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Take Two

A short-lived acting career pays off for James R. Holland  

Published in 2008 Florida Super Lawyers magazine

If James R. (Jamie) Holland seems particularly at ease in front of a courtroom, there’s a good reason: He started out his professional life as an actor. After studying drama at the University of Southern California, he landed roles on two soap operas: The Young and the Restless and Santa Barbara.

Holland loved acting, but he didn’t see himself making a living at it. That’s when he headed for the University of Alabama School of Law.

In 1993, armed with a law degree and a resume that included the soap operas and an appearance on Cheers, Holland set out to find work at a good law firm.

Most were underwhelmed by his acting credits. “They thought I was intellectually light,” he confesses.

But one seasoned litigator, Frank Burge, senior partner at Birmingham’s Burge & Wettermark, saw things differently.

He looked up and said, “Son, if you want to be a lawyer, you never give up acting.”

Burge, who had built his reputation by suing railroads for negligence when workers were injured in train accidents, decided to take a chance on the young showman.

As it turns out, the acting skills have come in handy. When he’s in court, Holland says, “I don’t have to focus on what my voice is doing or what my body is doing or be conscious of it. I have a group of skills that are sufficiently developed so they’re completely natural.

 “The acting background makes it much easier to connect to the emotional side of a case and portray it to the jury.”

The firm evolved into Wettermark, Holland & Keith in Jacksonville, where Holland is now a senior partner. (Burge heads Burge & Burge in Birmingham). Holland’s area of legal expertise, too, is representing victims of rail accidents.

He says his most heart-wrenching case involved the Jan. 5, 2005, derailment in Graniteville, S.C., of a Norfolk Southern train, which ruptured a chlorine tanker car. The gas cloud enveloped a mill near the track, trapping the workers inside.

 “The accident destroyed the town, killing 11 people. The people trapped inside the mill did get out alive.”

Holland represented three of them, including the mill supervisor, who led more than 20 workers to safety before being overcome by the gas. The supervisor’s case against Norfolk Southern settled before trial in federal court. “It was a very touching story.”

In his spare time, Holland is a competitive fisherman and a member of the Southern Kingfish Association. He is part of team that competes in kingfish tournaments. His 30-foot Wellcraft, the Real Rogue, can skim the water at up to 62 miles an hour.

 “In fishing tournaments, you have to have speed to get to the fishing spots first.”

As for acting, that’s a hobby Holland has left behind. He gets enough drama in the courtroom.

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