By Bradley Osburn
Schackow and Mercadante. You may have never had to call on them for your personal injury needs, but if you’ve seen one of their commercials then you know that they’re two names that are hard to forget. What you might not know is that the Schackow half of the firm is actually Gerald, Lynn and Brian; a father, daughter and son.
And it shows when you take the time to talk to them together. They defer to each other for answers, finish each other’s thoughts and at work they treat each other with a professional familiarity. They were a family long before they were a firm.
Gerald was born in faraway Ohio. He received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida in 1996 after a stint in the Army and a few years playing football for the University of Hawaii, where he met his wife Joanne.
Gerald and Joanne Schackow eventually had four children: Ray (of Darr Schackow Insurance), Lynn, Catherine and Brian. Lynn, Brian and Catherine would eventually grow up to follow in their father’s footsteps and pursue a law degree. All four of them still live, work and raise their own families in Gainesville.
In 1981 Gerald was joined by Stephen Mercadante, and Schackow & Mercadante has been going strong since. Gerald, Lynn and Brian sat down with the Business Report in their offices to talk about how being family shapes the business and the shared vision of the firm.
On Staying in Gainesville
Gerald: Our family has been here since 1962. All of my kids went to the various public schools and almost all of them have a degree from the University of Florida. We have been very active within church and they all played soccer and other sports. We are very supportive to the university and are a very community-based law firm.
I decided to stay because I love the University of Florida, I love the weather and I loved everything about Gainesville. I thought it was a really good place to raise a family. So I said “This is a great place to live. This is really nice.”
Lynn: After law school I got a master’s in sports administration and started to pursue a career in sports, but there was just a draw to home. There are four kids in our family, and with Brian being the youngest I was missing things in his life.
A family business can be hard but you trust who you work with and you have fun doing what you’re doing. So I was deciding whether to go where the next big job was in college athletics or to work with my dad and learn from, who I think, is the best lawyer in Florida and know what my life was going to be. I love Gainesville, I knew that I would have a job for life, and I’m still here 20 years later.
Brian: I went to UF for undergraduate, met my wife, Rebecca, and decided to go to law school away from home. So I moved out west to Denver and went to the University of Denver for law school. And so we did three years out there and had a great time, but we started missing home.
I had opportunities out there to work with the public defender’s office, but we went on a family vacation that summer and my dad offered me a job back home. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up to come home, learn from a great lawyer, to be in a great atmosphere where you can trust who you work with and learn life lessons. And then Gainesville itself; I wanted to raise my family here and I’m doing that. I have four kids and it’s just a great place to raise a family. Gainesville has great schools, great sports programs, lots of nice churches and it’s certainly home and I’m glad I’m here.
On the Origins of the Firm
Gerald: Pretty much since the early ‘80s I’ve been exclusive personal injury. And then in 1990 my first daughter (Lynn) got her law degree and then she joined me in the mid-‘9os, full time. She went to Ohio U. to get a sports management degree, but eventually she came back to Gainesville and it was Steve, Lynn and I.
And then my second daughter (Catherine), in about 1998 became a lawyer and joined my firm. And then not long after that, my youngest child (Brian) became a lawyer also, so now there’s five of us. Catherine is out on a maternity leave, but she’s still a practicing lawyer, and we have been doing personal injury and wrongful death.
Brian: That’s what we are; a personal injury and wrongful death firm. So if somebody’s injured in an accident or killed in an accident, that’s who we represent.
On How the Firm Operates
Gerald: I would take you in and I would get everyone in here around this table and I’d tell them all about you and I’d tell your case. Then all four other lawyers in here — we have another young lady named Melissa — would then vote on what they think your case is worth.
It’s a very tricky thing, but we’ve have had over 100 years of case evaluation experience. We can say “Oh yeah, I’ve had that dog bite, I’ve had that slip-and-fall,” because we’ve had everything. We’ve seen probably more than 10,000 cases. And we know the other side, because somebody’s been on that side before.
So we know our opponent and our side, and we have connections with different doctors and providers, so that’s how we actually represent a person. We think this is the most important thing: we try to preserve as much money as we can for our client.
Lynn: Sometimes people call with things we can’t help them with, but we try to help everybody who calls. All our cases are on a contingency fee. We only get paid if we recover money for our clients.
Gerald: And if you think about it, at least four times a day I’m on the phone helping somebody that’s not a case. So we probably do 3,000 or 4,000 different issues each year.
Brian: That doesn’t always equate to business, but people need help. It’s about being in the community.
Lynn: And that definitely trickles down from our dad. We learned that you take an oath as a lawyer to help people and be fair. So we take that approach, and we have fun and work really hard, but at the end of the day it’s about our client and not serving ourselves.
On Working Together
Gerald: There’s a lot of safety nets when you’re a young lawyer and you fall in a group like this. You can ask “How do you do this? How do you ask this question?” If you’re all by yourself…
Lynn: It’s hard. And the other great thing about a family business is we don’t have to compete against each other. You’re not trying to steal cases. And that’s with Steve too. We call him Uncle Merc. Because we’ve been together so long we want our firm to prosper, and nobody’s out for any one interest. If I’m out or sick or on vacation I know these guys would pick up my slack and I would do the same for them.
Brian: I think we have a great balance. When we need to talk business we talk business, but when I need different advice from either a sister or a dad I can get that here.
Lynn: We butt heads sometimes, but I think we all understand the goal of our firm, and we work hard and do the very best for our clients, but we all try to have a real life and be real people.
On Whether Any Family Can Work Together Like the Schackows
Lynn: I don’t even know if this would work if we brought other family members in. It’s that mutual respect. I think you have to have patience and grace. You have to be able to be in the heat of the moment but then walk away and say I’m not taking anything personally, because we all love each other.
Gerald: It works for us.