Miami attorney Marlon Hill can’t wait for 10 years from now.
That’s when he hopes to hear someone just passed the bar, years after being inspired to pursue a career in law by the legal studies program that Hill helped start at Brownsville Middle School.
Hill and his firm, Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, partnered with the 99 percent minority school in the Miami neighborhood three years ago. Teacher Karla Vallecillo and guest speakers from the legal profession teach a curriculum focused on the American Bar Association’s annual Law Day theme, leading up to a May 1 field trip to see the material in action.
Last year’s Fourteenth Amendment theme brought Law Academy students to the Third District Court of Appeal for a mock argument, and a 2016 Miranda rights curriculum culminated in a visit to the Miami Police Department.
“I believe, for kids, it’s very important for them to touch and see their future,” Hill said. “Otherwise, they have this clouded sense of all the other noise that’s around them. We’re hoping the program will at least give them that opportunity.”
The crowning jewel of the initiative will be a mock courtroom at the school, which will be completed this spring. Hill and his firm raised $130,000 for the project, and the school board agreed to match the funds.
The courtroom, with seating for 24 middle-school jurors to participate in mock trials, will also be available for rent by attorneys. Hill also hopes the program will continue to host judges and attorneys to tell the students about their paths from middle school to the legal profession.
Hill’s path started in Kingston, Jamaica, where he lived until his family immigrated to suburban Miami when he was a sophomore. After graduating from Southridge High School, Hill headed to Florida State University to study international business and finance.
Law school was not on his radar. After he finished six months of business studies in Costa Rica, he was set to take a job at a bank. But an FSU counselor changed his mind, and he spent three more years in Tallahassee earning a law degree with an international business focus.
He returned to Miami without a job and wound up working in the appellate practice at Adorno & Yoss, assisting future Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero. The firm had an employees’ charitable trust to support the United Way, but it needed someone to manage it — and that’s where Hill got his start with community engagement.
“As a young lawyer, I stepped up,” he said.
Nowadays, Hill’s civic engagement is widespread, including positions on the boards of the Miami Parking Authority, Miami Book Fair International and the Orange Bowl Committee. In September, he and his firm created the Caribbean Strong Relief Fund through the Miami Foundation, raising $2.9 million for hurricane relief.
Hill has also raised funds for organ donation and breast cancer — both causes that became personal to him after his wife, Carla, endured kidney disease and two bouts of breast cancer.
When Carla first got sick around 2001, Hill spoke with high school friend Michelle Delancy, then a solo lawyer, about needing to spend less time at work. She suggested they launch a firm.
“I said, ‘You must be out of your mind. Why would I leave the stability of a law firm now while Carla is sick and start a firm?’ ” he recalled. ”I made excuses after excuses not to do it. And then I spoke to my late grandmother, and she said, ‘You know, some things you just have to do on faith.’ So we did.”
Because Hill was careful not to burn any bridges, Adorno & Yoss was incredibly helpful. The firm supplied him with furniture and computers at cost and later went in on a bid with newly formed delancyhill to secure a contract with Miami-Dade County.
“Then 2008 came, the economic downturn, and we had to make some big decisions,” he said. “We went virtual. We were one of the first law firms to test out cloud office technology, where you could call one central place and the numbers would be transferred to you.”
The lease-free strategy got the firm through to 2015 when it merged with Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel. Hill’s practice now focuses on helping nonprofits, startups and bigger companies achieve their strategic goals, particularly when they have limited resources.
Today, Hill can say with conviction that his connections in the community were what got him through the toughest times.
“As lawyers, we think that we have it all figured out because that’s what we’re trained to do is to figure things out,” he said. “You cannot afford to be siloed by yourself thinking you can figure things out.”
After the recent suicides of Coral Gables litigator Ervin Gonzalez and Hill’s good friend Beranton Whisenant, a federal prosecutor, Hill wants other attorneys to know how important community engagement can be.
“You better make time for yourself, and you better make time for doing some nonlegal things that have to do with a passion you care about,” Hill said. “Pick it. It could be kids; it could be public spaces. We all have passions. Make time for it. Because the passion will provide you with an outlet for the balance that you need to be successful.”
Born: 1971, Kingston, Jamaica Spouse: Carla Codallo Hill Education: Florida State University, J.D., 1995, B.S., 1992 Experience: Partner, Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, 2015-present; Co-founder, delancyhill, 2001-2015; Associate, Adorno & Yoss, 1996-2001