trait do you believe most separates an average or good litigator from an exceptional one?
Howanitz: In my opinion, an exceptional litigator just has that ability to connect with the jury. It is done through preparation, storytelling, professionalism, confidence, demeanor, etc.
AALM: Personally, what are you most proud to have accomplished thus far? And, professionally?
Howanitz: I’m proud of the fact that Holly and I have worked hard to get where we are, yet still make sure that family time is not forgotten. I think life experiences do a lot to help you grow as a person and as a professional.