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Mock-trial 'lawyer' home to practice law

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

When he was 7, Thomas Florio already knew he was going to be an attorney when he grew up.

When he was an eighth-grader at Adamson Middle School, Florio thought it was "cool" when school officials played the verdict from the O.J. Simpson murder trial over the school's loud speaker.

In 1998, as a junior at Jonesboro High School, Florio joined the school's mock trial team, serving as one of its attorneys until he graduated in 2000. He came back to the team four years later to assist Jonesboro's coaches for a season.

On Nov. 11 of this year, Florio, 26, was sworn in as a lawyer by Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield. He now works in the law office of Jonesboro attorney Steve Frey, one of the mock-trial team's coaches at Jonesboro High School when Florio attended the school.

"I always wanted to practice law here [In Jonesboro]," said Florio. "I was born and raised here. My parents still live in the house I was raised in. I have most of my connections here. I just wanted to give something back to my community."

Florio has only worked on four cases -- so far -- but he said he is having "fun helping out other people." In law school, he spent a lot of time watching Court TV, trying to get a better understanding of the legal profession. He decided to pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney because of the challenges it offers.

"In the process of working through a case, you learn so much," said Florio. "Being a criminal defense attorney is necessary, but it doesn't always come with a lot of respect. It's the sort of thing where people think poorly of criminal defense attorneys until they need one. Then you're their best friend."

Suzanne Florio, Thomas' mother, said while her son had been talking about being a lawyer since he was a young child, it took a while to see how committed he was to turning his dream into a reality.

"When you're a mom and your child says he wants to be a lawyer when he grows up, you're like 'Yeah, yeah, we'll see how long that lasts,'" said Suzanne Florio. "But, he stuck with it and made it happen ... I guess I realized he was serious about this when he was on the mock trial team at Jonesboro. He was so committed to it. He was always on the computer, looking for stuff that might give him an edge in the courtroom."

Thomas Florio got his pre-law degree from the University of Georgia in 2004, and graduated from the John Marshall Law School in May of this year. Throughout his college career, he spent his summers doing clerical work in Frey's office, while also watching and learning about the legal profession from his former coach.

He said he had job offers from a couple other law firms after he graduated, but he felt Frey's law office was where he belonged.

"I worked here throughout law school, so I had already made up my mind that this was where I wanted to be long before I graduated," Florio said. "I was already familiar with the county. I knew most of the people at the courthouse already, and I enjoy working here. It makes it easier when you enjoy the people you go to work with every day."

Florio attributes everything he knows about law, from how to run a law office, to courtroom etiquette, to Frey and former Clayton County Solicitor General Keith Martin, who also works in Frey's law office.

Frey, in turn, said Florio's enthusiasm for the law and desire to be an advocate for people are two of the young lawyer's strongest attributes. The mentoring attorney thinks Florio has a bright future ahead of him.

"Once he gets his feet wet in a courtroom, he'll be able to put it all together," said Frey. "He's going to have to do like the rest of us did, and figure out what he's good at, and make himself the best lawyer within that [area]."