By Patrick Folliard
LOOKING BACK ON A LONG and distinguished career, Harley Tropin is loath to toot his own horn. “I’m a bit shy,” he confesses. But after 25 years as a top-flight commercial litigator and champion of diversity, the founding partner of Miami-based Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton discussed with us his success in getting results, and doing it an honorable way.
Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton began as a three-attorney law firm in 1982 and has grown over the years into a 26-lawyer mid-size powerhouse known nationally for its excellent work in bet-the-company litigation, class actions, bankruptcy and massive financial frauds. Tropin and his partners John Kozyak and Chuck Throckmorton have also worked hard to ensure that theirs is a diverse firm. “It’s no news to anyone,” said Tropin matter-of-factly, “diversity is both the right thing to do and it’s good for the law firm. It’s important to have lawyers who mirror the population.”
Longtime attorneys at the firm believe it’s a lot more than business that drives Tropin. He really is about making a positive impact.
“Rather than broadcast his commitment to diversity, Harley demonstrates it by giving opportunities to diverse attorneys,” said the firm’s managing partner Detra Shaw-Wilder, (the only female African- American managing partner in Southern Florida). “From the moment I began my career here in 1994, I was welcomed. I never felt that I had to try to change who I was or try to fit into a mold. It was evident that this was a diverse environment where attorneys succeed if they are able to advance their cases in an aggressive and professional manner. That’s achievable regardless of gender or race.”
Tropin’s support of women is heralded at the firm. Shaw-Wilder continued, “He taught me how to develop business. He’s always been willing to help me land a client, advance a case forward, make the presentation for the court—whatever it took for me to succeed.”
Corali Lopez-Castro, a Koyzak Tropin & Throckmorton partner since 1998 whose practice focuses on bankruptcy and commercial litigation matters, agrees wholly: “Harley is on every short list for bet-the-company cases yet he makes time to develop those around him. When you have a mentor like that who cares, promotes you inside and out, and helps you be the best you can be, it’s hard not to succeed. Yet he remains self-effacing and takes pride in crediting others for the firm’s big successes.”
Lopez-Castro, a Cuban American who has lived in Miami most of her life, adds, “He likes to have women on his trial team. Women come with a different mindset and he values that opinion. You can talk about diversity all you want, but hiring and promoting women and minorities is what makes it real. Harley wants his firm to succeed after he’s no longer practicing law. The only way you do that is if you train, promote, and mentor that next class of diverse lawyers. Harley does that.”
In April, Tropin received the prestigious American Jewish Committee’s 2016 Judge Learned Hand Award. Named for the late judge who was noted for his significant decisions in constitutional law and anti-trust, the award honors lawyers who champion rights of the individual and the importance of democratic values in an orderly society.
Tropin grew up in the shadow of Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. He moved to Florida to attend University of Miami School of Law and never looked back. After three years at Mahoney Hadlow & Adams, Tropin and his partners left the security of a big firm to strike out on their own. “We had no money. We had new babies and more on the way. So, we were all nervous but felt the time was right.”
His practice started with trademark and counterfeiting: “Back then Miami was a hotbed of counterfeit designer apparel—Rolex watches and Gucci bags, all of those things. I represented the manufacturers. But my big break came when I was appointed by a federal judge to represent victims in a huge Ponzi scheme case for which we got a substantial recovery. That became a specialty and, in a recent $500 million Ponzi scheme involving a disgraced Fort Lauderdale lawyer, our team represented most of the defrauded investors in recovering 100 percent of their losses.”
Not long after the civil disturbance following acquittal of four Miami-Dade Police officers in the death of Arthur McDuffie, Koyzak Tropin & Throckmorton opened its doors. “It was a risky time. But we had young families and were intent on staying in Miami forever so we knew we had to address the divisiveness,” said Tropin. “We decided to build bridges between communities in a diverse city that isn’t always connected.” John Kozyak’s vision of mentoring began as a smallish lunch for African-American law students, and then grew into the Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation, under the leadership of Kozyak and Shaw-Wilder. Today, the foundation’s annual gathering includes 3,800 students and involves participation from 70 law firms and every law school in the state. The foundation won MCCA’s George B. Vashon Innovator Award in 2015.
Tropin is a passionate advocate for access to mental healthcare. As co-chair of the advisory board of the University of Miami Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, he strives to reach out to under-served sectors of Miami’s population. “For me, mental illness is another shade of diversity,” said Tropin. “My mom was an accomplished woman who suffered from debilitating chronic depression.
“We decided to build bridges between communities in a diverse city that isn’t always connected.”
And she suffered from the stigma of shame attached to it. I decided to be visible about this. We have a world-class facility at the University of Miami, and I wanted to help them and help address this issue.”
Tropin asked partner Lopez-Castro to join him on the advisory board. “Because Harley understands the importance of diversity and inclusiveness,” she said, “he knew that having a Hispanic presence on the board would be helpful. Mental illness spans all groups.”
Prompted by this same interest in mental healthcare, Tropin lectures at Scott Rogers’ University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program. Mindfulness is about trying to be present in the moment and to acknowledge what you’re feeling without being judgmental. And the way to get there is through mediation, he explained.
“It’s no secret that many lawyers suffer from anxiety and depression, and meditation has proved a tool that helps lawyers and students to have a more productive and happier life,” Tropin adds. “It allows for a happier home, too. You don’t want to cross examine your wife. You want to be present for your child and not drift off and think about what you’re going to ask the expert the following morning.”
And while most lawyers have reacted positively, said Tropin, he does receive the odd scoffing letter. Yet he remains unfazed because he’s convinced of the benefits of mindfulness: “It’s helped me. It’s tough to get up in front of judge and jury—there’s a lot on the line for you and the client. All lawyers have concerns. This is a way to help alleviate that stress.”
Managing partner Shaw-Wilder sums up Tropin’s philosophy and impact with a memory. “In my very early days at the firm, Harley taught me a seemingly simple but lasting lesson. He told me that I had to believe 100 percent in my argument. Otherwise it’s no good. Harley always believes completely in what he’s doing, and it’s contagious. His example prompts those around him to believe too.”
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