- Jim Ferraro
Contemplating the Future
In my previous post, I continued to share with you some of my background, as a way of leading up to my decision on whether or not to take on the remarkable case of the Castillo family, who wanted me to represent them against the corporate giant DuPont. Their son had been born blind as a result of his pregnant mother being exposed to a toxic fungicide sold by DuPont. I was at a point where I could perhaps represent them, but I was weighing my options. And in seeing my past, you might be able to understand my rationale for my decisions.
I had been working hard on my budding law career, but getting nowhere. In the meantime, one afternoon during a break from studying, I took a walk to get some ice cream, as I often did. It was a stiflingly hot and humid day, typical of South Florida in the summer.
I found these study breaks to be good for my head. I usually spent the time contemplating my future. On this particular day, I watched a plumber’s van whiz past me. I looked at the truck and the man behind the wheel and thought to myself, “He’s got it all figured out.” He was probably making $300 a week, had a family he went home to at night, a small mortgage he could pay, and no stress about where his next dollar was coming from. His life was stable and settled. That kind of life suddenly seemed very appealing to me.
I took a bite of my fast-melting mint-chocolate-chip ice cream and realized I didn’t need to have a big life. Who really does? I certainly hadn’t grown up with great luxury, so why was I aiming for that now? A less-is-more lifestyle was actually ideal. That’s what living is really about.
In any event, as soon as I let go of my overreaching mindset, everything seemed to fall into place. I passed the bar exam and was immediately offered three jobs. The first was with the state attorney’s office, the second with a small local law firm, and the third with a well-known medium-sized defense firm with a solid reputation in downtown Miami. I accepted the position with the medium-sized firm, Kimbrell & Hamann, where I quickly found a niche as a trial lawyer and representing professional athletes.
After I started work, I finally had the freedom to experience who my wife was and who I was at the time.
It was 1984, and I was happier than I’d been in years. I didn’t have school at night anymore, so every day felt like a vacation. Up until then, I could take Diane out only on Friday nights—and even then we would spend only a couple of hours together before I had to go back to studying. Now we were able to go out on a Tuesday at 6:30 if we wanted to, without any restrictions.
As it turned out, my time at Kimbrell & Hamann was short-lived. This medium-sized insurance defense firm was made up of a very good and conservative group of lawyers. Unfortunately, I had trouble defending insurance companies that I thought were taking unnecessary advantage of poor and helpless individuals.
As a result of my strong feelings, I didn’t think I was a good fit. Within a year, I accepted an associate position at the then large, prestigious firm of Finley Kumble, where I hoped I could grow my business. I ran into challenges there, too, however.
I soon learned that many of the young partners wanted to get involved in my sports practice. I brought a lot to the table, but none of the partners would allow me as a mere associate to operate on my own. I had negotiated my autonomy with the partner who hired me, explaining that the sports business required more of a one-on-one relationship. But it didn’t work out that way, so I decided to start my own trial law firm and sports management company. I had saved barely enough money to pull it off, but fortunately I had enough of a client base to draw from to at least launch the business. I knew things would be tough at first and would require a lot of patience, but I was up to the task.
On May 13, 1985, I hired a secretary and opened my small office in Miami. I paid her $25,000 a year and took home the same amount myself. I was representing athletes and trying cases, doing everything I could to build a practice. This new venture wasn’t helping my marital issues much, especially because I wasn’t around a lot and wasn’t bringing home enough money to make up for my obvious absence.
During my second year in business, one of my clients was busted for possessing cocaine and an unlicensed handgun. He was a young, high-profile football player, so this became headline news. All the negative publicity it created prevented me from signing any new players that year. They were all afraid of being associated with me or this particular client. The lack of new business put a tremendous financial strain on the firm, nearly causing me to shut my doors for good. To stay alive and make payroll, I maxed out my one and only credit card for $5,000 and borrowed $5,000 from my old buddy Hercules. My wife was constantly telling me I should close down the practice and go work for a big law firm instead. This advice both angered and depressed me.
While my firm was going through this rough patch in 1987, one of my professional football clients was Eddie Brown. He had been named the 1985 NFL Rookie of the Year and was making a million six for four years. At the time, I thought that was outlandish money.
In contrast, I wasn’t even taking home a paycheck so I could help keep my law firm alive.
Then something happened that would have repercussions down the line. I will explore this in my next post.
I’d love to hear from you. As you contemplated your career, or considered career changes, did you do a self-assessment of what you really wanted in life? Thank you for sharing.