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College of Law

Florida State University


2004 Press Releases

Gift to law school establishes mentoring scholarship

Feb 01, 2004

TALLAHASSEE—Possessing the power to recommend sentencing for defendants can be daunting for a prosecutor right out of law school. But as an assistant state attorney in Duval County in the early 1980s, Michael Atter could turn to a long-time friend and seasoned attorney to help him gain a fresh perspective on tough cases.

“When you’re a young attorney, you don’t have the real-life experience to flesh out what should be done in certain circumstances, so it’s helpful to have someone help you analyze the situation,” says Michael Atter, a 1979 graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, and now a partner in the Jacksonville firm of Wood, Atter & Associates. His daughter, Lenorae Atter, is a 2003 graduate of the law school and works in his firm.

Atter is hopeful that because of his recent $100,000 gift to the law school, students will have the opportunity to find the type of mentoring that helped him. The Atter Family Mentoring Scholarship will provide a summer stipend for students to be mentor by distinguished litigators in the Jacksonville area. While law school teaches students the history and theories of the legal profession, mentors can help them with real-life aspects of the job, such as balancing time among clients and running a business. Atter points to another issue he considers equally important: professionalism.

“The traditional notion of professional courtesy seems to have been diluted, and that’s a big mistake,” he says. “Vigorous advocacy for your client doesn’t have to deteriorate into warfare with your counterpart. You might be effective for your client, but that’s not the way to engender good will with the other side. Lawyers tend to have good memories if you burn them, and you will need them to extend courtesies to you in the future.”

Atter said he formed the idea for the mentoring scholarship after judging mock trial competitions involving Florida State law students.

“I was impressed with their preparation, how they presented themselves, their verbal and nonverbal skills, and their well-thought-out arguments,” he says. “Students who have developed those skills will be invaluable to a law firm. But when you argue aggressively for a client, it can be easy to fall into the trap of forgetting about professional courtesy. The manner in which you go about doing your job doesn’t have to be offensive. That does a disservice to the attorney and to the law profession as a whole.”

Atter says he is grateful for the education he received at Florida State. “It was a great environment,” he says. “There is so much angst in law school, but FSU is committed to making you successful, rather than weeding you out.”

Said Dean Don Weidner: “There is widespread recognition in the profession that there needs to be mentoring of young lawyers. Mike is taking a concrete step toward ensuring better mentoring of young lawyers in his community, and I hope this will serve as a model.”

February 2004