WINDERMERE — John W. Rodgers, a second-generation attorney in West Orange County, recently was honored by the Florida Bar for reaching the 50-year milestone of his law career.
In Florida, 196 attorneys celebrated this anniversary this year, but Rodgers, a resident of Windermere, was the only one from West Orange County.
“West Orange County was just a great place to grow up,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers’ childhood was spent in Winter Garden. After he graduated from Lakeview High School, he went to Stetson University for one year, but then he quit to enlist in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
A year in the military taught Rodgers that finishing his college education would be crucial, so he returned to Stetson to complete his undergraduate degree and continued on to finish his law degree in 1965.
Rodgers’ father, J.B. Rodgers Jr., was a lawyer and inspired his son to enter the field. J.B. Rodgers Jr., also a graduate of Stetson, served as a state senator for Orange County at one time.
Martha Rodgers, John W. Rodgers’ mother, was a teacher and instilled the importance of proper grammar in her children. But the local vernacular of Winter Garden at the time was John’s everyday speech, and one of his professors advised him to work on it, or else he wouldn’t be taken seriously in the field.
“I might say, ‘I ain’t got none of that,’” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “Even though it didn’t sound like it, I knew how to speak English.”
John W. Rodgers passed the Florida Bar exam on his first attempt and entered a partnership with his father and another attorney. He was admitted to the Bar on a Friday, and the following Monday, he was at court in Lake County to try a criminal case.
“When I first started, I did anything I could do to get enough money to buy groceries,” Rodgers said. “I did a little bit of everything.”
He dabbled in trials, personal injury cases, casual insurance, auto crashes and more. He also represented the Town of Windermere for many years, as well as Oakland and Winter Garden for shorter periods of time.
In the 1980s, when Rodgers had left his father’s firm and entered a partnership with two other attorneys, Florida was hit by a series of hard freezes. Many of the orange groves were destroyed, which left the growers susceptible to offers from developers. Because Rodgers was so well connected in West Orange, many of the growers trusted him and went to him for help.
“That ultimately worked into doing a lot of real-estate work,” Rodgers said. “That was a very challenging and interesting field.”
Rodgers left that partnership in the late 1980s and was a solo practitioner for the remainder of his career.
In the late 2000s, Rodgers’ practice was affected by the recession. There weren’t a lot of real-estate transactions during that time, so he started doing estate planning. He stayed in this field until he retired.
But for Rodgers, retirement didn’t mean giving up on law altogether. Some of the clients who have consulted him for years still call him for help, and he still assists them. And he maintains his status with the Bar.
Rodgers said the biggest change he has seen in the practice of law throughout his 50-year career has been the advancement of technology.
“We didn’t even know what a computer was when I got out of school,” he said. “And the lawyers that get admitted to the Bar today — they’re so computer-literate, they can do everything on the computer. They can pull up 100 cases on the computer while you’re spending 100 days in the library trying to find them.”
Rodgers also has noticed how the ethics of practicing law have changed over time. When he became an attorney, it wasn’t considered ethical for him to suggest his services to people in the community.
“Now it’s legal to solicit openly,” Rodgers said. “I just never have done that. … But there’s nothing wrong with that now. That’s what they do.”
Rodgers has been active in the Rotary Club of Windermere for many years and served as president in the 1990s.
His hobbies include golf, fishing and hunting. Both of his parents enjoyed spending time outdoors and introduced him to hunting, camping and scouting.
“I just love being in the woods. I love being on the water. I just love the outdoors,” he said.