Joseph H. Saunders
Pinellas Park, Florida
5 Fast Facts:
ON THE WEEKENDS you’ll find me out on the water either fishing or scuba diving.
I WOULD DESCRIBE MYSELF as an enthusiastic individual. By that, I mean I’m interested in new ideas and taking on new challenges—I’m always looking to expand my world.
SOMETHING PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT ME is that I’m an accomplished jazz guitarist. Before law school, I made a living playing in the San Francisco area and I still perform every week in the Tampa Bay area with The Tomkats Jazz Orchestra.
WHEN IT COMES TO SPORTS I’m a big baseball fan. I coached youth baseball league for a number of years. I took two teams to the Dizzy Dean national championships and our St. Petersburg City League team won the national title for 14 year olds one year. Now my son works for major league baseball. I live just 10 minutes from Tropicana Field in Saint Petersburg and I’ve had season tickets since the Rays first came to town in 1998.
MY ADVICE TO YOUNG PROFESSIONALS is to drop the pretenses and be yourself. Rather than trying to cultivate the right image, you should focus on the fact that you’re a human being—just like your clients. Law schools and the legal profession can stifle individuality. Don’t let that happen.
Can you tell us what initially drove you to become a trial lawyer?
JHS: I’ve always been a politically active person. I organized students to march on Washington to protest the Vietnam War when I was in high school.
Seeing abuses of power and injustice in the world has always been my motivator. Our legal system in the U.S. is the only one in the world that allows the average person to challenge large corporations or the government. I wanted to play a positive role in that process. Now, as an attorney who practices consumer product liability nationwide, I can help individuals and their families who have been injured by corporations who put profits ahead of safety.
How long have you been practicing law? Have you always been in the Tampa Bay area?
JHS: I’ve been practicing law for 37 years now, and I’ve been in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area for almost as long. I was admitted to the California Bar after graduating from the University of San Francisco School of Law, but within a year I had moved and was admitted to the Florida Bar. I worked for the Pinellas County Attorney and Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services Authority for 6 years before I founded the Saunders and Walker law firm in 1987.
Other than law, what are you most passionate about?
JHS: I am very involved with my family. I love spending time with my wife and children.
One of our family projects is raising guide dogs puppies. We work with Southeastern Guide Dogs, a nonprofit that trains guide dogs for the blind. Southeastern provides service dogs free-of-charge to blind people and as well as veterans suffering from PTSD. We are proud to be such an integral part of these animals’ early development, as the aid they provide literally has a lifelong effect on people—in fact, we often keep in touch with the individuals who receive our dogs as we forever consider them family.
How involved are you in community outreach programs? Why do you think it’s important for IB members and trial attorneys to give back?
JHS: Currently, I’m chairman of the Board of Directors of Operation Par—a not-for-profit that provides drug addiction treatment and mental health services in central and southern Florida. Operation PAR has 500 employees and has residential and outpatient facilities on the west coast of Florida.
I am on the Board of Directors and was past President of Alpha House for 23 years. We provide homeless pregnant women and babies a place to live while their life is in crisis. Alpha helps with education and vocational training to get the women back on their feet as both a parent and a member of the community. I also serve on the Advisory Board of Tampa Bay Watch, a non-profit, environmental protection organization dedicated to improving water quality in Tampa Bay.