Written by Susan Cushing, Attorney At Law Magazine
For nearly half a century, Coker Law has been one of the most successful and highly respected trial law firms in Jacksonville. Their board-certified attorneys are among the most accomplished and impressive in the country. The leadership of this established firm continues to expand its strength and experience.
“We made a conscious decision five years ago to expand the firm’s lawyers to better reflect the continued diversity of our profession and the Jacksonville community,” explains Daniel Iracki, attorney and shareholder of Coker Law. “By creating an environment that more closely reflects our community, we are able to better serve our clients in litigation and trial.”
“By creating an environment that more closely reflects our community, we are able to better serve our clients in litigation and trial.”
It seems apropos for this Women in Law issue of Attorney at Law Magazine, to focus on the female attorneys at Coker Law and their significant contributions to the objective Iracki speaks of achieving.
Since joining the powerhouse firm of Coker Law, Lindsay Tygart, Janeen Kirch, Chelsea Harris, Mary Guilfoil, and Dana Jacobs have each found their niche and helped propel themselves and Coker Law to even greater heights of success.
“Each of these women has unique paths and backgrounds in their personal upbringing and professional growth that gives them a diverse skill set to handle any situation our clients encounter,” says Iracki.
Lindsay Tygart is a senior member of the medical malpractice division, and her skill and commitment have been widely recognized within the legal community. For more than a decade, Tygart has handled some of the most notable and complicated personal injury, medical malpractice, neglect, wrongful death, and catastrophic injury cases, securing impressive results.
“I come from a family of lawyers,” says Tygart. “My dad was a trial attorney in Jacksonville for over 45 years. Both of my older brothers are lawyers. I have two uncles and a cousin who are Circuit Court judges here in Duval County, and another cousin who is also a lawyer. I believe the love of the law and the passion to help people is in my genes.”
At just 10 years old, Janeen Kirch knew she wanted to be a lawyer and began her legal career as a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s Office where she tried more than 100 cases. Colleagues call her a “fearless advocate” in the courtroom and friends describe her as “determined, loyal and compassionate.”
“I loved being a prosecutor tasked with protecting our city,” says Kirch. “It’s why I went into law, to help people. I hope my work there gave peace to grieving families and victims. When I was ready to leave the State Attorney’s office and enter the civil sector, I wanted to work for a firm that also really cared about helping people. Coker Law is that place.”
Focusing on plaintiff personal injury, bodily injury, automobile crashes, and premises liability, Chelsea Harris has been practicing law in Duval County for almost 15 years, even serving as an assistant state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit.
“I joined Coker Law in February 2019,” she says. “I started out at the State Attorney’s Office in Duval County in 2006. I then moved to civil practice in 2008, when I joined a statewide civil defense firm. I became a partner with that firm and practiced on the defense side for more than 10 years before joining Coker Law. Having experience from both sides of the bar is key to understanding all aspects of a case.”
A graduate of Florida Coastal School of Law, Mary Guilfoil’s practice focuses on community association law. Prior to joining Coker Law, she clerked for a federal judge and interned at the St. Johns County Attorney’s Office.
“My dad is a lawyer, so I spent a lot of afternoons after school and in the summer at his office,” says Guilfoil. “When I was young, I would set up an office in his conference room and pretend to be a lawyer. As I got older, my dad would let me tag along to hearings and we would talk about the interesting parts of his job. I was always proud to watch him work and thought someday I might be good at it, too.”
Proud to be a “Double Gator,” earning both her undergraduate degree and juris doctor from the University of Florida, Dana Jacobs is a driven and experienced litigation attorney. After spending the first decade of her career at civil defense firms, she joined Coker Law because of its reputation in the legal community.
“One of the highlights of my job at Coker Law is working directly with clients and educating them about the impact of the law on their case during what is usually a very difficult time in their lives,” says Jacobs. “I was fairly nervous about starting a new career path, but my fears quickly faded once I was embraced by the Coker team.”
Each of these women has worked hard and achieved tremendous prominence. It wasn’t always easy, but in retrospect, they do have words of advice to offer those who are just coming up.
“My advice to women entering the legal profession is to surround yourself with people who find joy in your success and achievements – people who feel your wins are their wins, too,” says Jacobs. “Surround yourself with people who give you the tools and flexibility to be the best of the best in your field.”
“Embrace the novelty of being a female lawyer, as it is a unique and exceptional position.”
“Embrace the novelty of being a female lawyer, as it is a unique and exceptional position,” suggests Tygart. “It’s hard enough being a woman in a male-dominated field, but it is impossible to be a woman trying to act like a man in a male-dominated field. If you are doing that, you are setting yourself up for failure, because your internal structure and biological make-up will rally against you.”
As many women have frequently found, regardless of their chosen profession, they are not initially taken seriously simply based on appearances.
“I recall in one moot court competition where a judge gave me a critique and said that I reminded him of Kelly Ripa,” says Harris. “I took it as a compliment because I’m a fan of Kelly Ripa, but I then realized it wasn’t really a compliment. He was referring to my appearance and tone of voice, rather than my skills as an attorney. My results speak for themselves and I am confident I can provide the best presentation and representation for my clients.”
The number of female law students and practicing attorneys is at a historical high, reaching nearly 50%. As the numbers continue to climb, these women are encouraged and empowered, looking forward to a day when gender will not be a factor in the perception of their abilities.
“Some days, I do still think the legal profession is a man’s world, but then I look around and see how far female attorneys have come. We continue to advocate for how we want to carve out a space for ourselves in this career,” says Guilfol. “I am grateful to all of the female attorneys who came before me, and hope to do my part to make things easier for those who come after me.”
“For most of my career as an assistant state attorney, I worked for a female state attorney who was a fierce leader,” says Kirch. “It seemed we had an equal number of female attorneys as we did men, but I do see there are still not enough women who practice personal injury work. Time is changing that, and I want to do my part to make things better for our future.”
Applying not only their significant talents and experience but also the compassion and understanding that comes from their life experiences in and out of the courtroom, the women of Coker Law are extremely proud of what they uniquely contribute to each case and every client. They know the cases that come to Coker Law involve people who have been hurt or people who have lost loved ones. Those are difficult situations to navigate, and sensitivity and compassion are key when helping clients through their pain and suffering. Being able to truly listen, empathize, and even comfort helps make them especially effective when presenting their clients’ experiences to a jury.
They fight for those families like they would fight for their own.
“We encourage a culture of empowering our attorneys to draw upon their own life experiences when representing our clients,” says Founding and managing shareholder Howard Coker. “These real-life connections result in an attorney-client relationship that allows us to truly understand exactly what our clients are going through and how to better serve them.”