The Female Perspective from the Women of Coker Law

The journey of women in law has been a long and arduous one. In a profession that has been historically dominated by men, female attorneys were virtually unheard of until the late 19th century when they were finally admitted to law schools.

Today, women make up a significant portion of law school graduates and are represented in every area of the legal profession, taking their place among the most successful and respected attorneys in the country.

Four examples of these high-achieving women are Dana Jacobs, Chelsea R. Harris, Mary Lace Guilfoil and Corinne Hodak of Coker Law.

For nearly half a century, Coker Law has been one of the most successful and respected firms in Florida, boasting a team of accomplished attorneys. As the firm has grown, it has recruited legal professionals who reflect the values at the core of their organization.

“We’ve made a conscious decision to expand the firm’s lawyers to better reflect the continued diversity of our profession and the Jacksonville community,” explains shareholder Daniel Iracki.

The four women featured in this special issue are all eminent members of this evolving team. Each brings her unique talents and a passion for the law.

We’ve made a conscious decision to expand the firm’s lawyers to better reflect the continued diversity of our profession and the Jacksonville community

The four women featured in this special issue are all eminent members of this evolving team. Each brings her unique talents and a passion for the law.

Dana Jacobs

Judy Piseth, Chelsea Harris, Mary Lace Guilfoil and Dana Jacobs

Dana Jacobs’ parents recognized her inherent talent for law when she was a child, always quick to “plead the case” on behalf of her sisters. Her interest became public when she announced at her Bat Mitzvah that she planned on becoming the next Judge Judy.

Perhaps the only surprise was her decision to focus on personal injury. In fact, as Jacobs explains, she found it a bit surprising herself. Today, after almost 15 years of practice, she enjoys a reputation as a dynamic and aggressive trial attorney.

“I had zero interest in personal injury work when I was in law school,” she says. “Torts was not my best subject, to say the least! However, I did enjoy my courses in trial practice, appellate advocacy, and legal research and writing. In my third year of law school, I interviewed with a female attorney from a Jacksonville insurance defense firm and ended up joining that firm. By working on the defense side, I learned the ins and outs of personal injury law and developed a passion for it. I can’t imagine any other type of law being a better fit for me.”

Later, joining the Coker team was an easy decision for Jacobs. Even while working as opposing counsel, she was impressed by Coker’s excellent reputation.

“I previously litigated against many of the Coker attorneys, and I always felt they were incredible advocates for their clients while remaining respectful to opposing counsel,” says Jacobs. “I enjoyed seeing the collaboration and camaraderie among their attorneys. I was nervous about starting a new career path, but my fears quickly faded once I was embraced by Coker Law.”

As a seasoned practitioner, Jacobs offers advice for women  just beginning their legal career.

“In addition to shadowing more senior attorneys to absorb as much knowledge as possible, try to surround yourself with supportive people, either in your own firm or through community organizations,” offers Jacobs. “Surround yourself with the people who find joy in your success and achievements and those who feel your wins are their wins too. Seek out those who can give you the tools and flexibility to be the best of the best in your field. If you aren’t finding that support in your current job, have the courage to go find it elsewhere because it does exist.”

Chelsea R. Harris

Dana Jacobs, Judy Piseth, Mary Lace Guilfoil and Chelsea Harris

Chelsea Harris is an excellent example of how things are changing for women, particularly in the area of law. An impressive civil trial litigator, Harris is also a shareholder at Coker Law.

Like her female colleagues, Harris has also experienced various challenges throughout her career and offers women just entering the legal arena a bit of advice.

“Know who you are and be that person – don’t change because someone else does it differently,” she says. “When I was in law school, a judge at a moot court competition told me that I reminded him of Kelly Ripa. I took it as a compliment – he did not intend it as a compliment. I know that I handle the questioning of witnesses during trial or deposition differently than some of my counterparts, but that’s OK – you have to be true to yourself. If you’re not, a jury will completely see through it.”

Also, like many of her female counterparts, Harris is a wife and mother, which can often make life a continuous balancing act. While she admits she hasn’t found any secret formula, Harris says she tries to prioritize.

“If I have an open afternoon on my calendar and our kids’ school has asked for volunteers that day, I try to do it when I can,” she says. “I know I’m not going to be at everything, but my husband and I work together and work on cases together, but we have a ‘no work discussion time.’ I try to recognize the season of life I’m in right now with our kids, their activities, my husband, and our friends, and enjoy these aspects while also handling work matters at the level I desire. That also means sometimes turning down some things so that I can focus on what is most important and impactful in my life at the present time.”

Mary Lace Guilfoil

Of the four women featured, Guilfoil has been with the firm the longest closing in on a decade. Focusing on community association law, she still recalls precisely what drew her to the Coker family.

“I knew that Coker Law had a reputation as good lawyers and community leaders,” she says, “and I thought that they were the kind of people I would want to be around every day. I think the women of Coker Law can offer a different perspective, not only when it comes to our cases, but when it comes to firm culture and the stressors that affect those working in our profession.”

Inspired by her own family, Guilfoil realized at a young age what a tremendous impact attorneys have on other people’s lives.

“I grew up in a household with an attorney and saw how important an attorney can be to a person in crisis, or a person in need of an advocate,” she says.

Guilfoil’s advice to women just embarking on a career in law is what she says she would tell her younger self: “You are not always going to have the answer, and you are not always going to know the right thing to say or do, but if you show people grace and lead from a place of understanding, you will always end up where you need to be. Spend as much time as you can with people that are smarter than you, stay curious, and learn as much as you can about things that inspire you or interest you.”

Corinne Hodak

The newest member of the Coker team, Corinne Hodak’s segue into law is quite different from her colleagues. Now specializing in medical malpractice, Hodak’s background provided an excellent springboard of experience.

“I was a registered nurse working in the Intensive Care Unit,” she explains. “I was trained to be a patient advocate, particularly for patients who could not speak for themselves. One day I looked around the ICU and realized all the patients were there because of injuries caused by some act of negligence. I wanted to do more to protect patients and to prevent negligence acts.”

When asked about the difference between male and female attorneys, Hodak did not hesitate with her response.

“As a lawyer, I have never looked at the practice of law in terms of male or female. I have always just seen myself as a lawyer who tries to represent the client to the best of my ability. I had two mentors one male and one female who taught me so much about the practice of law. Years ago, judges and lawyers would often point out that I was the only female in the room. Now, there are more women attorneys and often more women in the hearing room and courtroom than men. Having said all that, I do think women attorneys have to be careful of what they say and how they say it. Women can be perceived as overaggressive (or the B word) in some situations – where a man can say or do the same thing, and no one would comment.”

Over the years Hodak says she has observed some disturbing trends in the law and society in general.

Standing: Corinne Hodak and Dana Jacobs. Seated: Judy Piseth and Chelsea Harris

The law has shifted to protecting the powerful, the rich, the large corporations, and those that contribute heavily to politicians. This, in my opinion, is a scary trend and an overall threat to our democracy. I feel fortunate to be a part of Coker Law where the emphasis is on pursing justice for clients who have suffered serious injury.” 

Joining the team with Hodak is associate Judy Piseth, who was admitted to the Florida Bar in the fall of 2022. A graduate of the University of Florida, she began working for Hodak as a file clerk in 2016 and continued through law school. “I look forward to continuing to work under the mentorship of Corinne Hodak as well as the other experienced and dedicated trial lawyers of Coker Law,” Piseth says.

The journey of women in law has been long and at times difficult, but the progress is obvious, particularly in firms such as Coker Law where gender, race, and other barriers have been broken down. “The skill and dedication of the attorneys and staff are impressive,” Hodak says. “Women are an integral part of the firm.” 

With attorneys such as those featured here, it’s obvious that Coker Law’s next 50 years will be even more impressive.

Coker Law

136 East Bay St.
Jacksonville, FL 32202
(904) 409-3424