When someone returns home to the place of their childhood to lay down roots, start a business, or have a family, the power of connectivity to that community can almost seem primal. It reminds me of the lyrics from the famous musical Oklahoma,
“We all know we belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand!”
Unlike transplants, who may not experience the same affinity, this connection is a pull that, in some way, chooses you. This is what defines the partnership of the lawyers at Platt Hopwood Russell and Cole – that and the desire to protect and defend the people that make up our ever-evolving and dynamic Space Coast community.
Back in the Day
Jack Platt, senior partner and one of the founding members of the firm, enjoys a family history drawn directly from the novels of Florida’s early settlers like A Land Remembered or The Yearling. In those stories, being called a “Florida cracker” did not carry a derogatory sting, but instead was a nickname for the rugged individuals who drove cattle across the state, cracking whips to keep the herds moving through endless scrub and pine forests to distant markets.
As a lifelong resident Jack has been here long enough to remember when the intersection of U.S.192 and Wickham Road was at the western edge of any semblance of civilization in these parts. Beyond that were countless acres of cabbage palms and scrub oaks where for generations his family had carved out their livelihood.
Perhaps that courageous pioneer spirit is what gives Jack his reputation for being one of the most formidable trial attorneys in the region, whether representing a client in a personal injury case or a criminal matter.
To his partners, his razor-sharp analytical skills, strategic approach and breadth of knowledge, are all intuitive characteristics they have come to rely upon and earned him membership in the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
The Path to Partnership
Jack has known his law partner Billie Jo Hopwood since childhood. She attended school here, graduating from Eau Gallie High School as senior class president, where her good grades, debate skills and inquisitive nature helped her stand out among her peers. A 10th grade class on Legal Studies set the stage for her decision to pursue a legal profession, but her path to law school and, eventually, partnership in a law firm would take a winding, circuitous path.
She decided to work in a law office immediately after graduating from high school, reasoning that “It made a lot more sense than working at a grocery store, and I have been in the field ever since.” The first attorney she worked for practiced what she describes as “Door Law,” explaining, “Whoever came in the door with a legal need, and the means to pay, we took [on]. It was an incredible experience that gave me a great overview of all facets of the law.”
After college the idea of attending law school began to fade as she managed the responsibilities of marriage and family, and especially since she very much enjoyed working as a paralegal.
Years later, a friend mentioned she should to go to law school and when she called a former public defender she had worked for, he said “We have two law schools here in Orlando, you should apply. She applied, was accepted to both, and so began her successful career as a lawyer.
Because of her extensive experience supporting lawyers trying some of the most high-profile criminal cases in the state, particularly capital murder cases, she thought criminal law would be her specialty. Instead, she found her niche in family law, assisting some of the most vulnerable of people, in the most vulnerable situations they might face in all their life.
The Next Generation
Tiffani Cole enjoys the mentoring she has received from Platt and Hopwood and has carved out her own reputation in the field of family law.
It is an area she is passionate about, having three young children of her own, ages 10, 3 and almost 2, and a family life she is proud of. “In my line of work, I know just how special my husband is,” she mentioned with a wry smile.
A native of the Space Coast, Tiffani also attended the same elementary school as Billie and the same high school as Jack, bridging that connectivity to place and home.
A softball scholarship provided an opportunity for an undergraduate degree in Forensic Psychology at Florida Tech, though she said, “I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, not an FBI profiler.” Even so, “the psychology degree really gave me a lot of insight into behavioral science.”
Even though she is an experienced attorney, she says she still feels challenged by her cases and the ongoing lessons her chosen profession provides every day.
Witnessing a family member experience a difficult custody battle is what drew her to family practice, where the real victims are most often the children.
“I always tell my clients, ‘Even when you are divorced, you have to love your children more than you hate your spouse,”
noting that the drama of family law keeps her work varied and interesting day to day.
Kurt A. Russell, whom Jack and Billie brought in to practice criminal law, was not sure what direction his life would take as he approached college graduation at Purdue University, but he was not thinking about a legal profession. Instead, he considered following his musical aspirations into radio, but corporate radio did not appeal to him.
Casually, a friend mentioned that he should consider law school, which he admits was not even on his radar. But the more he learned about it, the more he found his mindset and skills matched the rigorous requirements of law school, and so, he took a chance.
That process of self-discovery continued after he graduated from law school in Jacksonville and landed a job at Brevard County’s Public Defender’s office.
“I sometimes feel like I stumbled into my ideal career, though people who knew me growing up claim they saw the fit. I didn’t mind challenging ideas or defending people I felt were not being treated fairly.”
At the Public Defender’s office, he was winning cases against more seasoned attorneys and, again, his peers — and even his clients — were affirming his [legal] skills.”
Tiffani and Kurt enjoy the collaborative environment at the firm and the seasoned perspective that two senior partners bring to any case they are conferring on. Likewise, Jack acknowledges that the younger partners work hard and smart. “I have been so impressed with Kurt’s thoroughness in preparing for a case,” he said. “He will catch things in a case that most attorneys would overlook. That attention to every detail is a critical differentiator.”
Fighting for Others
“I always wanted to defend the little guy and take on the big dogs,” Jack said, noting he looks forward to waking up “every morning knowing I am going to be representing individuals against big insurance companies or the State.”
That drive to help others in need, whether through Personal Injury or Family Law, is what defines the passion — and philosophy — of the firm.
“No matter how far back you go, society can’t exist without people who are dedicated to settling disputes and defending the weak,” Jack said.
Jack believes great lawyers are able to see both sides of any argument, which is really the only way to defend against it. “I love trying to convince [a jury of] six strangers to decide a case in my favor,” he said. Also, “I love the fact that someone is totally depending on my ability to bring a positive outcome to their case. I thrive under that pressure and I’m passionate about battling the insurance companies to get my clients what they need and deserve.”
Billie’s approach to family law was cemented through her own experience of being “successfully divorced” from her ex-husband. She recounts how they came to an amicable understanding and how much she learned in the process.
“Family law requires a real sense of caring for people and a willingness to listen,” Billie Jo said.
“When a case can be settled on friendly terms that is great. But clients often come to us looking for someone who is willing to fight for their future and that have the legal experience to help advise them on the critical decisions they are facing.
For Platt, Hopwood, Russell and Cole the overarching goal is to ensure the life their clients want and deserve is returned or restored to them.
Whether through a wrongful death/personal injury case, a life-altering criminal case, a divorce or a child custody case, the abiding awareness is that they represent their clients as though they were representing each other and remember that practicing law is more than a job — instead it is helping to balance the scales of a client’s future… their hopes, their dreams and their freedoms. •
Platt Hopwood Russell and Cole, PLLC, is located at 175 East NASA Blvd., Suite 300 in Melbourne. For more information or inquiries visit online at: platthopwoodattorneys.com or call 321-725-3425.