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  • Jim Ferraro

The Call of the Law and More

By my junior year of college, the realization that I ought to get serious with my life began to set in. It’s safe to say that going to class and keeping up with my schoolwork had been a low priority for the first two years. While I was able to maintain a high-enough grade point average, I was hardly living up to my potential. If I got a B, it was the lowest B possible. It was the same for every A and C I got too.

At the time, I wanted to become an accountant, but I knew that partying, pulling average grades, and just skating by weren’t going to get me there. I’ve always been the kind of guy who waits until the last minute to get things done and who works best under intense pressure. In fact, it’s almost as though I need a hard deadline breathing down my neck, forcing me to keep pace.

When a target date isn’t set, I’ll create one as a self-imposed hurdle I have to jump in order to accomplish my goal. If I know there’s a bona fide reason, I will work like a maniac, driving myself until I complete the race—but usually I finish by the skin of my teeth. It’s this challenge to beat the clock that creates momentum for me. Without it, I’ll just procrastinate.

As the sand fell through the hourglass, I stopped and assessed my future. I didn’t want to mess up the rest of my life by screwing up in college. But by the time I had this epiphany, I had only a short while to get my grade point average up—especially since I wanted to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and go on to get my master’s degree.

CPAs must meet the highest standards in education, experience, and ethics. It is the strict adherence to these standards that maintains the necessary skill set and helps formulate trust and confidence between CPAs and their clients. I was now officially in success mode studying day in and day out.

One hot, humid night, some friends and I were at Baskin-Robbins getting a mint-chocolate-chip ice cream sundae. This had become a ritual of ours. We usually went late after a night of partying. I swear, sometimes the taste of those sundaes was better than an orgasm. Just as we were about to leave the store, we ran into Alan LaBell, the president of the student government. I knew Alan because he lived in the fraternity house next to mine. We struck up a conversation, and while we were talking he asked me if I’d consider being on the Student Supreme Court.

“Yeah, sure. What exactly is it?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about, but something about the idea intrigued me.

Alan told me to meet him the following Monday at the student union, where he would appoint me to the court.

When I arrived, there was a group of eight kids who all appeared to be very serious. I could tell they were excellent students who cared about academics—maybe a little more than I was comfortable with—and yet if I wanted to change my direction, I sensed that this was the perfect place for me to be.

I stood frozen for a moment because I could tell they were wondering, Who is this aberration who just walked through the door? How the hell did he get here? It was obvious that someone in the group was not like all the others. I was the odd man out.

I scanned the room, looking for the friendliest face I could find. There were two women on the court, so I sat next to the one I thought was the prettiest.

Her name was Diane. She was very attractive and bright. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I wanted to ask her out, but she didn’t seem like the kind of girl you take to the Ratskeller to drink a pitcher of beer. At the time, that was about all I could afford. I didn’t have the means to wine and dine a gorgeous girl. But thankfully that didn’t matter.

Diane and I immediately hit it off and quickly became inseparable. We spent our days and nights studying and working hard together. We married two years later, in June of 1980. I was twenty-three years old, and, true to the goal I had set for myself, I was working as a CPA with a master’s degree at one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms. I soon realized, however, that accounting wasn’t the career I wanted and decided to go to law school.

Four months into the marriage, I started attending law school at the University of Miami in the evenings. I had no choice but to attend the evening program because I had to continue working as an accountant to pay the bills.

In my next post, I will continue sharing my background, to give you a sense of who I was, and who I grew into becoming, at the time of the Castillo case – where I decided to represent the family in their historic case against DuPont.

In my book, Blindsided, from which this and other blog posts are drawn, you can find more details about my life and background, as well as about the landmark Castillo-DuPont case.


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