Harley S. Tropin on what he wish he knew when starting his firm
By Nina Lincoff
Harley S. Tropin and his partners left the big firm nest at a relatively early age, founding their own Miami-based law firm. But in Miami, that type of entrepreneurship is rewarded.
Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton has been around for more than three decades. It is known for handling complex commercial cases focusing on Ponzi schemes, shareholder disputes, fraud and more.
Where were you born? Bayside, Queens. Raised there until I was 12, right in the shadow of Shea Stadium.
How did your family come to be in New York City? My dad was born and raised in Brooklyn, and my mom, very interestingly, was an orphan. She was raised in New Jersey and, as an adult, she settled refugees, displaced persons likes Jews from the concentration camps. After that, people fleeing Cuba, Castro, Ugandans into New York City through Catholic relief organizations and the other refugee organization, she would help them get resettled.
What did your dad do? My dad worked for the United Nations and, for most of his career … he worked for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency, which tried to promote penal reform.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a baseball player, and I quickly realized that was not in the cards. There was a specific moment. I went to Ted Williams Baseball Camp … and, back in those days, the players were at the camp. I was hitting batting practice and Ted throws his arm around me and says, ‘Kid, you really love baseball.’ And I said, ‘Yeah! Mr. Williams, I really love baseball.’ He told me that if I wanted to stay around the game, maybe I should try being a sports writer or an announcer. It was totally well meaning, and I wasn’t devastated. Ted Williams knew baseball, [so] he probably knew what was going on.
After the truncated baseball career? I ended up at George Washington University and then University of Miami School of Law. I really got into law.
What was Miami like in the 1970s? I had been here before on vacation, in the winter. I get here, it’s probably late August, and I open the door. I couldn’t believe how hot it was. … I loved Miami, I loved law school right from the start. Back then, the vibe was much more relaxed. You drove to downtown Miami from Coral Gables in maybe 15, 20 minutes. I worked for Sandy D’Alemberte at Steel Hector & Davis.
Was that a big moment for you? Yes. He had a fantastic practice. Did First Amendment work, represented the Miami Herald. Being his law clerk – which meant being his bartender, being his driver, doing his legal research, but doing almost everything – was really a fascinating experience. I saw his passion, that he really loved what he was doing. That, and I was applying for the Bar, and Sandy just wrote one line: This boy will be a great lawyer. For an insecure kid, and if this guy said I could be a lawyer … .
What kept you in Miami? Miami back then, the biggest firm around had about 25 lawyers. It was just starting to come into its own with some banking. You really felt like you could accomplish something here, as opposed to waiting your turn in a New York, Washington or Chicago.
Is that the same today? It still has that. Young lawyers can do what we did, which is start a law firm at a relatively young age, like we did at 30. It certainly is more structured, more built up than it was.
What prompted you to start your own firm? We were at a larger firm, and it split into pieces. We looked around, and thought that we could make it work.
Is there a lesson learned you wish you knew then? Everything is character. The reason this firm has lasted is that my partners are quality people. Everyone is different, but they’ve got incredible integrity and an amazing work ethic. Legal talent, of course, but with integrity and work ethic, you’ll be successful.
What legal moments stand out? A big moment was U.S. Oil & Gas, a Ponzi scheme with thousands of investors where I and the firm were appointed to the steering committee representing plaintiffs. That led to the judge appointing our firm and me to run another huge case, at that point the largest Ponzi in Florida. It involved a complicated food-diverting scheme that was actually a complete fraud.
HARLEY S. TROPIN
Current position: President, Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton
Birthplace: Bayside, New York
Current boards: International Academy of Trial Lawyers; American Board of Trial Advocates; co-chair, Advisory Board to the University of Miami Medical School Department of Psychiatry
Past boards: Florida Supreme Court Committee on Gender Bias and Diversity; director, Greater Miami Jewish Federation; Temple Beth Am
Education: University of Miami School of Law; George Washington University
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