November 2012 | by Mick
[excerpt taken from the most recent edition of the Reformer, Fall 2012]
John Lakin (‘90), who was just elected to the bench of the 12th judicial circuit (Sarasota and Manatee counties in Florida), attended MSLaw when it first opened 25 years ago. Assistant Dean Paula Kaldis talked with him about those early days and his successful career since.
When did you decide to go to law school?
After graduating from Boston College in 1983, I began working for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, just north of Boston. At that point, I began to see the importance of a legal education in both furthering my career as well as expanding my education. Finally, during the mid-1980s, I decided to pursue my legal education while continuing to work.
How did you choose MSLaw?
I was one of the original Commonwealth School of Law students who transferred to MSLaw in 1988. This group was made up of a dynamic group of individuals, driven to become lawyers, against big odds. I can recall meeting with Dean Velvel, Diane Sullivan, Dick Ahern, Al Zappala, and others to discuss the process. I suggested changing the name of the school to Massachusetts School of Law, and to my amazement, everyone agreed on the name. The law school was provisionally accredited near our graduation date and received state accreditation when we took the bar exam in 1990. I was well prepared for the bar exam because of the practical legal education I received and ultimately passed the exam in July 1990.
How did MSLaw prepare you for law practice?
While attending MSLaw, I was fortunate to be working for a Boston area law firm. The firm handled a great number of civil and criminal trials as well as federal criminal trials, and I was able to be involved with these trials while attending school in the evenings. The hands-on experience I gained while sitting at the counsel table with the lawyers was invaluable. My training at the law firm helped shape my future as a trial lawyer. This experience was of great value to me, teaching me the evidence code, as well as the proper way to handle a jury trial. The talented professors at MSLaw provided practical experience, excellent education, and a passion for teaching which combined to create a valuable learning environment. The experience I gained from the lawyers combined with the first-rate legal education and practical hands-on experience made for my easy transition into the legal world.
How would you respond to the typical question of “What drives you” ?
Self-motivation. I consider myself an overachiever in many ways. I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood outside of Boston, where my father worked for the mail department at Harvard [University], and my mother worked as a secretary at Harvard. My parents instilled in me that a good education was the key to success, and they were correct. Fortunately my parents pushed education on me, and it has paid off.
Once I began practicing law, I was driven to provide justice for all my clients, and I hope this drive will continue in my new position as a Circuit Court Judge for Manatee-Sarasota Counties in Florida.
Further, I am motivated by my great family, including my wife Jo Anne (MSLaw ‘90) and my two teenage children, who inspire me each day. My parents Ken and Nancy in Belmont and my siblings, including my twin brother Kenneth A. Lakin (MSLaw ‘91), brother Brian, and sister Charlene have always encouraged and supported me through the years.
How has law school changed you?
Law school has made me respect our legal system and understand the many legal hurdles the citizens of this country face on a daily basis. And further, I have come to realize the importance of an independent judiciary and respect for our laws, which are both critical to preventing anarchy in our great country. Each day I strive to instill the importance of a properly functioning judiciary on those around me.
Can you describe three of your most notable cases?
Hurley v. Amtrak was the first seven-figure case I settled on the eve of trial. My client was entering a train in Reading, Massachusetts, in the early 1990s and was caused to fall between a small space on the train platform. She lost her right arm and had other severe injuries. It was a difficult case, but through use of forensic evidence, we were able to graphically reconstruct the accident, resulting in a significant settlement for my client.
State of Florida v. Malliaras was an arson case in Sarasota, Florida in 2003. Again, forensic evidence was critical to my client’s acquittal. In fact, the Circuit Judge in the case allowed a judgment of acquittal at the end of the government’s case. The Sarasota local newspaper the next day reported, “It’s rare that a judge halts a big case, apologizes to a jury, and acquits a defendant.” The case was a big victory for my client who faced a long term in prison if he was convicted.
Terrace Condominium v. Citizens Property Insurance Co. (West Palm Beach, Florida) settled after a nine-day jury trial. I was co-counsel with my Florida-based law partner Randolph Smith in this case. The case involved 200 condominium units; Hurricane Wilma damaged 50 buildings in 2005. The insurer refused to pay the true value of the loss. There were more than 120 exhibits at trial and 40 witnesses and complex engineering issues on cause and origin of the damage. Discovery issues were complex and hard-fought in many pre-trial hearings. The case settled just prior to closing arguments for seven figures. Technical and insurance coverage issues were extremely challenging in a hotly contested case with the insurer. It was a great case to work on, and Randy Smith did a terrific job.
Do you have any regrets?
None. If I had to have one regret, it is that time moves too quickly, and a word of advice to every MSLaw student: enjoy the ride, and do not take yourself too seriously.
So…did you make the right decision to come to MSLaw?
Absolutely. Without the education and experience provided through attending MSLaw, my life as I know it would not exist. The decision to attend MSLaw has allowed me to passionately practice law, enjoy a satisfying personal life, and most recently, attain the position of Circuit Court Judge.
You have many firsts as a MSLaw graduate—you were the first MSLaw graduate to become a licensed lawyer in Florida and DC, first to be voted Florida Super Lawyer by your peers, and now the first Circuit Court Judge in Florida. How did you do it all?
Hard work, dedication, and drive. I did not let other people hold me back. I never let the negative people get me down, and most important, I stayed focused and strong and surrounded myself with supportive insightful people. It is important that current MSLaw students continue to reach for the top, inspire and be inspired, never lose focus, and overcome all obstacles in an effort to achieve their goals.