Panhandle with Care

Alan Bookman doesn’t clown around—well, maybe once a year—when it comes to serving his community

Published in 2007 Florida Super Lawyers — June 2007

Alan Bookman had just celebrated his nuptials—not a time when most people care to stray far from home—when he became president-elect of the Florida Bar Association in 2004. Add to that the fact that he lives in the Panhandle, far removed from the population centers of the state to which he frequently had to travel. No wonder Bookman was more than ready to unpack his bags by the end of his presidency last summer.

Direct flights from Pensacola being few—and drives to other Florida cities long—the two-year stretch of service meant a lot of time on the road. But there was another reason for the extensive travel: Alan Bookman being himself. By all accounts, that means throwing himself wholeheartedly into the task at hand.

Still, quips Bookman, “‘Immediate past president’ are the three best words in the English language. For the past two years, I’ve spent 80 percent of my nights in hotel rooms, and 90 percent of that travel was [Florida] Bar-related.”

But then, giving comes naturally to Bookman, a soft-spoken 59-year-old real estate attorney with Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon (ESC), one of Pensacola’s oldest and most esteemed firms. He has offered support to his fellow lawyers through bar association work for many years, and donates large chunks of his time to programs for the needy.

He’s not even above donning clown makeup and costume for the city’s Fiesta of Five Flags heritage celebration, in which his firm participates every year.

“It’s the culture of this firm. We encourage our people to get involved,” he says of ESC, his professional home since he began practicing law in 1971. “Whether it’s your church, your synagogue, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the American Heart Association… this firm is very community-oriented, very bar [association]-oriented . . . It’s not driven by the bottom line.”

Bookman, who married his first wife and became a father while in law school, appreciated ESC’s family friendly style as he was raising his young family.

Southern roots

Born in New Orleans, Bookman learned self-discipline—not to mention exquisite Southern manners—from his family. His father, Melvin Bookman, a formidable patriarch, served in General George Patton’s Third Army in WWII and retired, after 36 years of service, as a one-star general.

His mother, Jeannette Bookman, a schoolteacher, was no
pushover either. “My father wanted to name me Alexander Barney Bookman for two of my uncles,” he recounts. “My mother said ‘Absolutely not.’ They compromised and named me Alan Bart.”

Nor was Alan Bart a pushover. “My father expected me to go to Vietnam and lead a platoon into battle, but I didn’t think that the Vietnam War was right,” remembers Bookman, who received a Congressional appointment to West Point but did not accept. With a low lottery number, he stood a good chance of being conscripted. Off to law school he went, planning to fulfill his service requirement as a military attorney. After graduating from Tulane Law School in 1971 and passing the Louisiana Bar, Bookman joined the Army, serving for nearly four years as a Judge Advocate General Counsel at Fort Stewart, Ga.

“I handled about 250 court-martials and jury trials, everything from AWOLs to murder,” he says. “It taught me two things: one, to talk on my feet; and two, that I didn’t like criminal law.”

Bookman took—and passed—the Florida Bar in 1973, to widen his job possibilities in a market near New Orleans. After his military discharge, he says, “I applied for jobs from Orlando to Shreveport. I didn’t want to go to South Florida. That was too far from home.”

The offer he took, in 1975, came from ESC, where he became a partner in 1978. Many of his first clients remain clients. The bulk of his practice involves large-scale land development, mostly commercial shopping centers, office buildings and golf courses. He also works on contested wills, trusts and guardianships.

In 1977, Bookman landed a seat on the Young Lawyers Board of Governors. He also served on the executive council of the Escambia/Santa Rosa Bar Association for six years and as its president for two. But Bookman wanted to reach out to the community as well. He has volunteered with the Florida Bar Foundation, which helps fund legal services for the poor, for nearly 30 years.

Bookman has also pitched in with fundraising for the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. But the causes closest to his heart are the ones that target children. He served for many years on the board of Pensacola’s Ronald McDonald House, which helps the families of severely ill children. “It’s a phenomenal organization,” he says. “McDonald’s gives seed money, but the community has to keep it alive.”

In recent years, Bookman has worked as a board member of the Gulf Coast Kid’s House, a center designed to minimize the distress experienced by abused youngsters. This center spares them the misery of repeatedly telling their terrible stories. “The kids go through it once,” he explains, “with all the listeners who need to hear their story there, that one time.”

Bookman is also involved in Pathways for Change, a program that helps prisoners rejoin the community. His wife, Connie, serves as the executive director. “Our clients love him [Bookman],” she says. “If we have a project, he’ll come up to help and sometimes he just plays basketball with the guys.”

High Achiever

Four years ago, Bookman decided to devote more time to the state bar.

“I started thinking heavily about going for the ring [presidency of the state bar],” he says. “Now, I’m just a little ol’ dirt lawyer from Pensacola. I’m not a big lawyer from Orlando or Miami. People don’t even know Pensacola exists. But I’d made friends all over the state by then, so I decided to run. Nobody ran against me. Either they thought I was the most qualified, or nobody else wanted it.”

During his term as president, ESC had to hire two new lawyers to help handle his caseload. “I work nine days a week, thirty hours a day, and I love every minute of it,” says Bookman. “My wife says I never slow down.”

Which poses a problem for someone who values his family time as much as Bookman. Somehow, he fits it all in. Bookman has his two daughters, two stepsons and three grandchildren.

“Relationships are a priority for him,” says his wife. “And he can be very hard on himself. If he feels he has hurt someone’s feelings, he has got to apologize.”

John F. Harkness Jr., executive director of the Florida Bar, says that was certainly true of Bookman’s presidency. “Alan wanted to help the average everyday lawyer, and he visited every local bar association that invited him,” he says. “To go to small bar [associations] with maybe 20 or 30 people shows real commitment.”

A major focus during Bookman’s term was keeping the judiciary independent. He traveled around the state warning about the dangers of letting other branches of the government trespass on the judicial branch’s territory—“especially after the [Terri] Schiavo decision, where the [Florida] Legislature and [U.S.] Congress got involved in a judicial decision.”

Determined to give a stronger voice to minorities, Bookman sought out members of minority bar associations to serve on the state bar’s committees.

Equally interested in bringing more civility to the legal profession, Bookman—ever the Southern gentleman—had this advice for lawyers: “I told people, ‘Practice in a manner that would make your mother proud.’”

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