Attorney Of The Month Stacey Mullins

Stacey Mullins

Stepping Up

 By Katherine Bishop

From her early days as a young girl growing up on Long Island, New York, Stacey Mullins was always an advocate for those without a strong voice. While she did not recognize then that her calling would be the law, ultimately it was the perfect fit. Mullins’ mother and father were both born to immigrant parents from Israel, Poland and Russia. Even though her parents were not fortunate enough to attend college, they instilled in her from as far back as she can remember the importance of hard work and education.

Mullins followed in her older sister’s footsteps to the University of Florida where she entered the College of Education, specializing in early childhood studies. During her final semester of the Masters of Education program, Mullins had a life changing talk with her mother over breakfast at a then Gainesville landmark restaurant, Chaucers. Her mother sensed that a career in education, which was rapidly becoming a reality, may not truly be her passion. She reminded Mullins of so many occasions in her childhood and as a young adult when she used her powers of persuasion and strong sense of right versus wrong for the benefit of those in need. It was at that very moment that Mullins realized that she was better suited, perhaps, for a career in law.

In December 1988, Mullins entered law school at the University of Florida where she was encouraged to join the trial team. Courtroom advocacy and her training as an educator were a perfect combination. Throughout the next three years, she honed her trial skills going on to win the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyer’s state mock trial competition and then the American Trial Lawyer’s Association’s (ATLA) national mock trial competition. Mullins jokingly recalls how her class standing wasn’t exactly getting the attention of potential employers. It was her outstanding trial skills and passion for courtroom litigation that catapulted her career.

Gaining Perspective
In her final semester, Mullins had two job offers with law firms upon graduation, both handling insurance defense litigation. On the one hand, she was thrilled to know she wouldn’t graduate and join the ranks of the unemployed, but on the other hand, didn’t feel that the work was compelling. That summer, she attended ATLA’s summer convention in Toronto, Canada to receive an honor for her mock trial accomplishments, which allowed Mullins her first real exposure to a focus on personal injury litigation where she felt an instant connection. While there, she met Professor Smiley from Stetson College of Law. They talked about Mullins’ future goals and aspirations. Professor Smiley told Mullins she should contact attorney John Romano as he felt they would be a fantastic team.

Mullins explains the tedious, but triumphant efforts she made to meet Romano.

“I spent the better part of that week in Toronto trying to find John Romano,” Mullins says. “It seemed like every time I walked into a room and asked for him, he had just left. We never met that week, but I wasn’t prepared to give up. I called his office and it always seemed that he was in trial, at a meeting or otherwise unavailable to meet with me. Then one day, I had a little bit of good luck and caught him on the phone. When I asked if he would be available to meet that weekend, he told me that while he’d love to meet me, he was going to be at a trial lawyer’s meeting in Orlando. I told him, ‘I will be too! Can I meet you there?’ He said yes.”

Laughing today, Mullins admits that she had no intention of going to Orlando that weekend until she knew she could meet him. The two met for breakfast and Mullins says she left that meeting with a job offer from Romano.

“I learned from the best,” recalls Mullins. She credits Romano for teaching her how to be not just a good lawyer, but a great lawyer in her practice and in her life. In addition to her own practice, Mullins was regularly invited to participate as a faculty member of a number of trial skills colleges teaching other lawyers the art of persuasion. After more than a decade, first working for Romano and then becoming his partner, Mullins realized that she had to venture out on her own to build a reputation and career of her own.

“When I went to tell John that I was leaving, I told him, ‘I feel like I’m divorcing a man I still love,’” Mullins says. Romano was saddened to see her leave, but understood her ambitions and the reasons for her departure.

Over the next several years, Mullins continued to build her own personal injury practice and from time to time accepted family law matters. Mullins explains that while she thrived in personal injury law, she couldn’t help but feel more drawn to her family law cases.

“In family law, people come to you in a very dark place, regardless of whether it is their decision to divorce or the decision has been cast upon them,” Mullins explains. “They are often afraid and have a hard time seeing that there is life after divorce. I have been there myself and I know exactly how they feel. It gives me so much joy and satisfaction to figuratively take my client’s hand and walk them from a place of darkness toward a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m certain that much of what I learned in my training as an educator has helped me to be patient, compassionate and better educate my clients.”

Over time, Mullins limited her practice to family law matters, including divorce, child custody, alimony paternity, domestic violence and child support.

Schuttler Greenberg & Mullins LLC
In 2012, Mullins was of counsel to Florida’s largest law firm, Akerman LLP, helping the firm to grow its family law practice. Mullins routinely used Susan Greenberg to mediate her family law cases and recalls that they’d meet for breakfast or lunch every few months to catch up on a more personal level. Mullins says she first met Holly Schuttler in the early 1990s when Mullins had a case with Schuttler’s then law partner.

“Holly was always kind to me. It always seemed like she’d go out of her way to make sure she said hello to me whenever and wherever I’d see her,” Mullins says.

During one of their lunches, Greenberg and Mullins talked about their respective visions for their futures.

“By the time lunch was over, Susan had me on the letterhead,” Mullins says. “I was honored, but not entirely sure a partnership with two others was the direction I wanted to go. I went home, talked to my husband, slept on it and called Susan in the morning to schedule another meeting to discuss a partnership.”

Over the next couple of months, Mullins, Greenberg and Schuttler met to discuss a firm structure that would meet everyone’s needs. However, there was something Greenberg kept saying that led to a lunch Mullins will never forget.

“Susan kept talking about wanting to slow down,” Mullins describes. “One day, I finally asked her if she had an exit strategy I ought to know about. She looked at me for what seemed like an eternity and then a single tear rolled down her cheek. I recall knowing at that very moment, after having recently lost my mother to breast cancer, that she was going to tell me something I didn’t want to hear.”

Greenberg was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and wanted to spend whatever time she had left with her husband and young children.

“I recall leaving lunch that day and knowing that there wasn’t anything more to discuss, I was joining Susan and Holly,” Mullins says. Once again, Mullins felt she was blessed to have the opportunity to learn from a phenomenal lawyer. She and Greenberg spent a lot of time together over the next six months transitioning Greenberg’s practice and allowing her that time she wanted with her family.

In November 2013, Greenberg passed away. The firm has made it a point to carry on Greenberg’s traditions by taking time out of their busy days to make sure everyone on the team knows how much they are appreciated.

The focus of the firm’s practice is limited to family law. Schuttler and Mullins work so well together as a result of their shared philosophy to ferociously represent their client’s interests while always maintaining the integrity of the family unit. Mullins tells all of her clients with children that while they may be getting a divorce, they will always be a family. Mullins’ approach is to focus on resolution of disputes and avoiding litigation and court time if possible. To further her approach toward a peaceful resolution, Mullins is in the process of obtaining her certification as a Florida Supreme Court approved mediator. Mullins explains that the greatest compliment is when an adversary refers you a client and she is proud to say that it has happened on many occasions.

The EBC Foundation Inc.
Breast cancer is a cause that has not only hit close to the firm, but close to Mullins as well. In 2003, her mother, Sandy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. After chemotherapy and radiation she was given a clean bill of health and life returned to normal. Mullins regards her mother as her greatest mentor, role model and driving force throughout her life and career.

“My mother was a single mom for many years of my childhood, yet she never let my sister, brother or I see her struggle and she never complained,” Mullins says. “She always empowered me to be an independent thinker, stand on my own two feet and develop my own voice. My mother was beautiful, compassionate and a fighter. She always made me feel as though I was the most special person on earth. She epitomized unconditional love. There is no question that the love, guidance and encouragement she gave me empowered me to become the woman I am today.”

In 2010, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer again. This time, the prognosis was not nearly as good. The cancer had metastasized and it was spreading fast. Eighteen months later, she lost her battle. Aft er losing her mother to breast cancer, Mullins wanted to use her passion as an endurance athlete to raise awareness for the importance of early detection of breast cancer, especially among the younger generations. With the help of her then teenage daughter, Jennifer, the two decided to host a 5K run during breast cancer awareness month in October 2011; they called it, “Every Boob Counts.”

Though Mullins thought the 5K event would be a one and done, it caught fire selling out in its first year and every year since. They founded the EBC Foundation to help further spread the message of early detection through a host of athletic inspired events. Soon thereafter, they organized a youth boys basketball tournament with more than 500 boys from second through 11Thgrade and called it, “Every Basket Counts.” Each player that participated in the tournament was given a pair of pink breast cancer awareness basketball socks and an open forum to begin a discussion about early detection of breast cancer.

Mullins’ commitment to breast cancer awareness isn’t limited to her foundation. In 2012, she was invited to serve as a board member of the Susan G. Komen, South Florida affiliate and currently serves as their secretary. Her dedication and passion for the cause has been recognized by those in the community. In November 2013, she was awarded the Eleanor Goodman Spirit Award, Susan G. Komen-South Florida. In 2014, Mullins was selected by Soroptimist International as a Women in Distinction Nominee and most recently selected by the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL) to receive the 2016 Leaders in the Law award for her continued commitment to her profession, community, peers and FAWL.

This year’s Every Boob Counts 5K is dedicated to the memory of Mullin’s 35-yearold nephew, Gary Shapiro, who was tragically killed, along with several of his Boca Raton co-workers, in November in a plane crash in Ohio. A portion of the race proceeds will be donated to Experience Camps in the name of the Gary Shapiro Scholarship fund to allow children that have suffered the loss of a parent or caregiver due to breast cancer to attend camp.

Looking to the Future

Mullins says she is truly happy in her life. She continues to love the practice of law, is married to her soulmate and has three incredibly wonderful children.

“My ultimate goal today is for my three children to grow into healthy, successful, happy and fulfilled adults,” Mullins says.

“I miss my mother every day of my life, but I do know that I’ve made her proud. I strive each day to get one step closer to leaving this earth just a little bit better because I was here,” says Mullins. Though there never seems to be enough hours in the day for work, family or personal endeavors, Mullins has always done an excellent job of balancing what is important in life.

When not working, Mullins enjoys spending time playing golf with her husband, running marathons and participating in triathlon competitions. Mullins’ next big race is the Marine Corp Marathon in October, which will be her 19Thfull marathon. Mullins has run the highly coveted Boston Marathon four times, one of which was in April 2013 when two pressure cooker bombs exploded 12 seconds apart near the marathon’s finish line on Boylston Street killing three civilians and injuring more than 260 others. Mullins had safely crossed the finish line 19 minutes before the bombing, but was still close enough to see the devastation. Mullins’ passion for running is driven by the friendships she has made, as well as the challenges she has had to overcome mentally and physically. She explains that endurance sports have made her both physically and mentally stronger.

On the topic of leading a happy and healthy life, Mullins offers her opinion as to what people can do to improve their chances at a successful marriage.

“Many people go to work each day and work hard for fear that if they don’t, they may get fired,” Mullins explains. “Yet, when it comes to their marriages, they don’t work as hard because they think their spouse will forgive something less than 100 percent and be there each day. Then, one day they come home and it’s too late; their spouse has fired them. If people worked half as hard at their marriages as they do their jobs, I think we’d see far less divorces.”

According to Mullins, the primary objective of your profession should be finding happiness in what you’re doing and balancing that with your life.