Justin Rundle
Justin Rundle ()

When Justin Rundle was Tamara Lave’s student at the University of Miami law school, the professor had no idea he was the son of one of the most powerful attorneys in South Florida, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

“I don’t think anyone knew,” Lave said. “I had taught him criminal procedure, and he never brought it up—ever. Some people are humble, and some people are false. He loves his mom, but he clearly wants to be his own person and doesn’t want to take advantage of the relationship.”

With a newly minted Florida Bar license, Rundle, 30, is eager to forge his own path in the legal industry. He recently started his own Miami law firm, Rundle & Lewis Law, with longtime friend Kevin Lewis.

Barred from working for the state attorney’s office due to a nepotism rule—and from doing criminal defense due to potential conflicts of interest—Rundle decided to help crime victims privately. His practice focuses on foreclosure defense, personal injury and helping law graduates having trouble get licensed by the Florida Bar.

“My mom’s office can only do the criminal portion of helping victims of crime,” Rundle said. “I can’t work for her on the criminal portion, so I asked how can I still help those victims? When my mom’s office steps off, I step in. There’s a civil component to all these crimes.”

Rundle may be humble, but his legal lineage runs deep. His mother runs one of the largest state prosecutor offices in the country, his grandfather, Carlos Benito Fernandez, was the first Cuban-born judge in the United States, and his father, Chris Rundle, is a trial lawyer in Vermont.

In fact, Rundle was named after Justinian the Great, a Roman emperor credited with writing Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis.

Clerkships Galore

Yet he almost didn’t become a lawyer. After graduating from the University of Florida, Rundle spent four years as an entrepreneur, running nightclubs in Gainesville and Miami Beach. His mother never pushed him into law but made “gentle hints,” he said.

Rundle discovered he enjoyed reading lengthy contracts to employ DJs and entertainers. Plus, the grind and long hours of running a lounge were starting to wear on him. So he applied to UM law school and was accepted, graduating cum laude last year. He won the school’s prestigious Marco A. Vazquez Memorial Scholarship, awarded to the class’s top litigator.

“He’s a great student, really smart, really enthusiastic, really engaged with the material,” Lave said. “I’d say he’s quite passionate about the law.”

Once he decided to become a lawyer, Rundle wasted no time building his resume. He clerked for four law firms during college: Podhurst Orseck, Kozyak Tropin Throckmorton, Wasserstein Nunez & Foodman and Piedra & Associates. He also interned for three federal judges: U.S. District Judges Alan S. Gold and Ursula Ungaro and U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea M. Simonton.

Along the way, Rundle discovered what kind of law he liked and what kind he didn’t. Foreclosure plaintiffs work—”kicking people out of their homes”—he didn’t like. Helping injured clients he did.

Harley Tropin of Kozyak Tropin gives Rundle high marks for his work.

“I liked him,” he said. “He’s an engaging, smart, nice young man. He did research for us, and he also taught me some unusual poses in martial arts. Kathy Rundle is a civic treasure, and Justin is a capable young man who will do well.”

Licensing Specialty

The path to getting his law license was not without difficulty, though. Despite the fact that he passed the bar exam on his first try, the Bar withheld a license at first due to a driving under the influence charge when Rundle was 17. The charges were dropped, but Bar officials were still concerned.

Rundle hired former Florida Bar president Herman Russomanno Sr. to fight for his license and won.

The experience prompted Rundle to include as a subspecialty of his practice the defense of law school graduates fighting for licenses.

“I understand the Bar has a duty to preserve the legal profession,” Rundle said. “Even if someone was charged with a misdemeanor, they have to look at a person’s character and fitness. But my incident happened 13 years ago, and it was expunged and gone.”

Rundle and Lewis leased office space in Miami’s Coconut Grove. Even without advertising, the duo is flush with clients, mostly family and friends. Rundle said his years laboring as an entrepreneur helped him develop business. And being able to call his father, a small firm lawyer, for advice on how to handle document management and other law firm logistics has been helpful.

“After four years of running my own businesses, I feel I had a good advantage over my peers,” Rundle said. “I already have the context.”

Ultimately, the lawyer with one of the most famous names in the South Florida legal community has higher aspirations. Someday, he’d like to be a federal judge.

“I’d like to be the kind of judge that makes a difference,” he said. “I always want to help the little guy.”