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Reflections of an old lawyer.

I must admit to being pleasantly shocked to have received the elegant certificate, engraved silver plate, and lapel pin, all proudly congratulating me on having survived 50 years as a lawyer.

It caused me to reflect on some of the early circumstances that led to arriving at this point.

My parents and I came to Daytona Beach in 1952, and I spent the first year in Florida working in construction as a journeyman mason, bending my back under the Florida sun setting 40-pound concrete blocks in mortar. A year of that and I felt that there had to be a better way to make a living.

It was with great relief in 1953 that I found out I had a legal right to enter the University of Florida College of Law. There were only four requirements: I had to be a Florida resident, 21 years of age or older, a college graduate (barely), and I had to be white. Today it is hard to believe those were the requirements.

All of the incoming students (148 men, two women) were gathered together and in walked Dean Henry Fenn, newly arrived from Yale.

"I wish to welcome you to the University of Florida College of Law. As you all know, you have a legal right to enter this college. However, the legislature, in its wisdom, has given us money enough only for an entering class of 50. You are 150. Look to the left of you and look to the right of you because two of you are going to be gone by the end of the semester.

"In order to aid your early departure, we are going to give a mock midterm. It will be the only midterm you will ever have in this college--we give examinations only at the end of the semester. However, the results of the midterm will be publicly posted with your name next to your class rank, and if you are anything below number 50, you should seriously consider conserving your expenses and leaving Gainesville as quickly as possible."

I (apparently) memorized most of what was said, written, or assigned because I managed to make the cut.

In my second year, Brown v. Board of Education was decided, which fortunately began the demise of the "white" admission requirement. I remained three years, acquired my wonderful wife, Eva, and graduated June 1956.

I traveled all over the eastern part of the state, and to put it plainly: couldn't get a job. Then out of the blue came a call from the law school, asking if I would be interested in being secretary of the Florida Constitution Advisory Commission, chaired by Wallace Sturgis, who later became a circuit judge, and who had just stepped down from being president of the Florida Senate. I spent a wonderful year with Judge Sturgis, and because of the connections that came my way, managed to secure a part-time job in Tampa with Coachman & Campbell.

I gave them 1/3 of my time, in exchange for salary of $100 per month and the free use of a small office and telephone.

At that time Tampa had four circuit judges and about 70 lawyers. In the entire county, I would suspect that there were fewer than 100. Now there are more than 3,000.

The main memories I have about those early days are how welcoming, friendly, and direct were everyone that I met in Tampa. Almost everyday somebody would stop me on the street, say they heard that I was a new lawyer in town, and would welcome me to Tampa.

In closing, let me say that I have the privilege of practicing with my two sons, Perry Gruman and Eric Gruman who are members of the Bar, and to associate with my son-in-law, Ralph Marcadis, also a Bar member.

Looking at the silver plate and the certificate, I can only think that it has been a privilege to work in this profession even though it is much maligned. Given the chance to do it over, I would do the same thing again.

William Victor Gruman

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Author:Gruman, William Victor
Publication:Florida Bar News
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Previous Article:Dr. of Law.
Next Article:In memoriam.

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