When it comes to business, working with family and friends can either be a hindrance or present an unparalleled opportunity for success. In the case of Ferrelle Burns, the partners — including Rice Ferrelle and David Burns — shared vision of the future, an innate desire to help others, their humility, and their ability to roll with the punches has created an ideal environment in which to provide exceptional service.
Ferrelle Burns is a client-forward, full-service litigation and trial firm with offices in both Brunswick, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, that handles a variety of complex civil litigation matters involving serious personal injury and wrongful death, admiralty/maritime law, product liability and business litigation. Collectively, the firm’s attorneys boast over 85 years of experience and are adept at litigating sophisticated, high-stakes matters, while the firm’s boutique size and feel allow each client the personal attention required without the added expense of larger firms.
THE EARLY YEARS
Growing up the son of a Brunswick, Georgia, trial lawyer, Rice Ferrelle was introduced to the practice of law at an early age and drew inspiration from watching his father in action as the “local lawyer for the every-man”.
“Some of my earliest memories are when my father would invite his clients over to celebrate the end of their cases after trial and a conga line of unknown people would form in our house,” recalled Ferrelle. “Because we lived in a small town, my dad often helped clients with every legal issue they had in their lives, and I remember how appreciative his clients were that he was ‘their lawyer’.”
With singular purpose, Ferrelle set his sights on becoming an attorney. An advocate from an early age, he continued to immerse himself in mock trials and debate in school and quickly recognized his interest in passionately pursuing causes in the courtroom in front of a jury.
He often discussed joining his father in his practice as soon as he graduated law school, but his life took an unexpected detour. Ferrelle met his wife, Amanda, the first week they were at UGA Law, got married two weeks after the bar exam and moved to Jacksonville to start their legal careers together in a new city.
Unlike Ferrelle, David Burns was not introduced into law at a young age, thus, the trajectory to his current career was drastically different. In fact, Burns graduated from college with a degree in Religion.
With no intent to become a preacher, his dad asked him, “What’s Next?”
“Religion is heavy on philosophy and writing,” explained Burns. “There’s often no perfect or right answer to any question that is posed which is very similar to the practice of the law. You have to interpret the foundational principles and make your arguments with the facts at hand, so I felt it was a good transition. I chose litigation because I’m competitive and determined that litigation would be the best way to represent my clients’ interest.”
Upon graduating from law school in 2004, both Ferrelle and Burns accepted positions with Smith, Hulsey & Busey.
“David and I were hired around the same time and were supposed to start on the same day,” explained Ferrelle. “David, however, decided to go in a day earlier and was able to claim the last premium window office available for associates. So, the next day, he had the office and I got set up in an interior cubicle. Of course, I did get him back for that later on, but the method of retaliation is unfortunately beyond the bounds of this publication.”
Despite this somewhat humorous disparity, Ferrelle and Burns quickly became friends. Sharing a mutual respect for each other, similar interests outside of work and having similar situations at the onset, the two remained close friends.
Over the years, their careers diverged a bit in that Ferrelle transitioned more into personal injury, wrongful death, and product liability practice areas while Burns continued to hone his skills in the business and commercial litigation arena; however, both were singularly adept at all types of litigation and still enjoy that variety in their practices today.
In 2012, Ferrelle and his father, a 45-year law veteran, rekindled their discussion of joining forces and Burns’ name came up immediately as a prospective partner with the perfect integrity, temperament and experience. Soon after, the firm Ferrelle Burns was created with Rice, David and John leading the new endeavor.
Today, Ferrelle continues to focus on personal injury, wrongful death and maritime cases and splits his time between the firm’s Georgia and Florida offices, while Burns concentrates on complex business litigation matters including contract and partnership disputes, non-compete cases and business torts.
Although their practice areas often seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, both Ferrelle and Burns agree that sometimes working together produces the best outcomes.
“It helps to have an added depth of perspective for our clients,” noted Burns. “We can count on each other as sounding boards and, in fact, because we are both trialdriven, we frequently can be found supporting each other in court as second chairs.”
While the firm continues to expand its business litigation and personal injury practice areas, Ferrelle and his father continue to dedicate a large portion of their practice to handling maritime injury cases.
“Situated in the border towns spanning two states in which boat use, water sports and maritime activities are prevalent,” explained Ferrelle, “our firm is in a unique position to take on a wider scope of plaintiff’s injury matters that general personal injury firms can’t handle. John worked in the shipping industry growing up, we are regularly involved with the Southeastern Admiralty Law Institute and Florida Bar Admiralty Law Committee, and we are both designated Proctors in Admiralty by the Maritime Law Association.”
A fairly niche market, they recognize the growing need for maritime injury trial lawyers in north Florida and southeast Georgia.
Through the years, both Ferrelle and Burns have made a name for themselves as pro bono litigators, recognizing their duty to give back to the community and frequently counselling with each other on such cases. In 2008, a board of local judges recognized this effort and presented one of them with a prestigious pro bono award for exceptional representation of a client in a commercial case.
“As the Judge stood at the podium and detailed the work that went into this particular case, including a key piece of information that indicated that the recipient did not often take this type of case, I knew that Rice was going to receive the award,” recalled Burns. “As I was looking around the room to offer my congratulations on his honor that evening, the Judge said, ‘Congratulations to this year’s recipient, David D. Burns’.”
Burns recalls that he later found out from the judge that the award was, in fact, intended for him after all, but Ferrelle still has his doubts.
“To this day, David still claims ownership of the award and has the audacity to display it prominently in his office,” laughed Ferrelle.
It’s all in good fun, though. Whether this particular award was mistakenly awarded to the wrong recipient or not, both Ferrelle and Burns know that pro bono work is not about the accolades, but instead, about giving a voice to those who need help speaking for themselves.
With a belief system that recognizes their good fortune, it is no wonder that client satisfaction ranks high on their list of priorities. In fact, the firm ensures that every client understands the process from intake through resolution and is satisfied with the outcome. According to Ferrelle, “Our personal involvement in every client matter is one of the most important hallmarks of our firm.”
“Because we work so closely with our clients, it is not unusual to become friends over the course of their cases,” explained Burns. “We are proud of the fact that we have never parted badly with a single client and have ensured that everyone has been satisfied in the end. In fact, we have been known to see our clients socially both during and after their cases have resolved to follow up on how their lives are going.”
“We receive the majority of our work from attorney and word-of-mouth referrals,” noted Ferrelle. “I can’t think of a better compliment for our firm because it shows that our peers trust us to handle important matters for some of their best clients, family members and friends.”