Perry Nichols was a Miami trial lawyer who founded what is today the Florida Justice Association.Originally from Texas, Nichols went to Stetson University in Gulfport, FL, on a football scholarship. A Stetson coach happened to be at the 1933 Texas State Championship of Junior Colleges and, when Nichols’ junior college team won the championship, he offered Nichols the scholarship. Nichols played football for Stetson and graduated from its law school in 1937.At this point, Nichols returned to Texas but felt there was no future there for him. According to his high school’s “Alumni Notes,” Perry borrowed $50 from his mother and drove to Miami, reasoning that if he wanted to make money, he had better go where there was money!
Nichols started out as an adjuster in automobile and fire cases, but began practicing law around 1940. He formed a partnership with Billy Gaither in 1941 and the firm quickly gained a reputation for tenacious litigation. By the early 1960s, Nichols’ firm had eight partners, eight associates, and a staff of thirty-five, including an M.D., photographers, investigators and law clerks. The firm handled automobile cases, aviation, and railroad accident cases. Nichols became famous for his “team approach” to handling cases: an entire team of lawyers, investigators, medical professionals, and photographers would take on responsibility for a case from the moment it came into the office.
Perry Nichols (1915 - 1983)
Nichols, Perry. 16" x 20". 2016. Collection of Chris Searcy. Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart. West Palm Beach, FL.
The Nichols firm was one of the first to rely on demonstrative aids and compelling exhibits and was the first firm in Florida to obtain a jury verdict in excess of a hundred thousand dollars. A Miami newspaper lauded the Nichols’ firm as “the most thorough-going” law firm at the time. Nichols explained in the same article that 300 to 400 lawyers regularly referred cases to his firm because of the team's ability to handle the cases in an organized fashion. Many well known Florida attorneys and judges started off in the Nichols firm: five judges, three Presidents of the American Trial Lawyers... four Presidents of the International Trial Lawyers.
Associated Organizations and Legacy
Nichols was in regular demand as a speaker and a continuing legal education lecturer. He spoke to Bar Associations and legal organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Nichols was the first President of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, now the Florida Justice Association, and served as President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now the American Association for Justice). He was also one of the founders of the International Trial Lawyers Association and was elected President of that organization in 1965. He served on the Board of Overseers of Stetson Law School, where a prominent speakers program still bears his name.
Many well known Florida attorneys and judges started off in the Nichols firm: five judges, three Presidents of the American Trial Lawyers, six Presidents of the Florida Trial Lawyers, and four Presidents of the International Trial Lawyers. Nichols’ former law partner J.B. Spence, who credited much of his success to Nichols, said in his memoir that, “Perry was a giant. . . . a combination of Billy Graham, Vince Lombardi, and George Patton.”The Florida Justice Association created the Perry Nichols Award in 1977 to annually honor an attorney whose perseverance, commitment, and unmatched dedication to the civil justice system are at the forefront of their lives.