Career Spotlight: Jacob Payne (JD 02), Clerking Paved Way to Success
Payne, who practices in the area of commercial litigation for the law firm Rogers Towers, in Jacksonville, graduated first in his class, worked on Florida Law Review, interned at the Supreme Court of Florida for retired Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr., and did pro bono work during law school. After graduation, Payne clerked for United States District Judge Wm. Terrell Hodges and then United States Circuit Judge Susan H. Black.
Being a law clerk was the best career decision Payne ever made because he entered private practice with a much better understanding of the judicial system, he said.
“Clerking is an ideal environment for someone coming out of law school to sharpen their skills before going into private practice,” Payne said. “The opportunity to write, research, analyze, watch trials and see how judges make decisions was an invaluable experience.”
It was his experience as an intern for the Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee that motivated Payne to become a law clerk after graduation. Working with a legendary judge like Leander Shaw left him with a tremendous appreciation for what judges do, he said.
Of Justice Shaw, Payne said, “He has a great innate sense of justice and what the law should be. He can get right to the heart of even the most difficult case with his questioning, and was just a remarkable jurist to work with.” Perhaps working with judges was in Payne’s genes, given that his father is retired Chief Judge Richard G. Payne of Florida’s Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, in his hometown of Key West.
The ability to focus, persevere, and overcome obstacles is the best attribute a law student can have, he said.
“Whether it’s studying in law school, clerking with the court, or working in private practice, the ability to challenge yourself and persevere through difficult times and learn from those experiences is a key to success,” Payne said. “I’m one of those kinds of people who like to be good at something right away, but when I’m not as good as I’d like to be right away, I’ve learned I have to always push on and try harder.”
To be prepared for the world after law school, students need to work together, write as much as possible, and be involved in organizations, he said.
“You need to get on any journal you can and look to publish your work as much as you can,” he said. “Make the most of your experience by interning for the courts and working pro bono.”
When it comes down to a career, Payne says being surrounded by lawyers who have pride in the profession is most important.
“At Rogers Towers, I’m surrounded by lawyers who have a great deal of respect for the profession and the law and who pride themselves on providing high quality legal representation for their clients,” he said. “I’m happy that I share those goals too.”