John J. “Jake” Schickel is one of only two Jacksonville attorneys to receive the Justice Harry Lee Anstead Board-Certified Lawyer of the Year award from the Florida Bar. Schickel was recognized in 2006. In the latest installation of the Legal Legend series, we sat down with Schickel to discuss his career.
I had three careers,” he said. “Assistant state attorney, private practice handling PI defense and then PI plaintiff (also workers’ compensation plaintiff and defense) and mediations.”
In the State Attorney’s Office, Schickel worked for Chuck Arnold and Ed Austin. Two of his favorite mentors. He also had the opportunity to prosecute cases before Judge Susan Block who became another favored mentor.
As chief assistant to Ed Austin, Schickel was given many opportunities. He helped start the Career Criminal Program, the Multiple Offender Division and the Citizen Dispute Resolution Program. He also developed the intake system to “direct responsibility” and helped to modernize the office.
And when Austin was selected by the National District Attorneys Association to serve on a select committee to develop standards and goals, Schickel was the only assistant to serve.
“I traveled with Ed, and we spent Sunday afternoons planning and often lobbying. He taught so many lawyers how to be lawyers and taught us all to do what’s right,” Schickel said. “Be professional, honest, trustworthy, and act with integrity.”
Schickel’s next career began when some friends of his decided to launch a firm and wanted a fourth lawyer. “I knew Howard Coker from high school and Wayne Myers from law school. Together with Bob Cowles, they started a law firm. They asked me to join. I helped Bob and Howard with personal injury cases and Wayne with workers’ compensation.”
Over the course of his career, he has learned many lessons; one of the greatest is to always read the law.
“When I was a young county court prosecutor, a future Florida Supreme Court Justice showed up, representing a man charged with a DUI. He asked me to dismiss the case. I asked why and he said his client was below the limit. I informed him the law had changed and his client was above the limit. He quickly apologized and pled his client.
“I also had a future circuit judge try a DUI jury case with me,” he continued. “His client and the police officer were the only witnesses (breathalyzer was not admissible in those days). He had argued to the jury, ‘Remember what it says in the Bible, thou shall not convict on the testimony of one man alone.’ I jumped up, the judge pounded the gavel, and the future circuit judge smiled and rested. Apparently, the jury read the same Bible and found the defendant not guilty.”
More than reading the law, however, Schickel emphasizes the need for professionalism in the practice of law.
“My advice to lawyers is to always be professional. A win in trial is not nearly as important as being professional. Secondly, be active in the community – serve on boards, foundations and other organizations. It is inspiring to see how many lawyers are active.”
In closing, we asked Schickel about another of his great honors – the E. Robert Williams American Inn of Court’s decision to name the State Professionalism Award after him in 2017. “When I was told it was happening, I replied, ‘I haven’t died yet!’”
Today, Schickel continues to serve Coker Law as of counsel.