BY DANIELLE D’OYLEY
With a move from bustling Chicago to a sparsely populated Tennessee town in his early teenage years, a stint as a 13-year-old college student, and a Jewish Puerto Rican background, Jesse Butler’s (2L) life has been anything but usual.
These experiences contributed to his selection as a 2008 Diversity Scholarship recipient by the Sarasota County Bar Association, a scholarship awarded to minority students at Florida law schools with an interest in practicing law in Sarasota County upon graduation. The two recipients are given a $5,000 scholarship at the end of a 10-week employment period in Sarasota County.
After writing an essay and undergoing an interview process with both the Sarasota County Bar Association and his future summer employer, Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer, P.A., Butler was offered the scholarship and an internship with the firm.
The Chicago native moved at age 13 to a small Tennessee town with a population of about 400 people, a stark contrast to his old home. Before he and his mother arrived, Butler said he didn’t believe many of his new neighbors had ever even seen new residents, let alone Puerto Ricans or Jewish people.
In addition to this culture shock, Butler also took the SAT when he was 13 and was accepted to University of Tennessee at Martin as a part-time student, where he enrolled during the eighth grade for computer science and chemistry courses. He was the youngest person ever accepted to the school.
“It’s almost surreal looking back and thinking about how I was sitting there and everyone around me was twice my size,” Butler said. “They actually had to put phonebooks under me for my picture because I was a foot shorter than everyone else.”
A year later he moved to Ft. Myers, Fla,. for high school and went on to attend the University of Central Florida for his undergraduate degree in legal studies. He was honored to receive the scholarship and internship offer, especially as a first-year law student, and credited his selection to luck and his UF Law education.
“Two out of the three interviewers I had were UF graduates,’ Butler said. “It was a common ground we had.”
Butler describes his time at Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, Jones, Krotec & Westheimer, P.A. as an incredible experience that exceeded any expectations he held. He worked primarily for all the firm’s partners and described the atmosphere as familial.
“They didn’t treat me as a clerk,” he said. “They treated me like an associate.”
The firm’s specialty areas spanned the gamut, but his employers were perceptive to what Butler enjoyed working on and accommodated his strengths. He quickly learned what he did and didn’t like to do and ended up focusing primarily on civil and commercial litigation and insurance defense — areas he sees himself focusing on in the future.
In addition to the direction the internship gave him, he also says he has a completely different understanding going into his second year of law school with more practical knowledge. He’s realized how much of what he studied was needed while working this summer.
“I never expected to have to think about adverse possession after taking Property Law, but it came in right away,” Butler said. “Everything I’ve studied came into play somehow.”
Because of his impressive performance, the firm has decided to keep Butler as a part-time employee during the school year and asked him to return next summer. If everything goes well, he’s been told a position will be waiting for him upon graduation.
“They were very successful in luring me. Now I have to say that the highest probability is that I will be there, especially since they want me to come back and everything went so well,” Butler said. “I don’t think I’ll have another firm where I’ll enjoy what I do as much as I did there.”
He encourages anyone with an interest in working in Sarasota County to apply for the scholarship, as he said this summer was an incredible opportunity. Everyone in the Sarasota County Bar Association was professional, and he was afforded opportunities to attend events and meet prominent judges and attorneys in the area as a Diversity Scholarship recipient.
Butler’s decision to apply for the scholarship has been one of the decisions he’s made that will have the biggest impact on his life.
“I went in to the summer having no idea what I wanted to do, not expecting the internship to really change that,” he said.
“That was a life-changing experience.”