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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 10, 2017 1 year ago

All in the family

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Being a lawyer in the Robertson clan means knowing history — back to the Civil War.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Sarasota lawyer Bill Robertson never pushed any of his four children to follow his career choice.

But the oldest of the foursome, Elisha Robertson, took to her father's work, sometimes literally. Bill Robertson has a picture of a young Elisha Robertson, 3 or 4 years old, highlighting passages in a book, just like he did with court documents.

That picture is now reality because Elisha Robertson is the latest Robertson to become a lawyer. But what makes the father-daughter duo standout is Elisha Robertson marks the sixth generation of her family to become a lawyer. “It's humbling to think about who else has done this,” says Elisha Robertson, 28, a 2014 graduate of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. “It feels really good to be in this opportunity.”

The Robertson legal lineage goes all the way back to Col. John Fite, Bill Robertson's great-great grandfather. Fite, who fought for the South in the Civil War, was an attorney, judge and the attorney general for Tennessee.

(Fite, according to letters and memoirs Bill Robertson still has, also met Robert E. Lee and went drinking with Stonewall Jackson during the war.)

Fite's son-in-law, N.G. Robertson, was an attorney, the second generation. N.G. Robertson's son, John Fite Robertson, continued the tradition. N.G. Robertson and John Fite Robertson — Bill Robertson's grandfather — founded the Robertson & Robertson law firm in Sarasota in 1925. The fourth generation, John Fite Robertson's son William Robertson, joined the firm in 1951.

Bill Robertson, fifth in line, graduated law school in 1984. But he never got to work with his dad, who died in 1980, when Bill was an undergrad at Florida State University.

Bill Robertson instead went to work for Kirk Pinkerton — another firm with a rich local history. It was founded in 1926 in Sarasota, when clients included circus impresario John Ringling. A personal injury lawyer who has tackled multiple high-profile cases, Robertson has since worked his way up to CEO of Kirk Pinkerton.

Bill Robertson says he always wanted to be a lawyer, not just because of his heritage. Says Robertson: “I saw the law as the one place where you could do things for other people that you can't do in any other profession.”

Elisha Robertson wasn't as convinced of a career choice growing up. She loved writing and earned a bachelor's degree in English from Florida State. She admired her dad, particularly his passion for helping others wronged in an accident or difficult life situation, and that's a big reason she went to law school.

But like many other new law school graduates, Elisha Robertson entered a tight labor market. Last summer, she spoke to a Kirk Pinkerton partner working on a complicated case regarding the Sarasota County Public Schools and construction bids. The partner hired Elisha Robertson for research in that case, then she got another case and soon she was a full-time employee.

Bill Robertson has no say in his daughter's salary or performance reviews. “I'm really proud she's earned the right to be at Kirk Pinkerton on her merit,” Bill Robertson says.

Elisha Robertson is undecided about what type of law she will pursue for a career. Kirk Pinkerton has a niche in real estate and land development law, but also handles a variety of other work. She likes the ability to try several disciplines. The firm has 15 other attorneys.

And while Elisha Robertson wants to forge her own way in her career, she values the connection her career choice has provided her with her dad — both for advice and what it means to him. “I'm the cliched daddy's little girl,” she says.

The Robertson family also has some sweet memories of the continuation of the family business. For example, before Elisha Robertson's first day with Kirk Pinkerton, she drove to work with her dad. Bill Robertson's wife and Elisha's mom, Linda Robertson, took some pictures of father-daughter standing back-to-back. “That was really emotional for me,” Bill Robertson says. “That was really neat.”

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