Attorney at Law Magazine First Coast publisher Thomas Brady recently spoke with Stefano Portigliatti, a trial attorney specializing in commercial motor vehicle cases at Coker Law, to discuss his career in the latest Attorney Spotlight.
AALM: What drew you to a legal career?
SP: I went to law school because I thought it would be a great education, but didn’t have plans to practice law. I planned to return to Orlando and run our family businesses. However, during my second year, I worked at a personal injury law firm and fell in love with the practice of law. The satisfaction of helping people that were injured and mistreated by insurance companies was very rewarding. Additionally, the human element and intellectual challenge of a jury trial were very exciting for me and fit well with my personality. That summer, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer – a plaintiff’s trial lawyer.
AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school?
SP: There are no shortcuts. You have to put in the work, prepare, and deliver – “walk the talk”, because the “talk” alone only gets you so far. Before law school, I could go to an exam review, cram the material last-minute, and do well. This lesson has been extremely important for my practice because it trained me to be prepared for any question a judge asks and know every fact or issue that could come up at a hearing or trial.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
SP: My family moved to the United States when I was 12, and none of us spoke English. I learned the language more quickly than my dad. So, at age 13, I was traveling with my dad on business trips and translating for him at high-level meetings and negotiations. I began to recognize the need to translate not just the language, but also cultural and personality differences. I would soften up a jab, slow down a pitch, and contextualize expressions to accomplish a win-win for both sides. This taught me an invaluable lesson that helps me communicate with a listener in mind – be it a client, opposing counsel, judge or jury.
AALM: What do you find challenging about your practice?
SP: Many of us grew up with an idea of what a lawyer is supposed to be like. I try to constantly remind myself that there is no such mold. We have duties that are very clearly stated in our oaths, but how we uphold those duties should be as unique as our DNA. There is no specific way a lawyer should look, sound, or act other than the bounds of professionalism and ethics. Within those bounds, our greatest work and contribution to society comes from our willingness to take what is special about each one of us and use it to understand and communicate what is just for each client in each case. The more open and diverse the practice of law is, the closer we get to justice. We are the channels that open and illuminate the meaning of justice – if we can be our true selves.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of Coker Law?
SP: Coker Law is a family dedicated to excellence. There is a strong sense of pride in our work and commitment to be the absolute best we can be. We are constantly learning, developing and leading in our areas of expertise. Excellence is the guiding principle. Still, we make sure to enjoy the opportunity to work together. We celebrate birthdays, host baby and wedding showers, and rally together when a team member is in need. This family culture is evident in our ability to work together and the fact that we have team members that started at Coker Law over 30 years ago.
AALM: Are there any changes ahead you’re excited about?
SP: Coker Law has been around for almost 45 years. Thanks to the leadership of our partners, we have adapted and grown without compromising the integrity of our work. This year, we’ll take another big step in that development with an innovative case management system that will allow us to serve clients and referring attorneys even better. Clients will have instant access to their cases, co-counsel can access and contribute files, and everyone in the firm can collaborate in real time. We are even using artificial intelligence to advance our cases and obtain better results in less time. This will be a year-long project counting on the input from team members at every level of our organization and we are very excited.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
SP: My family says that I have a sixth love language (those who read “The 5 Love Languages” will understand). It’s cooking. I also love to travel, golf, and play musical instruments, but cooking is particularly gratifying because I get to share the product of that passion with others.