Attorney at Law Magazine Jacksonville Publisher Tom Brady sat down with Stephanie Burcha to discuss her career and mentors that encouraged her.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney?
Burch: I knew I wanted to go to law school about a third of the way into my second year of teaching. I was teaching sixth grade science in Kissimmee, Florida at the time and figured out that I didn’t have what it takes to be a middle school teacher. Plus, I wanted to get an advanced degree. A very good friend of mine was in law school at the time, so I began my research with her. Once I realized how flexible a law degree could be I was sold. A Juris Doctor is so versatile – you don’t have to work as a lawyer if you don’t want to, as there are so many industries which value this type of education for its employees.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way?
Burch: I have many colleagues who I have learned so much from over the years – some are attorneys; some work for title companies or banks; and many work in government. I have been very fortunate in my government employment to be able to work for leaders who are innovative, forward-thinking and whose work style is compatible with my own. Additionally, my law professors have been integral in my development as a professional as well. I think the way the school and the professors emphasize practical experience during law school is extremely important for a young attorney.
AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school?
Burch: Number one, question everything; and, second, respect the bench. There are so many situations where people just operate as they always have, without questioning whether it still makes sense. With the speed in which technology and public policy changes these days, I’m just not comfortable if I don’t ask why. Getting things done in government can be a bureaucratic nightmare, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be. Processes can always be streamlined, and I think we have an ongoing responsibility to the taxpayers to evaluate how to operate more efficiently. Secondly, respecting the bench is so important across many industries, but especially in public service. There is very much a chain of command in public service, and you must show deference to not only your superiors, but also the legislators who ultimately must approve the policies you operate under and must implement.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
Burch: Definitely my work experiences and raising my daughter – I was lucky enough to be a part of some pretty major procurements and projects that FDOT was undertaking a few years ago, and those experiences really paved the way for teaching me how best to work with not only your colleagues and management team, but also with the industry and the public. There are a lot of balls in the air at the same time, and you have to find ways to successfully juggle all of them. I think the same goes with being a working mom – people say you can have it all, but I don’t think you can have it all at the same time. Something will always have to be shifted to a back burner for you to be able to focus on what the priority is in front of you at that moment. I am so fortunate that my husband is fully supportive of my career and our family because we work well as a team. There are always things to juggle, but you will learn from those experiences.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your pro bono work?
Burch: I think the most rewarding part for me is being able to help those who don’t have the means to help themselves. I really appreciate being able to do pro bono work and providing guidance for people who generally need to be just pointed in the right direction. It is extremely gratifying to be able to put a smile on someone’s face, or help them breathe a sigh of relief.
AALM: Are there any changes coming in the future that you’re excited about?
Burch: I recently moved into a new role with the city so I am very excited about the new position and the opportunities ahead to serve the Jacksonville community. I’m proud to be a part of Mayor Curry’s team and am looking forward to helping make Jacksonville a place where everyone wants to live, work and play.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Burch: Passing the Bar and my daughter’s first kindergarten progress report. I felt like I could breathe a big sigh of relief after each one. Passing the Bar for obvious reasons, but that first progress report was some much-needed reassurance that we are doing OK as parents.
AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
Burch: I am looking forward to my brother’s wedding in May. Plus, my husband and I plan to take our daughter to Disney for the first time. I am most excited, however, to provide leadership to the neighborhoods department in order to deliver more services to the city’s residents.
AALM: What do you appreciate about leaving the practice of law?
Burch: It took me a while to get up the courage to seek a position outside of being a practicing attorney. Ultimately, though, it was absolutely the right decision for me. The practice of law was key to building an excellent foundation for government employment by teaching me how to identify the public entity’s authority to act, how to streamline processes and procedures, and why you need to ask why.