Winter Alumni Spotlight - Coach Adam Rossen '99
C-M Alumnus and former JV Boys Basketball Coach Adam Rossen '99 is a Criminal and DUI Defense Attorney and has represented thousands of clients ranging from DUI and Domestic Violence to serious felony crimes such as Drug Trafficking, Burglary, Robbery, Sexual Battery and Vehicular Homicide. Adam takes great pride in his ability to get his clients the greatest results possible while making sure they are informed and cared for throughout the process. After graduating from Chaminade-Madonna in 1999, Adam went on to graduate from the University of Florida and then returned to South Florida for law school at the University of Miami. Prior to focusing on DUI and Criminal Defense, Mr. Rossen was an Assistant State Attorney in Broward County, Florida prosecuting the very same crimes he now defends.
Adam Rossen is "AV® Preeminent Rated", "AVVO perfect 10.0 rated", "Top 100 DUI Attorney" from the National Advocacy for DUI Defense, "Nations Top 1% of all Attorneys" from National Association of Distinguished Counsel and he specializes in Criminal and DUI Defense. Adam's law firm and information can be viewed by visiting https://www.criminal-defense-dui.lawyer/.
Adam is a life-long resident of South Florida. He has also coached high school basketball for over 10 years and won a State Championship with American Heritage School in 2014. Over 20 of his former players have gone on to play college basketball.
Adam was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about his journey from basketball star and "Law & Order" fan at C-M, to the harsh reality of what being a lawyer and running your own private practice are actually like.
What was your professional journey like after graduating from Chaminade-Madonna?
When I was in high school growing up, first I wanted to be a doctor. My dad is a dentist and I thought I always wanted to be a doctor, but at the same time I always really liked "Law & Order" and thought I would be a pretty good lawyer too. So I always thought I was going to be one of those two things. When I was in high school, initially I was leaning more towards being a doctor. After I graduated from C-M, I started at University of Florida and was a microbiology major - it took me until the midway point of my second semester to realize that I don't really want to pursue this path anymore.
So after that experience I thought to myself, "I think I really want to be a lawyer". I double majored in criminology and psychology and they both really go well together, especially in this field. I took the LSATs after college, got a good score, and always knew I wanted to come back down to South Florida to go to University of Miami for law school.
Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in law school? I know you had said that UM has a very dogmatic approach to the study of law. Can you enlighten some future law students on some of the experiences that might await them?
First, you really need to understand what law school actually entails and what being a lawyer really is like. I always thought that because I was really good at arguing with people and I really liked Law & Order, that the legal field would be a natural fit for me. But 90% of law has nothing to do with "Law & Order" and has nothing to do with arguing – a lot of it is written, a lot of it is motions, a lot of it is transactional work. Most lawyers never even see the inside of a courtroom, or at least not on a daily or regular basis. I wish I had known that before because I did not initially enjoy or appreciate my experience at UM because their law program is very "old school". Class started at 8am, the door was locked at 8am. Most of the professors there still taught by the Socratic method, a very 1950's style of teaching where over the course of an hour long class, they might grill one or two people the entire class and if you're one of those lucky people, you have to stand up in front of 100 people getting a barrage of questions. Every night, you have around 100-200 pages of difficult legal readings. Everybody in law school is used to getting good grades. At UM, the grade curve was a "C" so what that meant, out of 100 students they would give out maybe three "A's". So it was definitely an adjustment, not just for me but for many of my friends as well.
I didn't really have a lot of people that I went to for advice, or to get what the real "law school" or "lawyer" experience was like. Everyone thinks that after law school, you are going to get out and become a rich lawyer. But that is most certainly not the case, because due to the cost of law school, you are essentially sacrificing three years of earnings potential for your student loans and living costs. Studies have also shown that the legal profession has not seen a significant growth in salary as much as other professions. So it's important to have a realistic expectation of what law school and being a lawyer really entail. It costs a lot of money to go to law school and then there is no guarantee that you are going to get a high paying job. You really have to work hard, hustle hard, make contacts and really put forth extreme effort.
Tell me about your journey from working in the public legal field to eventually starting up your own law firm
When I was in my third year of law school, I was still the head JV boys basketball coach. I had set it up where I took my litigation skills during my second year, and that was the one class where they actually taught you how to be a trial lawyer. That whole second semester of my second year of law school, we were doing mock trails, mock cross examinations, all the different parts of a trial. We had real judges and lawyers who were going through the process with us and teaching us – it was a very hands on learning experience. Once you take that class, you are allowed to be a certified legal intern through the Florida Bar. My very last semester in law school, I was a full time certified legal intern at the Broward State Attorney's Office and I actually got to try about five cases before I even graduated law school. I had about five jury trials and three to four non-jury trials already under my belt before I even graduated law school. As an intern, I received a guilty verdict on a DUI case against a really good criminal defense attorney who had been a judge for about 10 years. It was amazing to have won a case before I ever even graduated law school!
When I started at the State Attorney's Office and even through the first year, I really wanted to be a career prosecutor. I thought it would be great to be in that office and maybe move into the homicide unit and try high profile murder cases – really help people and do good work. The reality is that it is incredibly difficult with the amount of money the job pays you when you have student loans and are fresh out of law school. But I loved the experience there. There was one point I remember, I was sitting in my office which had no windows and it was about eight o'clock at night and I was on the phone with Sallie Mae and writing down all my student loan numbers, and just thought to myself "I can't do this. I wish that I could. But I just can't stay here".
I thought about my options – different types of fields of law. But I really enjoyed criminal defense, criminal law and being in the courtroom. I realized I could help people in other and more meaningful ways on a day to basis on the defense side. It was certainly scary and took many months of research and preparation leading up to leaving the Attorney's Office and starting my own law firm with my roommate who was also a prosecutor at the time.
Did you have any fears or reservations in taking the leap of starting your own law firm with only a couple years of experience out of law school?
Absolutely. We had prepared for six months and I still remember the week before we were going to give our notice, my roommate said to me "are you ready" and I remember thinking to myself "NO I'M SCARED". I think for anybody when you own your own business or make a significant life change there is always fear. Our friends behind our backs even made bets on how long it would take until we came crawling back. I was 27 years old – I wasn't married, no children – yes I had these enormous student loans but I was used to surviving on a modest salary so I didn't really have a lot to lose at the time. Even to this day, whenever you own your own business it is still always scary – are we getting enough clients, are we keeping them happy, are they referring us to new clients? You just have to block that out, have a good plan, and bet on yourself. It's important to have the confidence in yourself and put in the hard work. That is something I learned over the course of my life through playing sports, especially basketball, the importance of hard work. I still think back to those days playing basketball at C-M and that hard work and foundation that I learned which have served me personally and professionally.
I am sure that they don't teach you how to start your own law firm or run a business in law school. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of learning on the job as you were preparing to make this huge personal and professional leap?
For me the law stuff is easy. There was only one book that was published by the American Bar Association on how to start a law practice. It was an old book, and I think the latest edition we were reading at the time was published in 2003 talked about the importance of a fax machine. So even then it was outdated. But there wasn't a lot of professional material from which to draw. We talked to a lot of experienced lawyers who would say to us "keep your overhead low and treat your clients well and with respect". We started off with a virtual office and did most of the work out of our downtown Ft. Lauderdale apartment right across from the courthouse. We were always talking to other lawyers who have done it a little bit longer than us, who had been where we currently were.
So you were working on finishing up law school, and you decided to volunteer what little time and energy you had as a boys basketball coach here! What was that like having previously played here and trying to balance with your law school commitments?
I think it's probably the only thing that got me through law school actually. I remember very well sitting in my apartment in Coral Gables at the end of my first year of law school. I just had hit a wall and absolutely hated it – but I didn't want to give up. I had coached my fraternity team in college and had been thinking about coaching for some time. I called up the principle from Gulliver and said I wanted to get involved with coaching – I met with them but nothing ever came of it. About a week or two later, I was reading the newspaper about C-M's new basketball coach who was hosting a summer camp at the time. I called him up, explained myself, who I was, why I wanted to get into coaching. He told me that he had camp starting the following week, that he couldn't pay me, but if I was willing to work the camp for free then perhaps there was a spot for me. I wasn't crazy about the drive from Coral Gables to Chaminade-Madonna, but I thought about it and this is something I have always wanted to do, so I jumped at the chance. I had such a blast working that first camp and I got to see a lot of younger brothers and sisters of classmates of mine participate in the camp. After that first week of camp, the coach was so impressed with me and came over and asked if I would be the head JV Coach. I managed to make it all work somehow – I balanced coaching, school, working part-time. I would be in class from 9-12, work from 1-4, and then practice at C-M from 4-7. What I learned early on is that the busier I kept myself, the less trouble I would get into! I did it for two years, my second and third year of law school, and then unfortunately when I got the job at the State Attorney's Office I could not continue with my coaching duties at C-M.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in either running your own practice or in the criminal defense field?
As far as the business, one of the biggest challenges is attracting new clients and striving for excellence with great customer service. My clients who come to me, some of them are really good people at some of the worst points in their lives. Some of them are addicted to drugs or have issues with alcohol, or there is a combination of drug abuse and mental health issues. Managing the clients, making sure that my staff and I take really good care of them is incredibly important to me. I really like handling the first time offender because usually they are really good people that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or in a rut in their life and are not career criminals. Usually when people think of criminal defense, everyone usually assumes the worst, that I am representing the "worst" people in Broward County – and that is just simply not true. Most of my clients are just good people. I have a tagline for my firm that "We're here when bad things happen to good people" – those are clients who I really love to help. Sometimes my job for some clients is 80% therapy. I've had former clients go on to law school and become lawyers themselves and even intern for me. I get to be a mentor and help my clients. Sometimes you have to give bad news to your clients – as good as I am, sometimes I don't have the best news or outcome on every single case. But it's really important to set proper expectations with the client from the beginning and be honest.
What advice do you have who are thinking about going to law school or are interested in the legal field and all of its various forms and paths?
Do the research, talk to people – whether it's law, medicine, and engineering – talk to them and find out what is the schooling like, what are the day-to-day rigors of the job like. A lot of us are trained to have an idea what we want to do when we grow up, but we truthfully have no idea what a career entails unless we speak to people who are actually in the field. Try to build your network of influencers and people that you can be mentored by and ask for advice. There is still nothing better than doing something like an unpaid internship and seeing what the day to day rigors of a job includes. My day to day involves very little of what I learned in law school – some days more than others – most of it is actually learned through experience. There is no substitute for hard work, trusting in yourself, being confident, and taking a chance.