Spotlight On: Richard Ramsey, Managing Partner, Wicker, Smith, O’Hara, McCoy & Ford, PA

Spotlight On: Richard Ramsey, Managing Partner, Wicker, Smith, O’Hara, McCoy & Ford, PA

2 min read August 2022 Although the economy could be headed toward a recession, Richard Ramsey, managing partner of Wicker, Smith, O’Hara, McCoy & Ford PA, still sees a lot of growth for his legal practice in Jacksonville because of the booming activity in the region’s economy.

How has the legal sector been affected by the labor shortage?

I went to a Florida Chamber of Commerce meeting a couple of months ago and one thing that stood out in my mind was that there were roughly 500,000 open jobs in the state, and only about 300,000 people looking for jobs. 

I think that applies equally in the legal sector with the same ratio. For every five jobs that we have open including lawyers and staff, there are probably three applicants. I know that’s happening across the state, and in our line of work this is not unusual. This makes it a challenging time.

What are your strategies to attract and retain talent?

We have done a lot of different things. We have headhunters working with us. Of course, we advertise on our firm website and we use LinkedIn. I don’t know that we’re doing anything that is outside the box, but I think that there’s so much competition now for both lawyer and staff jobs that everyone is in the same boat. In one office we have a very talented three-year lawyer that has gotten phone calls from three different law firms in the last two weeks trying to recruit him, so our market is extremely hot now.

What are the services that you’re seeing the most demand for now?

For me, medical malpractice defense is hotter than ever. Several years ago, the Supreme Court got rid of caps on damages and so that encouraged a lot of personal injury lawyers to bring malpractice cases more than before. The defense of doctors and hospitals, in general, is a booming industry.

Is malpractice litigation a serious issue for the medical profession?

Yes, it is. The average amount of settled cases that every doctor in the state will have is three. Some will have as many as a dozen, some will have zero, but the average is three. That’s a lot, and that scares physicians, especially young physicians, and they are very unaware of things that they can do or should do to protect their assets. 

A lot of physicians tell me, ‘I tell my kids don’t go into medicine. It’s too challenging, it’s too hard and you’re a target in lawsuits.’ That, in my opinion, is a disaster. We cannot have older generations telling younger ones about not going into the profession.

What are the specific challenges faced by the retail sector?

We have a lot of retail clients, and they are in the same boat, in terms of it being more challenging to not just hire employees, but to keep them safe. Our retail clients have alerted us that a lot of the retail employees are much more subject to threats and violence at much higher rates than they used to be. In stores that you would think are very noncontroversial, people are being extremely aggressive, hostile and sometimes violent, and my clients are very concerned about this. I think COVID and our political environment have made it much more challenging for all these retail clients to not just hire but to keep these people safe.

How do you see the rapid influx of people in Florida creating more challenges for the legislature? 

The statistics about the number of people who are moving into Florida daily or on a monthly basis are staggering. I learned recently at a Chamber of Commerce meeting that all signs point to Florida’s economy not just booming, but stealing jobs from New York, California and other states. 

There’s a lot of lobbying that goes on in Tallahassee by both sides. I don’t know whether the legislature can keep up with all this new influx of both residents and businesses or if they’re interested in doing that because of pressure coming from one side or another.

I believe it could be something that will come back and bite us because we don’t want to be inviting businesses and people to move here if we’re not changing the laws to be fair. 

Can you expand on the issue of the frivolous lawsuit?

It’s rare to see frivolous type cases or nuisance value type cases in the malpractice area. It’s rare because those are very expensive cases to move forward. I would tend to think of the premises liability sector both for retail establishments and apartment complexes. There are a lot of frivolous lawsuits in that area. Some lawyers, of course, have a mindset that the clients, the defendant, would rather pay them $15,000 to settle this case, it’s just an economic decision. 

So, it’s, in a sense, a little bit of extortion. I’m not saying that all cases are like that. There are plenty of very legitimate premises liability cases that are worth substantially more. There are an awful lot of those borderline fringe fraudulent type cases or nuisance value type cases in that. My clients are under a lot of pressure because their boards of directors or CEOs are always looking at legal spending. Legal costs being what are you paying out for your lawyers, but also what are you paying in indemnity, and they feel sometimes they’re being held hostage and they’d rather just pay $15,000 on a nuisance case than legal fees to defend it.

In the long run, I think that’s very costly to all of us as consumers because we’re going to be paying more when companies must pay these types of legal costs.

What differentiates your firm from other competitors?

Our firm has been successful and continues to thrive because of who we have been able to hire and keep. We do believe that we are the best trial firm in Florida. Most of my clients, corporate and individual, don’t want to go to trial if they can avoid it, but they need to know that if they have a case in which they must go to trial, they’re going to get the best possible defense. 

I put our trial lawyers up against any of the state’s, and I think that’s why our clients go to us because they do need to have that kind of assurance that they’re not going to get pushed around and made to pay exorbitant settlements when they’re not warranted, or go to trial and be fearful that they’re not going to get the best representation. I think that’s how we’ve been so successful.

How has technology changed the legal sector?

The legal market has been forever changed when it comes to the use of digital type technology or Zoom. For example, a huge percentage of mediations are being done remotely. In terms of efficiency, it’s easier to schedule mediation if people don’t have to travel from Denver or Houston to come to Jacksonville. They can sit at their desk and conduct mediation. 

I am personally not seeing any huge difference in the success, for example, of mediation. Judges are allowing witnesses to testify by Zoom when they’re in different locales. I just cross-examined an adverse expert witness in a trial a couple of months ago by Zoom and the technology worked very well. 

There’s no going back in my opinion. It works perfectly and everyone is very satisfied that they can make their arguments, and the judges can give appropriate rulings. If you walk down the hallways of the courthouse now, they’re empty.

What do you think about the possibility of a recession or a downturn?

If you look historically, after every period of high inflation there has been a recession and I don’t have any reason to think that that would not occur. We’re always very cautious about raising our rates because we want to make sure our clients are happy. But salaries are going up in every sector. And so, as a result, law firms must do the same thing. 

It’s always a very delicate balance of trying to put up with this high inflationary rate without alienating clients while still attracting and maintaining good talent, so it’s a very delicate balancing act.

What is your outlook for the legal sector in the next few years?

The legal sector in Jacksonville is going to mirror what’s happening with the construction sector, both in terms of housing and the construction of commercial buildings. If you go around Jacksonville, you cannot hit any part of this city where you do not see tremendous growth. I see that continuing for the legal sector. The legal sector in Jacksonville is always growing, always expanding and I think that it’s going to continue to rise for the next several years. It’s going to be very strong.

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