Q. Judge Smith, did you always aspire to be a lawyer? Sally
A. No, I did not. Allow me to explain how it happened.
My late father, Frank D. Smith, was a hard worker and a problem solver. When he graduated from high school, he aspired to go to college. However, his parents couldn’t afford to help him attend college, and he was in love. At age 18, he made the best life decision by marrying my mother, Janice. Dad took a construction job, learned a trade, and taught himself the business. Then he started a business and became a successful contractor.
Dad never second-guessed his decision to learn and work a trade over going to college. Notwithstanding, he wished he could have done both. Frank’s generosity ensured that his children and grandchildren graduated from college debt-free–quite a legacy. He made sure I put my education first.
As a young man, I wanted to be a businessman, so I majored in risk management and insurance at FSU’s College of Business. Halfway through my last semester, Dad suggested that I attend law school. He explained having a law degree would be an advantage in the business world.
If my father hadn’t suggested law school, I might not have thought about going. But he did, and as a result, I did.
During my first two years of law school, I still expected to be a businessman. It was not until my third year of law school that I decided to practice law. By then, I had married and had a wife to support.
I chose to be a general practice civil trial lawyer. I found that I enjoyed and was good at trying criminal cases. I tried commercial disputes, contract cases, and injury claims. Over time, I became adept at trying insurance cases, which led to me defending business owners charged with white-collar crimes.
I spent 25 years as a private practice trial lawyer, trying and litigating cases throughout Florida. Next, I served as a General Counsel in state government and as a state retirement commissioner. Afterward, I was appointed and elected as a county judge and then a circuit judge. I have enjoyed the journey and hope to have made a positive difference.
All because Frank Smith made a suggestion. And in response, I listened and then put in the work. For a guy who didn’t dream of being a lawyer, I now find it hard to imagine doing anything else. Or, if I had pursued a different career, how that job would compare to being a judge. No doubt I would not impact as many lives.
My job is equal parts challenging, humbling, and rewarding. I thank you for the opportunity to serve.
The Honorable J. Layne Smith is a Circuit Judge, bestselling author, and public speaker. Send your questions to email@example.com.