MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There is a group of attorneys who are nationally renowned for their work in class actions, bankruptcy and massive financial frauds litigation. However, their largest victory may not have anything to do with the fact that they are lawyers, but more to do with their work as mentors in South Florida.
Stephanie Gomez is thrilled to have her own office in the very law firm she used to volunteer when she was in high school. She said her mom was a legal assistant at Kozyak Tropin Throckmorton. She remembers meeting founding partner John Kozyak.
“John has been my mentor for almost 10 years. He’s like a second father to me,” Gomez said.
Kozyak said, “When she was in law school, she worked her one summer and blew me away. I knew she was a nice person but she was a good lawyer. I’ve been her helper and advisor on almost everything – even approved her husband.”
These type of mentor-mentee stories aren’t unusual for this law firm known for taking on high profile cases. For example, they represent most of Scott Rothstein’s defrauded investors in recovering over 95 percent of their losses in the recent $500 million Ponzi scheme.
In fact, mentorship is part of the culture here at the firm – mentoring and grooming minority law students.
For Kozyak, it began as a need to make a difference.
“I grew up a white guy in a totally segregated community. I thought that was like being on mars. I couldn’t understand the hatred. I couldn’t understand how people would choose to judge people on the basis of race. When I had a chance to start doing something about it, I tried to pay back,” he said.
And pay back he has. He started the minority mentorship program that includes an annual picnic and connects lawyers and judges with minority law students.
Tony Halmon remembers meeting his mentor Harley Tropin, one of the other founding partners at the firm.
“I was wearing an ‘I need a mentor’ sticker. He asked if I wanted him to be mine. I said, ‘of course, what do you do?’ He told me his name was on the door. I sort of at that moment thought this could be a big change in my life.”
Halmon was recently hired as an assistant county attorney for the Broward County Attorney’s Office.
Tropin said it was a proud moment.
“When Tony got sworn to the bar, his parents were there to see the pride that they had in their son that was a special moment.”
Halmon considers his mentor like a second dad.
“He treats me like a son. I’ve gotten to know his son and his wife very well. It’s a bond that I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon,” Halmon said.
It started with one man and a vision almost 20 years ago, and it has grown into a movement.
A movement that has created a ripple effect mentees say is much deeper than anyone could have imagined.
“I think by just by the way he has been with me it’s kind of contagious. Since I was in law school I started mentoring others because of how impactful everything he did for me it felt like that’s the right thing to do,” Gomez said.
Halmon agreed, saying, “I think I wouldn’t have gotten as far without him. I feel like I would be a coward to not pay it forward.”