Career Corner: Law grad finds passion in adventures and pro bono work
It’s 5:30 a.m. on a Monday. Most residents of Tampa are still asleep — but not Mike Bedke (JD 84).
His feet make a steady patter against the pavement and his breaths are deep as he breaks into his first mile. He has 12 more if it’s a short run — or up to 21 miles more depending on whether he’s running across the desert or doing a triathlon or climbing any mountains any time soon.
He trains every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. On weekdays, Bedke takes his sons to school after his run then heads to work. In his office at DLA Piper, he’s one of the leading transactional attorneys in the state of Florida, but he’s best known for his adventures and pro bono work.
“There is not a week that goes by when someone on the elevator or on the street doesn’t ask me, ‘Have you run across any deserts lately?’ ” Bedke said. “I would have to find another ‘schtick’ if I stopped doing these things.”
The 52-year-old lawyer ran across the Sahara desert in the Marathon des Sables — known as the “toughest footrace on Earth”— in five days carrying everything he needed but water to survive on his back. He’s climbed Mount Rainer and Mount Kilimanjaro among others. Bedke competed in his first Ironman within a week of turning 30. He just completed his ninth Ironman in August. He’s participated in marathons in 16 states and enjoys “epic” bicycle competitions such as Death Ride, Triple Bypass, RAGBRAI and Ride the Rockies.
His work at DLA Piper is of “epic” proportion, too. He was a part of the Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena project and assisted the Parliament of Peru in drafting its first domestic violence legislation. He’s currently involved in bringing high-speed rail to Florida, developing an iconic observation wheel on Staten Island similar to the London Eye, planning $2 billion toll roads and assisting the Tampa Bay Rays in getting a new ballpark.
But as much as Bedke loves the work he does, he says he may have left the profession a long time ago if not for his ability to participate in his expeditions and pro bono projects.
“Helping others and solving problems is what we, as lawyers, do. It is who we are, as professionals,” he said.
Since he graduated from UF Law he’s devoted himself to that policy. In 1984, he founded the Project to Assist Persons with AIDS to help family members and surviving spouses receive benefits and legal advice. He’s aided domestic violence victims for nearly 25 years and has worked on homeless issues and food banking for about 20 years. Bedke also aided disaster victims after Hurricane Andrew, Iniki and the Oklahoma Bombings.
“One of the beautiful things about pro bono without exception … has been the clients are extremely appreciative,” he said. “I can look at work that I’ve done for a particular individual who has been a victim of domestic violence or of a veteran who I assisted in some housing issues … and … every one of them has been very fulfilling. Candidly, I’ve learned something from every one of those cases, for every one of those matters.
“I would venture to say that most of us who have the opportunity to practice law are in a better position than a lot of other folks, which is again why I think pro bono is so important.”
Because he focuses on one major charitable effort at a time, he said, his current project, World Bicycle Relief, is at the forefront of his projects. The organization effectively combines his passion for cycling and serving others. In March he was named one of three worldwide ambassadors for the nonprofit that, for every $134 donated, provides a bicycle to an African student, educator, health care worker or entrepreneur. He encouraged fellow Ironman competitors to donate at his race in August and is already planning rides for the organization next year.
His wife, Rachelle DesVaux Bedke, co-head of the criminal section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the middle district of Florida, lauded his ability to balance. With his many commitments and activities, he still finds time for family, she said. His athletic expeditions are what keep him motivated and grounded.
“Those kind of adventures help him with his practice because he does get refreshed and energized when he has a chance to go do something really physical,” she said. He goes off on these “demanding, semi-crazy athletic endeavors. It excites him; it keeps him motivated—keeps him happy.”
Besides raising money for those in need and wanting to live life to its fullest, Bedke said his drive to do what he does is mainly because he wants to be a role model for his two sons, Wyatt, 9, and Bryce, 8.
“It gives me an opportunity to talk to them about healthy lifestyles, travel, geography, geo-political issues and helping those who are less fortunate,” he said. “One of my dreams is that, as my kids get older, they will join me on some of these adventures.”
He said his advice to law students encompasses taking advantage of the myriad opportunities available.
“Get involved. Study hard,” he said. “Start thinking now about finding a job and… [the] legacy you want to leave as a lawyer.”