Judge Griffis Speaks About His Transition From Law Student to Judge
He advised students to try to get trial experience early in their careers and to align themselves with good, ethical lawyers.
“What I’ve found over the years is important. You need to try to find someone who does two different things for you,” said Griffis, who handles juvenile court and family cases for the Eighth Judicial Circuit. “Number one — is going to teach you the nuts and bolts of how to litigate, if you need to litigate… The second thing you need to look at is finding a lawyer who is going to be a good mentor, an ethical mentor.”
Griffis said he often recommends law students to work for the state attorney’s office or the public defender’s office after law school just to get some trial experience under their belts.
Griffis also touched on professional responsibility in his speech and was proud that none of his clients in private practice had ever filed a grievance against him with The Florida Bar.
One of the most important things for a lawyer to do is to be up front with their clients about what to reasonably expect, Griffis said.
He said it’s easy to tell when a lawyer has promised their client something that was not going to happen.
“If you promise them something or tell them it’s likely going to happen, and it doesn’t occur, they’re going to hold you accountable for that,” Griffis said. “I can always tell the attorneys that promise more up front, because they’re the same lawyers that get discharged by their clients at the end of their case. They want someone to fight, fight, fight for whatever it is that they’re not entitled to, then at the end, when they have to settle for that, they want to fire their lawyer and go find another lawyer who’s going to get them what they want, notwithstanding the fact that they’re probably not entitled to it.”
Griffis, who was elected in 2006, has enjoyed the transition from private attorney to judge.
“It’s certainly an enjoyable experience. It’s not like most people believe it to be, where you’re calling balls and strikes all day long,” Griffis said. “I find it to be more of a managerial position where you try to find a way to manage your docket and make sure the cases are completed within a certain amount of time. Otherwise your dockets get way out of control and it’s impossible for the litigants to get time in front of the judge.” Griffis especially emphasizes taking care of litigant’s issues as quickly as possible largely because of a bad experience he had as a lawyer.
When Griffis was a lawyer, he represented a client that was wealthy and getting a divorce. The parties had come to an agreement about their property, and Griffis just needed five minutes of the judge’s time to approve the settlement agreement and finalize the divorce.
“My guy called me every day for three weeks because he was dying,” Griffis said. “And I called the judge every day for three weeks, and I couldn’t get five minutes on that judge’s calendar for ten weeks. He would not give it to me. My guy died and left $200,000 in a joint account, and guess where that went? That went to his ex-wife, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. … It affected me so much as a lawyer, that a judge could be that arrogant not to allow me five minutes of his time, that I make my time open. I will stop court any time, take five minutes, I’ll divorce you, and I’ll conclude your case.”