Success Stories

Bankruptcy attorney John Kozyak pairs minority students with law-industry mentors

Published in 2013 Florida Super Lawyers — July 2013

John Kozyak grew up on the Illinois side of industrial St. Louis during the turbulence of the civil rights movement. Though landmark laws were being passed, it took much more to change hearts and minds.

“An African-American person couldn’t think of moving into my hometown without fear of, at minimum, a lot of racial slurs and non-acceptance,” remembers Kozyak, a founding partner at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, a Miami bankruptcy and complex commercial litigation firm. “I just never understood it.”

That’s a big reason why, years later, he founded the Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation for students at Florida law schools.

The foundation has matched more than 1,000 African-American students with judges and lawyers. Last November, the foundation hosted its ninth annual picnic for more than 3,500 students, mentors and guests.

For his efforts, Kozyak’s honors have included the ABA’s Spirit of Excellence Award, Florida Bar’s Henry Latimer Diversity Award, the ABA litigation section’s diversity award, the Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award and the G. Kirk Haas Humanitarian Award.

In his busy corporate bankruptcy practice, Kozyak’s area of focus lies in real estate matters. Hospitality-related clients have included Marriott International Inc. and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. He also served as trustee and criminal-restitution receiver in a huge South Florida Ponzi scheme case involving Financial Federated.

Kozyak’s passion for mentoring began about 15 years ago. Those efforts solidified as the need for a more diversified pool of legal job applicants became clear. He came up with the idea of bringing minority students and mentors together. Kozyak says the program “isn’t a substitute for learning their own skills and doing their own hustling.” Mentors offer career guidance, resume advice and introductions.

“I have very close relationships with students I mentored 10 years ago,” he says.

“I grew up in a very segregated, hate-filled environment. It was really a social cause I couldn’t do anything about as a kid.

“Now I can.”

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