Yesterday, Bill Harrell, well-known attorney and founder of Harrell & Harrell, died. I didn’t know him personally, but I did interview him many years ago.
Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about the man you’ve been seeing on billboards and TV commercials for more than 20 years imploring you: “Don’t settle for less than you deserve.”
Originally published in Jacksonville Magazine, January 2010. Photo by Bradley Stookey.
Bill Harrell certainly didn’t set out to be a celebrity when he started doing television advertisements to promote his law firm back in the ’90s. Today, Harrell & Harrell, as it’s now known, is one of the city’s largest personal injury firms in Jacksonville—and HE is one of Jacksonville’s most famous faces.
An AV-rated lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell who’s tried approximately 150 cases, Harrell was born in Lake City but, like most kids in military families, grew up around the world. After graduating from the University of Florida College of Law, he opened his commercial litigation office in central Florida, eventually growing the firm to 40 lawyers before retiring.
When he moved to Jacksonville in 1991, he un-retired and set up shop again but this time focusing on personal injury law. Harrell & Harrell, which was recently ranked fifth on Florida Trend’s list of Best Mid-Sized Companies to Work for, now has a staff of 75 including two of Harrell’s children and wife Renee Daigle Harrell who are also lawyers.
1. “I played football at the University of Florida. I was fortunate that I was good enough to earn a scholarship but, fortunately, not good enough that playing detracted me from my studies. I don’t go to the games as much as I used to. My kids are under the impression that the sky box is theirs even though I pay for it.”
2. “Before I went to law school, I served in the Army as an infantryman, worked as a life guard and was a deputy sheriff in Alachua County for several years. I didn’t follow a linear path in life, but at the end of the day, everything moved me closer to the law.”
3. “When I moved to Jacksonville, I became very serious about photography. I was fortunate enough to have my work exhibited in several shows including The Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England. I don’t do as much these days since I’m a black and white print photographer in a digital era.”
4. “I love being being a personal injury lawyer. Nothing against commercial litigation, but representing some giant bank that’s suing another giant bank isn’t very satisfying. Knowing that you are impacting people’s lives is so much more rewarding.”
5. “I believe the biggest misperception about personal injury attorneys is that we’re all rich and that big garbage trucks just back up to our houses and dump out mountains of money. The fact is we work hard and take a lot of risks doing what we do.”
6. “By nature, I’m a private person, so it’s bizarre that people recognize me [from the TV commercials]. I have no privacy anymore and I hate it. I have been asked for my autograph and it’s HUGELY embarrassing.”
7. “We bring our 120-pound bull mastiff and 190-pound English mastiff [Lucy and Rocky] to work with us every day. Basically, they patrol the corridors waiting for certain secretaries and paralegals who they know will give them a treat. Occasionally, they might have to give a woof or two to get it.”
8. “Cheese is my weakness. I eat cheese toast for breakfast every day and probably have 12 different kinds of cheese in our refrigerator right now. I’ll eat anything with cheese on it.”
9. “When I’m not working, I’m reading. I probably read between 400 and 500 pages a week about law. I also read books about history, especially military history, novels and books about management and leadership.”
10. “My wife says that she tells me I should exercise more and eat less because she loves me. I tell her to love me a little less.”