“As an appellate attorney, you can influence the direction of the law and sometimes even change it,” Joel Eaton said.
By Raychel Lean | May 23, 2022
Joel D. Eaton, partner at Podhurst Orseck in Miami, won a Lifetime Achievement award.
Joel Eaton is a partner at Podhurst Orseck in Miami and a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot.
He’s worked on more than a thousand appeals, many of which have shaped Florida tort law in significant ways. Widely considered one of the state’s most knowledgeable and persuasive appellate attorneys, he’s devoted more than 45 years to his firm and has appeared regularly before the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Objectively, what key moments or accomplishments have defined your career?
There have been two key accomplishments over the course of my career that have helped define my role: a successful appeal to the Florida Supreme Court involving a lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. for an allegedly defective fuel pump after a young man lost three limbs in a car fire, where I argued that “the liability of the manufacturer needed to be measured without taking the initial collision into account”; and another case argued before the Florida Supreme Court which held manufacturers liable in respect to obviously dangerous products. Prior to that case, the courts had allowed manufacturers to defend their actions based on the “open and obvious hazard doctrine,” however, I felt that should not be a defense, and the court agreed.
Subjectively, what are your proudest or most personally satisfying achievements?
In the early 1990s, I co-founded the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers (AAAL) with Miami attorneys Joe Unger and the late Arthur England. And at 78 years old, I am still flying my 2000 Mooney Eagle—a four-seat, single propeller plane. However, my most satisfying achievement to date is becoming a husband, father and grandfather.
How are the business and profession of law changing, and are Florida lawyers well positioned for the future?
Trial work is all about resolving factual disputes. At the appellate level, you are arguing things that go beyond whether the traffic light was red or green at the time of the accident. As an appellate attorney, you can influence the direction of the law and sometimes even change it.
What advice would you give to someone contemplating a career in law, or someone whose career in law has not been satisfying so far?
There is no one big lesson—you accumulate as you go along—but I would say choosing a practice you believe in and make sure to approach each matter with a fresh set of eyes. The great thing about appellate work is it gives you time to think and contribute constructively to the development of the law.
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