By Ian Fisher (3L)
If Fred Catfish Abbott (JD 78), a plaintiff’s attorney in Jacksonville, had a dollar for every time he’s heard it, he wouldn’t have to practice law — but when he introduces himself, the inevitable question is, “Where did you get a name like Catfish?”
“More of my friends call me ‘Catfish’ or ‘Fish’ than they do my legal name,” Abbot said. “I’ve always wanted to change my name, and three years ago I legally changed it.” Abbott’s country-boy roots earned him the nickname during his freshman year on UF’s football team in 1968. He’d fallen in love with Gator football as a boy, and spent his high school football years dreaming of being a Gator and training hard to be worthy of a football scholarship to UF. As a senior, he’d been told the team would offer him a scholarship on signing day.
“A week comes and goes — I don’t hear from them. Two weeks come and go — I don’t hear from them,” Abbott said. “So I literally called the athletic department and spoke to the coach that was recruiting me and he hemmed and hawed and said, ‘Well we just misplaced your scholarship, but it’s here on my desk. We’ll come down there this weekend and sign you.’ I said, ‘No you, won’t.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m driving up there tomorrow and signing,’ and I did.”
Eventually, Abbott was drafted and played for three years in the National Football League and the U.S. Football League. During the offseason, he returned to Gainesville to take graduate classes. He lifted weights with Bill DeCarlis (JD 72), a local attorney, and became interested in being a trial lawyer. After Abbott re-injured his knee, it was clear his football career was over.
“When I got hurt, I tore all four ligaments and both cartilages in my knee,” Abbott said. “DeCarlis walks into the hospital room with an LSAT application and said, ‘Catfish, it’s time for a career change.’ I signed the LSAT application, went to Gainesville about seven or eight weeks later, took the LSAT, got into law school, and the rest is history.”
After law school, Abbott practiced in Gainesville for a short time before getting married and moving to Jacksonville, where he started his own fi rm. He said his secretary made more money than he did, at first — but he eventually built up his practice to the successful practice it is today.
Besides football, Abbott’s first love is trial work and he credits the Jacksonville Justice Association, a non-profit organization of civil trial attorneys that works to protect and ensure justice for North East Florida, for helping him as a young trial lawyer in town. He is now the president of the JJA and he is passionate about the role of trial lawyers in society to hold businesses and people accountable for the harm caused by their negligence or malfeasance. After more than three decades practicing law, stepping into court still gives Abbott a thrill.
“It’s like playing football except you get to play every position on the field … When you start a trial, it is that same adrenaline rush,” Abbott said. “The good news is you don’t physically get hurt.”