Robert Zarco of Zarco Einhorn Salkowski & Brito.
Robert Zarco of Zarco Einhorn Salkowski & Brito. (J. Albert Diaz)

Robert Zarco didn’t set out to be an attorney. He wanted to make money.

He did. Lots of it. And he’s proud to say he made every penny of it himself — beginning at age 7 with a leased lawn mower.

He parlayed that into a $52,000 nest egg by the time he was 15.

Now, as he showed on the reality TV show “How’d You Get So Rich?”, he owns a luxurious waterfront mansion and a collection of cars and boats that would make a Saudi prince drool.

Each represents a courtroom win.

“I’m not materialistic,” he said. “Those are trophies, big-boys’ rewards for extremely hard work.”

Zarco, the Havana-born son of Cuban exiles, watched his father work double shifts in a clothing factory for 70 cents an hour and decided early on he wanted a different life.

At 7, he started a landscaping business. Only he didn’t have a mower. The kid across the street did. Zarco persuaded him to be his partner.

“I would charge $3 for a lawn,” Zarco said. He kept one, gave his partner one, and one went for the use of the lawn mower.

Within six months, he bought his partner out for $200. “I took the money I had already made, bought my own lawn mower, and now the full $3 came to me.”

Soon enough he had other kids working for him and had enough cash to buy a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium on the water in North Miami Beach by the time he hit college. It wasn’t to live in. It became another moneymaker when he rented it.

Then he went to Harvard. He studied economics and worked — cleaning toilets, as a security guard, as a campus tour guide and as a dorm supervisor “because it was the highest-paying job on the campus.”

He was recruited by General Motors and aimed high. “I wanted to try to achieve my goal in becoming chairman of the board.”

Good With Numbers

While Zarco was with GM, he pursued a master’s in business administration at Pace University. But he became disillusioned with the corporate culture at GM, quit and came back to Miami to go to law school.

“I said, ‘I want to do something where I can help people directly instead of having to go through all this corporate red tape.’ “

He went to law school with a focus.

“I knew 100 percent that I was going to go into the commercial side as a trial lawyer as well as on the transaction side,” he said. “Because I’m a dealmaker. I have an extraordinarily strong sense of finance and accounting. Having done it for General Motors, having done it in economics, having done it in my own investments, and because I have such an expert understanding and grasp of finance and accounting I figured I was going to use that skill in the litigation world.”

He started his legal career as an associate at Floyd Pearson Richman Greer, then moved to Weil, Lucio, Mandler & Croland.

That’s where a case came to him that changed his life.

It involved a Burger King franchisee, which he said was “devastated” when the Miami-based corporation allowed another franchise to open nearby.

“I looked around and said, ‘Who the heck is representing these franchisees?’ ” he recalled. “ Most franchise attorneys were representing the franchisers because the franchisers were clocking hours and paying the lawyers by the hour, whereas the franchisees had no money.”

Lucrative Practice

Zarco got creative. He opened his own firm and took franchisee cases on a contingency basis.

Since then, he said he’s handled cases involving more than 500 brands in 44 states and in over 20 countries.

“It became a very, very, very successful practice,” he said. “A lucrative practice.”

He proved it for the reality TV show. He gave a tour of his 18,200-square-foot Miami Beach home — with 11 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, home theater with 110-inch screen, two steam rooms and a zero-entry swimming pool. The house has 12-foot ceilings on the first level, 10-footers on the second.

Jennifer Lopez used to live down the block. Phil Collins does now. So does Matt Damon, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and “Silence of the Lambs” author Thomas Harris.

“I’m the poorest kid on the block,” said Zarco, “with the biggest house.”

Then there are the boats. Five of them. They range from 25 feet to 70 feet and include a Formula 353 FasTech that tops out at close to 80 mph, a brand new 42-foot Formula 400 SS and a 70-foot custom-built Azimut Sport Yacht with four bedrooms, power windows, sunroof and an underwater camera so Zarco can watch his children swim.

“And I have lots of cars,” he said.

That collection includes two Ferraris, a Mercedes SLS with gullwing doors, a Rolls-Royce Ghost and a 1922 Buick D45. His favorite, though, is a limited edition Bentley Brooklands, one of only 50 in the United States, he said.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “Fast as a rocket.”

But wealth is not what drives him.

“I happen to love the law,” he said. “I love what I do. I don’t do it just because it’s a comfortable living but because I cannot get enough of it.”