Two brief snapshots, separated by a scant six years, in the life of attorney John Phillips, brings into focus a complete portraiture revealing depths of character, commitment to ideals and a journey to success.
The first depicts the young attorney in 2011. He was renting office space month-to-month with his first child on the way. To quote a line from his last employer, “you can’t teach hungry.” Phillips studied trends on social media, website coding, how to write press releases and marketing concepts from every respected source, from the “Blue Ocean Strategy” to “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” He strapped together a firm and went to trial against Coca Cola all by himself coming away with a $1.1 million verdict.
The second scene is in 2017. Phillips now has a firm employing up to 20 people with three offices. He still studies how to stay ahead of the competition, but it now involves learning from people like Erin Brockovich and Robert Shapiro and being asked to co-counsel cases with the likes of Geoffrey Fieger. He’s still humble and knows success is both subjective and fleeting. Sitting in the back of a car with Shapiro, Phillips hands Shapiro his phone to leave a message for his wife. It’s a rare moment that’s actually captured on video, and you can hear Phillips chuckle when Shapiro refers to him as the “best lawyer in America.”
“It’s not true – not even close,” Phillips modestly denies. “It signified a legal hero of mine recognizing that we have come a long way.
“I have watched it probably 50 times,” he adds with a laugh.
Comprised of three, equally strong and respected divisions, the Law Offices of John Phillips has assembled a team of accomplished and talented legal professionals representing clients in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense and family law.
In the personal injury division, Phillips is joined by Natashia Hines and William Walker. Before joining Phillips, Natashia Hines had the rare combination of both practical experience from years working for personal injury and employment discrimination firms, in addition to academic experience working with and teaching other future legal professionals and current lawyers at the collegiate and graduate level. She brings a sophisticated calm to the firm.
Walker joined Phillips after nearly five years at Edwards & Ragatz, a prestigious personal injury firm in Jacksonville where Walker assisted in all types of litigation, particularly focused on personal injury, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse and neglect and premises and product liability cases. With a heart for giving back, Walker started his legal career working for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. He’s keen at problem solving and keeping clients calm.
Phillips has been running a marathon of experiences and assembling a talented relay team to help him when he’s tired or in need of assistance. “Our expansion, beyond personal injury, started with criminal defense,” he says.
Because of some of the attention the firm received while representing Jordan Davis’ family, Phillips was inundated with calls to help people who had been arrested. He handled a few cases before meeting a family member of talented young lawyer, Reid Hart at the firm’s annual charity Christmas toy benefit, collecting toys for needy children.
“He asked if we needed a criminal defense lawyer,” Phillips recalls. “Reid interviewed days later and started soon after.”
Justice for All
It didn’t take long for the firm to rapidly expand from Phillips’ areas of personal injury, wrongful death and civil rights, into the area of criminal defense. Like Phillips’ personal injury practice, the firm attracted high-pro file cases and those reported in the media. From NFL athletes who found trouble, to a local artist who beautified traffic boxes, to those arrested during protests and police officers charged with crimes, the reach of Phillips’ and Hart’s criminal defense work continued to expand.
Shannon Day, who worked her way through law school, became a lawyer with the firm in 2016.
She notes a case she handled with Hart and Phillips where their office had convincing evidence that six women conspired to bring false charges of sexual assault against a co-worker. “It was so much to handle for our client,” says Day. “When the truth came to light, we were able to provide evidence not only of collusion, but racist motivation by the accusers.”
The case was dismissed. However, the victory in the courtroom opened Day’s eyes as to how our legal system carries with it inherent unfairness and torment for the wrongly accused. More than ever, she could appreciate her colleague’s words regarding the impact of simply being accused of a crime.
“It’s not just the individual who’s being charged with the crime,” says Hart, “it’s their family, their children, their employment. Just one person being accused of something affects so many people. I think many times that’s lost in the overall scheme of things.
“Shannon grew as a lawyer from that case, we all did,” adds Hart. “We all lean on and learn from each other, as well as the difficult situations we are presented with on a daily basis. We not only want justice, we want to make sure those who arrest and prosecute criminal defendants understand that they have rights, due process and are presumed innocent.”
“It’s a team effort and we are all helping people on their worst days,” Phillips interjects. “I love this team.”
It’s a Family Affair
As with every other aspect of the firm, the family law practice group is carefully structured and defined by three critical beliefs. Attorneys and staff are personable, experienced and enjoy an exemplary established credibility. Like becoming acquainted with Hart as the result of a holiday charity event, Phillips and family law partner Matthew Hunt also met at a Christmas time fundraiser for Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry (BEAM).
Hunt was the senior named partner at his own firm. Phillips saw synergy and the ability to help others in need. Years later, the Phillips and Hunts each have three boys who have attended community events together, volunteering in various capacities including handing out flavored frozen ice to parade goers and more.
Experience does count, and in this firm, it is placed at a premium. However, Matthew Hunt notes, “While we’ve won awards and had unique success as a firm, we don’t get caught up in some of the pitfalls other firms have. We have an open-door policy and our friendship is unlike many firms I have been in before.”
So, while this dynamic team of lawyers have decades of valuable experience and have been recognized as the best lawyers and firm in town, locally and across the state, each case not only has an experienced attorney supervising it, but lawyers from different backgrounds and training who are happy to offer a second opinion. Add in one of the best support staffs in the business, and the result is the unprecedented growth Phillips and his team have experienced.
“People often ask me for the keys to our growth. I don’t have an answer,” Phillips professes. “But, managing a practice and managing cases require continued growth, continued reinvention of yourself and your practice. It requires you to keep your young lawyers growing and improving, while keeping support staff respected and rewarded.”
He smiles and says, “Somewhere I learned that it’s not really about hunger after all. It’s about passion for helping people, including our own team. One of my trial paralegals, Debra Malone, has been with me for 15 of my 17-year career. That’s special. She’s special. This is a special team.”
Connecting With Care
Just as Phillips and his team foster a culture of respect, honor and compassion amongst themselves, these traits are also extended beyond the office walls. Raised on the stories of many generations of ancestors from both his maternal and paternal sides of the family, Phillips also admits to becoming enamored with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” at a relatively young age. He was particularly drawn to the main character, Atticus Finch whose strong moral fiber and devotion to the law reflect that of his own, and that of his ancestors.
In fact, a treasured line from Harper’s novel quotes Finch as saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Because these words have always resonated with Phillips, he has frequently shared the quote with others, including when he was invited to deliver a prestigious TEDx Talk. To him it’s more than just words, it aptly captures his philosophy of life.
“We’ve all heard the saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes,” Phillips says. “To walk in someone’s skin is a very different issue, especially when it is a different color than yours.”
Although he’s far removed financially from the young attorney renting office space month-to-month, Phillips has never lost his humility or compassion for others. As the firm has continued to grow over the years, he has consciously sought out like-minded individuals to join his team, thereby retaining a solid foundation of kindness and consideration.
Just as the professionals of this firm understand that monetary awards do not completely heal the pain of loss for their clients, they also believe that because they have been fortunate in their lives, they have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. And, they do this on many levels, reaching out to the community and the people they serve.
To this end, they go beyond just writing a check. Everyone gets involved and participates in various events throughout the year. For example, Phillips and the firm raised more than $20,000 with their participation in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and the Real Men Wear Pink Campaign this year. All proceeds benefitted the American Cancer Society.
Recognizing that equality means all people, the firm once again this year participated in the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Jacksonville (LGCAJ) pride parade. It is the largest and longest running parade of its kind in Northeast Florida.
In Eureka Gardens, children have become sadly accustomed to the sounds of gunfire and the constant presence of danger around every corner. While Phillips knows he cannot single-handedly end the violence in these neighborhoods, he does believe that simple gestures of kindness can and will make a difference. One thing that the children in this neighborhood did not have to worry about this year, is where their basic school supplies would come from.
“When I was a child, I didn’t have to wake up not knowing where my school supplies were going to come from,” says Phillips. Providing these young people with the basics of education, pencils, crayons, book bags, etc., the people of the firm have essentially provided not just tools, but encouragement and support.
Most recently, this past Veteran’s Day, the Law Office of John M. Phillips awarded scholarships to veterans, hoping to ensure they can successfully transition back into their lives and advance their careers with further education. This effort was supported with a generous donation by North Florida Medical Center, to which Phillips gives special thanks along with Toney Sleiman and the Jacksonville Landing.
Time, energy and financial support; all of these are the John Phillips’ team’s way of giving back and supporting the community where they live and work. These efforts have not gone unnoticed. In fact, every year 904 Magazine and the Jacksonville Business Journal acknowledge the philanthropic efforts of various businesses within the community by presenting awards. Not surprisingly, the Law Offices of John M. Phillips is typically among the recipients. In fact, selected as a “Company With Heart,” this firm is the only law firm that has received the 904 Magazine award twice. They have also been recognized by the Jacksonville Business Journal as a Partner in Philanthropy.
Naturally, the awards and recognition are not the reasons why this firm remains so active within the community, and are always seeking new organizations or charitable groups to support. Whether it’s a client or someone in the community, Phillips knows there will always be plenty of opportunities to help others.
“There is always someone that needs help,” Phillips says. While he still specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases and became one of the youngest lawyers in the area to be board certified in civil trial law, his office has grown to what he calls a “specialized, general practice” of law.
Referring again to his favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Phillips says, “We can tell stories and fight for those who need help and leave the world in a little better place than we found it. Even if we fail, we sang the best song we could sing.”