Business Monday

Q&A with Antonio ‘Tony’ Martinez Jr.: ‘Hopefully, the best years are ahead of me’

STILL GOES TO WORK EVERY DAY: Antonio ‘Tony’ Martinez, 78, whose professional association with Shutts & Bowen has lasted for nearly 50 years.
STILL GOES TO WORK EVERY DAY: Antonio ‘Tony’ Martinez, 78, whose professional association with Shutts & Bowen has lasted for nearly 50 years. Miami Herald staff

Halfway through recounting some highlights of his 50-year-plus career with Shutts & Bowen, real estate lawyer Tony Martinez pauses to recount how he first got the law “bug”:

Working as an engineer in Linden, N.J., for Esso (later Exxon), the University of Florida grad wanted a break from his full-time job: He took a “Law for the Layman” night course at the local high school, taught by a local lawyer.

“I realize now that the purpose of the course was for client development by our teacher — for us to go to that lawyer to have our wills made! However, this course led me to contact a friend who was a patent lawyer for Esso, and he arranged for us to attend a night class at a law school in New York City, and after going to that class, I became hooked on the law, and enrolled at NYU School of Law, commuting daily to Washington Square from my job in New Jersey after working a full day,” he elaborated in an email sent after the conversation. That launched a path that eventually led him back to UF for a law degree, then back to South Florida for a stint with the Law Offices of George Salley, a sugar law expert who had also represented the Ferré family. He practiced with Bob Paul and Stan Beiley. (Together with Burt Landy, they later formed Paul, Landy & Beiley, which had a long run in Miami before dissolving.)

Martinez arrived at Shutts & Bowen’s Miami office, at age 28, in January 1964 — the company’s first Hispanic lawyer — and made partner three years later. He has remained for a half-century, mostly at the Miami office, for nearly half the firm’s 104-year existence — not a “superstar,’’ as he said, but as a hard-working lawyer. During his decades there, he specialized in real estate law, representing “the gamut” of clients, as he puts it: individuals, major corporations, family corporations, ranch owners, agricultural companies, banks. A lot of churches and charitable organizations. Even, at times, the NFL. He has had the longest affiliation with Shutts & Bowen that any lawyer has had.

Over time, Martinez also has been on some of the firm’s key committees, helping to hire and train young lawyers. One he recruited from Harvard Law School in 1976 was William F. “Bill” Smith. Thirty-eight years later, Martinez and Smith, who is a partner in the firm’s financial services practice, meet for lunch regularly. It is the firm’s collegiality and friendships it has forged, Martinez said, that account for much of the reason he has remained all these years — even as Shutts & Bowen has become much larger.

In the past couple of years, he has become “of counsel” rather than a partner, but he continues to handle a caseload for the firm that includes transactional matters and consulting on litigation.

Martinez also has served three nonconsecutive terms as a director of the Dade County Bar Association, as a representative of Group Five (the most senior members).

Outside of work, Martinez’s interests are many: For most of his life, he has volunteered in various roles in churches, and he’s a longtime deacon at the Christ Journey Church (formerly University Baptist Church of Coral Gables). He’s also a skilled calligrapher, and a genial conversationalist who can quote many lines of poetry or verse on the spot (he enjoys collecting and memorizing them). He owns a Suzuki Katana 1100 cc and has toured 9,000 miles out West on the seat of a rented Honda Gold Wing. He’s a lifelong sports fan; as a youth in Spanish Harlem, his first loyalties were to the great New York teams of the era. Now, though, his tastes run to football, both college (especially the Gators) and NFL. His family moved to Miami in the late 1940s; he attended Miami High and was on the school’s baseball team. Even now his passion for the sport is evident: His walking stick is modeled after the Louisville Slugger used by Babe Ruth.

This son of Spanish immigrants also belongs to the Friends of the Emeralds, which is part of the South Florida Emerald Society. And he belongs to the South Miami/Coral Gables Elks Lodge No. 1676.

And he’s enormously proud of his family: “All my children [six in my extended family] are competent and compassionate. They are good people and I am very proud of each of them. They include an elementary school principal, a pastor, a lawyer, a Jill of all trades, a director of audio-visual facilities, and an artist/picture framer.” He and his wife, Brenda, have six grandchildren.

But the fun of handling the nuts and bolts of real estate transactions, Martinez says, is a large part of why, at age 79, he still commutes from his Coral Gables home to work nearly every weekday. With his decades of experience, he can reflect easily on the changing face of his industry and his city. The real estate deals he has seen have become larger and more complex, he believes, but the fundamentals remain the same: In a deal well done, there are no losers, and everyone walks out satisfied.

We emailed Martinez some questions after we spoke with him at his office:

Q. Let’s get this one out of the way: Why do you come to work every day?

A. I enjoy what I do, working with my colleagues, and I like to help and be of service to others. That’s what I do in the law, especially real estate law. I feel that I’m at the place I was intended to be: to be able to help and serve our churches and our community.

Q. Shutts & Bowen in the 1960’s and now: Give us a snapshot.

A. The firm has remained the same in having a great spirit of collegiality and a bond among the lawyers. I believe that is a big reason for its staying power, while many comparable firms have dissolved or been absorbed by larger firms. The firm has changed because of its large size. I was lawyer number 15, and the firm was all male. Now Shutts & Bowen has about 250 lawyers, many them women, from increasingly diverse ethnic backgrounds. Although we have more lawyers, the departmental system in the firm has helped keep that collegial spirit alive. The firm, like the law, is now far more sophisticated and specialized. And, as with society as a whole, there’s a big emphasis on security. In the old days, you didn’t need locks and passkeys.

Q. The biggest changes in the way law is practiced?

A. The technological revolution affects every area of the law. In real estate, we have electronic recording of documents. In litigation, all pleadings need to be through e-filing. Changing technology has made it easier to provide the best service. That said, clients sometimes now expect an immediate response. That has made it more challenging to meet and exceed expectations. We can get the information we need much faster and provide it to our clients very quickly, and the clients have come to expect that speed, with the necessary accuracy and attention to detail.

Another seismic change is the large number of lawyers and judges. (I once saw a historical photo picturing every member of The Florida Bar!) Another change is the diversity in the Bar and judiciary, which also includes a growing number of women. I was in law school at the University of Florida with one of its first woman students, and now women make up the majority of law students nationally.

Q. What aspects of real estate law and transactions have changed the most?

A. There is no question that the deals are often bigger with more parties involved. One big change is that real estate has grown more specialized. Environmental law, for instance, either did not exist or was in its embryonic stage in my early years as a lawyer. Now it is a mainstream practice.

You have larger deals but shorter time limits. Now, it is much more difficult to be a generalist. The “jack-of-all trades” country lawyer, for instance, is becoming a thing of the past. Sit-down closings are no longer the norm, which is unfortunate because this brought closure to the transaction and the satisfaction of seeing everybody achieving their goals. Closings now are done with documents delivered by courier and by email. In many ways, I sometimes miss the experience of shaking everyone’s hand at the end of a deal.

Q. Do you think there is anything worrisome about the current spate of development, at least what we see in Miami?

A. From a business viewpoint, the pace is exhilarating. We are successful as a community on the go. We have become one of the emerging premier international cities, moving toward the ranks of London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other great centers. That said, careful planning and development are keys to maintaining a good urban quality of life. Overdevelopment and lack of planning impact the quality of life, both for individuals and institutions.

Q. What is your proudest achievement as a real-estate lawyer?

A. I was lead local counsel for our firm in representing the National Football League in the three lawsuits the NFL won in retaining its right to maintain a local TV blackout of the Super Bowl Game the year the Dallas Cowboys played the Baltimore Colts in the Orange Bowl. This matter gave me the opportunity to meet and work with Commissioner Pete Roselle and a young lawyer for the NFL who later became its Commissioner, Paul Tagliabue.

While most of my practice has focused on real estate, I had a lot of involvement in litigation, particularly in the early years. I had a number of non-jury trials, a jury trial in a condemnation case, and various appeals. I continue to consult/assist lawyers in the firm on litigation matters and in recent years have co-authored a chapter on general foreclosure litigation for a CLE book on litigation published by The Florida Bar. Also, I have handled a number of matters outside the area of real estate and still currently handle administrative matters before the Value Adjustment Board, which is akin to litigation.

I have never felt more like a lawyer than when involved in litigation, and certainly it has accounted for the most interesting anecdotes in my personal experience in the law.

Also, I was lead real estate counsel for the firm in the acquisition, by a Prudential Insurance Company joint venture entity, of the cattle and citrus interests of Gulf & Western in the State of Florida, including 50,000 acres of land.

That matter had many angles, one of the most interesting being that principals of both clients had literally made a “handshake deal” and told the lawyers “to go get it done”. Many years later Prudential said that this acquisition resulted in the most successful agricultural joint venture in its history.

Hopefully, the best years are ahead of me.

Q. The Dade County Bar Association adopted civility standards in the past year. Has the practice of law become more contentious over the years, as you see it?

A. I haven’t noticed lack of civility in real estate as much as in litigation, which has become more contentious. The old standard was to disagree without being disagreeable. I believe that you can be tough without being disagreeable. Even in the old days, there were some people who made the lawsuit so personal you didn’t even want to oppose them. Each of us has our own style.

One of the most significant events in my early practice occurred when an experienced opposing lawyer in a real estate transaction made a suggestion on how to avoid a serious problem for our client and for us, even though it possibly might have benefited his client had he remained silent. This has fostered in me an attitude to work toward a “win-win” goal for all parties in the deal, to the extent that is possible.

Q. What would be your advice to a newly minted lawyer?

A. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Listen and watch more than you talk. Seek and follow the advice of seasoned lawyers.

Above all, set goals, no matter what you want to do. Plan the journey, not only in the matters you handle, but in your personal -- life as well. Is it to make a lot of money? To serve God and the community? To find a path of law you really like?

Also, do not make being a lawyer your primary identity in life. I work hard and love what I do, but I have always considered myself a person who happens to be a lawyer.

Q. What is the most memorable quote (or lines of a poem) you’d like to share?

A. Take your pick of these two:

John 11:25:

Jesus said to Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even if he dies. And those who live and believe in me will never die”

Another quote I really like are these closing lines of the poem, Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Antonio ‘Tony’ Martinez, Jr.

Age: 78; he’ll be 79 next month.

Title at firm: Of counsel

Past titles at firm: Associate, partner

Professional associations: Dade County Bar Association

Education: Miami High (1953); University of Florida (undergraduate in civil engineering, 1957); attended New York University School of Law, and graduated from the University of Florida College of Law in 1962.

Personal: Married to Brenda, a Realtor. Six children, six grandchildren.

About the firm: Shutts & Bowen is a full-service Florida business law firm of about 250 lawyers serving clients nationally and internationally from seven offices in Florida and one in Amsterdam. .

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