How Deborah Greene Colors Her World

The Jacksonville family law attorney draws from her artistic background

Published in 2018 Florida Super Lawyers — June 2018

When she was little, Deborah Greene received a large set of soft-core Prismacolor pencils in shades like Peacock Blue and Crimson Lake. “I still sometimes think of colors by what they were called in the Prismacolor pencil series,” says Greene, 55, a shareholder at Combs Greene in Jacksonville, where she practices family law.

Fascinated by fonts and her grandmother’s art books, Greene grew up sketching and coloring. In junior high and high school, she served as yearbook editor, learning how to crop photographs and lay out pages. She attended Lynchburg College in Virginia on a full academic scholarship, intending to become a minister, but in the second semester, she signed up for painting and sculpting. “That’s the first time I actually had any formal art training of any kind,” Greene says. “I totally fell in love.”

Switching her major to studio art, she transferred to Florida State University, where she designed concert posters for the music school. After graduating in 1985, she created newspaper ads, fliers and other promotional pieces for a Tallahassee outlet mall. She crafted monthly movie guides for a television station in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before going to work for a Bojangles fast-food franchisee, writing radio commercials, making point-of-sale signs and spearheading promotions. Her favorite: inventing cartoon-like characters for the restaurant’s “chicken races.” Customers could vote for the winner in exchange for coupons and other freebies. 

Greene headed next to Jacksonville, where she worked for Sprint, helping the sales staff fine-tune its presentations. She started thinking about going back to school and teaching at the college level. That’s when her “force-of-nature” attorney father, Ralph Greene III, talked her into going to law school, sort of. “I figured, ‘Well, I’ll just sign up for the LSAT and go take it,’” Greene recalls. “‘I probably won’t really score that well, and maybe I won’t be able to get into a law school, and then Daddy will leave me alone about it.’”

After forgetting her admission ticket and racing back home to retrieve it at the last minute, Greene sniffled her way through the test with a bad cold. Even so, she aced it. When her application to Florida State University’s law school was approved, she kept going. 

She now practices family law almost exclusively, alongside husband Steve Combs. Rather than stifle her artistic bent, she has channeled it into a yen for decorating her home, her friends’ houses and her firm’s office. She’s a woman of multiple talents, which include writing songs and poetry, as well as playing the piano.

At the office, she used a Scandinavian touch: warm, light tones, with sophisticated highlights using metal and glass. Her style, she says, emerged years ago when she grew “sick of the old-fashioned dark wood, green leather, traditional law office look.”

Framed art fills the office. Greene herself helped create the firm’s logo. She also draws on her graphic-design skills in court, compiling impressive trial notebooks and demonstrative aids summarizing evidence.

Presenting lists of assets and debts during a trial “can be kind of dry and boring,” says Greene, so she creates charts showing proposed divisions of property, or patterns of one parent’s refusal to let the other one see the children, in color-coded columns. “You know it’s working when you’re doing your closing argument,” she says, “and the judge is looking at your visual aid and writing notes on it.”

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