Attorney at Law Magazine Jacksonville Publisher Tom Brady sat down with Jessie L. Harrell to discuss her career and her legal heroes.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
Harrell: I’m not one of those people who always wanted to be a lawyer. I majored in classical studies and was trying to decide what to do after college, so I took a practice LSAT and did quite well. It was then that I realized the law played into my strengths – reading, writing and analysis. Finding the legal field really was a happy accident.
AALM: How would you describe your practice? What is your main area of law? What drew you to that practice?
Harrell: I’m an appellate lawyer to the core. I practiced commercial litigation for seven years, and when I touched upon appellate work, I immediately knew that’s what I wanted to do. In my practice, I’m always learning something new and thinking about the law from different angles. I get to handle civil cases ranging from personal injury, to commercial litigation, to family law. My practice never gets stale and I get to bring a fresh perspective to the trial lawyers I work with. I became Florida Bar board certified in appellate practice in 2013.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encourage you?
Harrell: I’m lucky enough to work with some of the best mentors around – Rebecca Creed and Bryan Gowdy. They are brilliant and funny and easy to talk to. One of my favorite parts of this job is when we sit and really talk through a complicated legal issue. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the late, great John Hamilton. He was my first mentor in the appellate field and loved the appellate practice more than anyone I’ve ever met.
AALM: Who are some of your legal heroes? Why?
Harrell: I’ve got to say Judge Susan H. Black, and not just because she’s my aunt-in- law. Judge Black has a thoughtful presence and you always know she’s putting her full attention into your conversation. Beyond her demeanor, she has paved the way for women lawyers in Jacksonville. She has so many “firsts” in Jacksonville under her belt, it’s hard to list them all – first female county court judge, first female circuit court judge, first female chief judge of the Middle District, to name a few. It’s because of women like Judge Black that no doors are closed to me in the legal profession.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about being an attorney?
Harrell: Overturning an injustice. We aren’t known for handling easy cases at our firm. Some cases feel like we’re tilting at windmills, but the justice of the cause compels us to put our resources behind a client. It’s in those moments when you can give someone hope, and a feeling that the system really does work, that you know you’ve made a difference.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
Harrell: One of the best things about being an appellate lawyer is that it gives me the freedom to also be an involved wife and mother. On the weekends (and week nights!), you’ll find me cheering one daughter at soccer or basketball and then watching my eldest daughter sing with the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus. When I’m officially “off duty,” I dabble in different things depending on how I’m feeling, including cross-stitch, reading and scrapbooking.