Partner at Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A. and a lieutenant colonel in the Florida Army National Guard
Since graduating from NSU's Shepard Broad Law Center, Kip Lassner has gone on to become a partner at Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A., one of Florida's premier law firms. Also serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Florida Army National Guard, Lassner is using his 26-year military career and legal education to help service members and veterans. Recently, the law firm was nominated to receive the elite Seven Seals Award, from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), which is a Department of Defense agency established in 1972. The ESGR develops and promotes employer support for Guard and Reserve service by advocating relevant initiatives, recognizing outstanding support, increasing awareness of applicable laws, and resolving conflict between employers and service members. The Seven Seals Award, depicting the heraldry seals of the seven military services, is the highest award given by the ESGR, and was created to publicly recognize American employers who provide outstanding patriotic support and cooperation to employees and families of those that have been called to serve in the armed forces.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Queens, New York, but moved to Florida at an early age. I went to Coral Springs Elementary, Coral Springs Middle School, and Coral Springs High School. South Florida was a great place to grow up.
What is your background?
I obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida in 1989. I graduated from NSU's Shepard Broad Law Center in 1993. I am currently a partner with Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A. We are a law firm with more than 230 lawyers in 10 offices throughout the state. I am the partner in charge of the Fort Lauderdale office, which I opened for the firm nearly 10 years ago. Currently, the firm employs more than 31 NSU Law Center graduates. In addition to being partner, I manage the workers' compensation defense group for the whole firm. I have handled all phases of insurance law, including workers' compensation, automobile negligence, premises liability, and general liability defense. I have lectured to employers, insurance adjusters, and insurance professionals on the issues of workers' compensation. Today, my practice is primarily workers' compensation defense, as the group has expanded throughout the firm.
Why did you choose to go to law school?
It was not my original intent to go to law school. I grew up wanting to go into federal law enforcement. I majored in criminal justice at the University of Florida. After I graduated, I found that the best way to attain my goals would be to have a law degree.
Why did you choose the NSU Law Center?
I was actually late in applying for law school and was fortunate to have been accepted into the Law Center. My original plan was to do my first year at the Law Center and then transfer to the University of Florida. I didn't know much about NSU at the time. Going to the NSU Law Center turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I quickly learned that the school had so much to offer. I had the benefit of going to school in an area with a tremendous legal community. I took advantage of that by finding a clerking job in a law firm. Through a program at school, I was also afforded the opportunity to clerk for a Broward County judge after my first year. My peers that opted for larger, state-run law schools did not have the opportunities afforded to me through the Law Center. In fact, many had difficulty finding unpaid clerking jobs in their college towns. That's when I realized I was fortunate to be at the Law Center and decided to stay.
Were you involved in any student organizations while a student at the Law Center?
I took part in the trial team and competition my second year and that was a great experience. I also wrote for the Nova Law Reporter, which was our student newspaper, and that was fun.
Who were your favorite professors and what were your favorite classes?
My favorite professor was Johnny Burris. I took his class my first year of school, and he was tough. I then tried to take every class that he taught. He challenged me to learn and to think like a lawyer. I particularly enjoyed criminal procedure, because I was a criminal justice major and had attended the U.S. Army's Military Police Academy. The class taught me the legal theories behind my experiences. I also always think of Michael Flynn as someone who influenced my professional career. When I was in my third year, I took one of his classes. He provided me with guidance at a time when I had important decisions to make about my future. My father passed away when I was in my third year, just as I was taking final exams and graduating. Michael Flynn really helped me through that time. He was always accessible to students and a great mentor.
Why did you enlist in the Army Reserves?
In 1987, President Reagan inspired me to serve my country. I was at the University of Florida at the time and thought that I could give up one weekend a month and two weeks a year for my country, while gaining experience and training in the field I was hoping to enter after graduation. So, I enlisted in the Army Reserves as a member of the Military Police Corps. During the summers, when I was still an undergraduate student, I went to basic training and then the Military Police Academy. I served in a military police unit in Ocala, Florida.
Did you serve your country overseas?
As I started my second year of law school at the Law Center, my life was changed forever when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. In September of that same year, just a few weeks into classes, my reserve unit was called to active duty in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We were one of the first reserve units called, and we were deployed to Saudi Arabia. I only had 48 hours notice before I had to report for duty. I met with the dean and explained my situation. The dean and each of my professors were understanding and supportive. I was given a leave of absence and told not to worry about my position at the Law Center.
I didn't know what the future held for me at that point, and it was one of the most stressful times of my life. For a while, it appeared that my dream of graduating from law school was taken away from me. The support of the faculty members at the Law Center was amazing. It allowed me to focus on what I had to do in the war ahead and not worry about whether I would finish law school when I returned.
As one can imagine, I went through some difficult times as the war progressed. It was always great to hear from the folks back home. I received cards and letters from so many students. They put a banner in the student lounge for everyone to sign, and then sent it to me. I will never forget the support from so many studentsâ€”many of whom I did not even know. Receiving so many wonderful letters keeping me up to date about what was going on at NSU and hearing about everyone's experiences in school really kept me connected to home and reality. I also continued to send in articles from the war to the Nova Law Reporter. I had a column in the newspaper called "From the Front." I reported about the war.
I returned to the United States after being deployed for nearly nine months. I missed the entire school year. When I came home, it was unclear as to whether I would return to law school. On the last day of classes, within days of coming home, I went to visit everyone at the Law Center. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and support from the faculty members and students.
I was late to register for the following year's classes, and Johnny Burris overheard me say that I was not sure I would be registering at all. I will never forget that it was him who asked the registrar's office to register me for the same classes I had withdrawn from. From that moment on, my return to the Law Center became my focus. I was not going to let the war derail me from my goals in life. When I returned to restart my second year of law school, I was more focused than ever to succeed. I was on the Dean's List and excelled for the remainder of my law school career. I would not be where I am today without the support and experience I had at the NSU Law Center.
Are you still involved in the military?
Today, I am a lieutenant colonel and am approaching 26 years in the military. After graduating from the Law Center, I received a direct commission as an officer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) of the Florida Army National Guard. I would have never thought that I would still be part of the military after all of these years. Although a part-time job, the Army takes up much of my time. I currently serve as special staff counsel to a brigadier general who commands a brigade here in Florida. I have two JAG officers and staff members that work for me in the Army. As a part of my job, I am responsible for providing legal guidance and recommendations to my commanding general, his staff, and subordinate unit commanders. I also oversee all investigations and legal proceedings within a brigade of more than 2,000 soldiers.
My life was again forever changed on September 11, 2001. I had political aspirations and had run for the Florida House of Representatives in 2000. My plan was to run again in 2002. After September 11, all of my free time was consumed by the military. We began deploying soldiers from Florida and, although I was not deployed again, I spent considerable time assisting with those deployments by providing legal briefings and legal assistance to soldiers being deployed.
Over the years, I have been confronted with some unique legal issues and difficult situations in representing the National Guard. For example, a few years ago, I was called upon to negotiate the surrender of a Florida Guard soldier who deserted from Iraq while home on leave. I negotiated the terms of his surrender with his attorney and family as the situation unfolded on national television. Afterward, I held a national press conference as a legal spokesperson for the National Guard.
In response to another situation confronting the Army, I was called upon to protect fellow soldiers and the Florida Guard from a dangerous individual who was impersonating an army officer in a local community. I obtained restraining orders on behalf of soldiers he threatened and ultimately went to circuit court to obtain a permanent injunction barring him from impersonating a member of the military and keeping him away from our armories.
One of my most interesting current real-world missions is in Washington, D.C. The Florida Guard rotates soldiers from my brigade into Washington every couple of years to support a missile defense mission we have had in place since September 11, 2001. I work with those soldiers throughout their deployment to provide legal assistance and to provide them with legal briefings on such things as the law of war and rules of engagement. It is fascinating to see our military's capabilities and to work on a real-world, critical mission. The legal aspects alone are detailed and complex.
You perform a fair amount of legal work for military members and veterans and provide military briefings in Washington, D.C. Can you describe a situation or case that best illustrates this?
I perform extensive legal work for members of the military and veterans. As a part of the legal team assisting soldiers that are being deployed, I have worked with thousands of soldiers and their families confronting issues surrounding their mobilization. The most common legal issues include landlord/ tenant, employer problems, rights to re-employment, and rights under the Service Members' Civil Relief Act. I speak to soldiers who are being deployed and explain the benefits available to them while deployed, and I also speak to soldiers who are coming home to explain the benefits available to them upon their return. As a JAG working with so many soldiers over the years, I have been confronted with unique issues. I never say "no" to soldiers, and I make sure that if I cannot help, I find someone that can, or at least direct them to where they can get help.
One recent example is an interesting case of mine. I was contacted by a young soldier who is in the National Guard and is facing administrative action initiated by the state. He was rather desperate and reached out to me based upon the recommendation of one of his senior leaders. I was clearly his last resort. In short, he worked in his civilian job as a private security officer for a company that contracts with the Department of Corrections to transport prisoners. In that capacity, he and a partner were transporting 13 felons in a van when they stopped at a McDonalds. While his partner was in the restaurant, one of the prisoners faked a severe illness. My client went into the back of the van to provide emergency assistance and was attacked and badly beaten by a couple of the prisoners. One prisoner attempted to slit my client's throat with his handcuffs. The fight ended up out of the van and on the street. When the primary assailant jumped into the driver's seat of the van and attempted to take off, my client jumped into the passenger seat and grabbed a service revolver.
The prisoner ejected him from the van, and as the prisoner attempted to pull away, my client fired a round from the revolver through the front windshield of the van. The prisoner drove the van a couple of miles, crashed it, and then stole a nearby work truck. Most of the prisoners scattered and attempted escape. All were ultimately captured by the Gadsden County Sheriff 's Department. An investigation by local law enforcement cleared my client of any wrongdoing, and no charges were brought. In fact, it is my understanding that he was heralded as a hero in the local community for his efforts to stop the escape. After all of that, my client was contacted by an investigator from the Department of Agriculture and advised that they were conducting their own investigation as the agency responsible for licensing private security officers. The subject of the investigation was the alleged wrongful discharge of the firearm by him during the attack and escape. At this time, the department is seeking to revoke my client's license.
Upon hearing the story, I felt compelled to get involved on behalf of the soldier. Fortunately, after speaking to the investigator, the department decided they would not suspend immediately, but they are still recommending his license be permanently revoked. They gave him the option of surrendering it voluntarily, but it is his livelihood and without it he would be unemployable in his field of work. He has asked for a formal hearing. An administrative hearing will be held in Tallahassee in the next couple of months to determine whether his license should be revoked. We are waiting on that to be set now. I told the soldier I would represent him without charge and that he would have the support of my firm in doing so.
The NSU Law Center Veterans Clinic will assist veterans with cases that will have the greatest impact on the stability and success of its clients, such as landlord-tenant cases, consumer matters, domestic relations, and state/federal misdemeanors, among others. Why do you think programs to help veterans are important?
I believe that the NSU Law Center Veterans Clinic is a tremendous resource for veterans and members of the military. In working through legal issues of soldiers and their families for years, I have found that they often feel as though they have nowhere to turn for help.
What can a student expect from a career in the law and the military?
Students interested in a career in law and also interested in military affairs can find that the issues confronting the military and its members are often complex and unique. Whether it is the legality of a missile defense mission guarding over our nation's capital or the legal issues confronting a soldier returning from war, I find the work very rewarding. It makes me believe that I am giving something back to our community and nation in an important way. I have made both professional and personal sacrifices, but there is no greater honor than to serve one's country.
Do you still keep in contact with classmates from the NSU Law Center?
I do keep in contact with many NSU classmates. I am often surprised to see where everyone wound up, from big firms and corporate practices to solo practitioners and government jobs. Whenever I run into classmates I have not seen in a long time, they usually ask if I am still in the military. Despite it being almost 20 years, it is always great to see a classmate.