By Will Sandman | email@example.com
Jane West’s office is bright, the light streams onto her conference table through the big glass windows of her office. Located south on A1A, she is nearly in Crescent Beach, stuck between the sandy beaches and lush undergrowth. As she cracks open her soda water she smiles and says, “Alright.”
Growing up in other countries can be difficult for kids, especially when they are forced to move. Jane can’t remember as much of her early childhood as she would like, but she does remember greek as her first language, despite speaking very little of it now. “Watermelon,” she said when asked what she remembers in greek. “At least I won’t be hungry.”
Ironic, because after Greece her family moved to Budapest where her father was the principal of the embassy school and her mother taught math and science. Hungary was an intense experience for her, at the time the country was deeply entrenched in communism and wouldn’t change that until a year after she left.
“I remember being surprised,” she said. “When I was growing up there the capital building was always black, covered in coal dust. When I went back for a class reunion it was white, I had never seen it like that before.”
Capitalism took over Hungary after West left. The McDonald’s and other chains that moved in still surprise her even after multiple trips back to Budapest.
Her family then moved her to Florida, the Tampa area to be exact. When she decided it was time for school she was still very young and her parents didn’t want her too far away so she enrolled in a commuter school, the University of South Florida.
“It was very different then, they didn’t have a football team, everything was spread out,” she says when recalling her days as a USF student.
While attending USF West decided that she wanted to be a foreign diplomat, in particular to Hungary, her old home. However, after finding out how much student loans cost to repay, and finding out how much she would have made as a diplomat, she realized it just wasn’t feasible and charted a new course for herself.
She attended Nova Southeastern for law school and developed a strong interest in environmental law. “I was always a tree hugger,” she says.Then during her third year at Nova she was given an incredible opportunity.
West was given the reigns to a case that would eventually save 500 acres of land from being developed, something she is very proud of and something that also set legal precedent in the state of Florida.
After her success there, Ms. West became infatuated with land use law and was hired at a big law firm. There she soon discovered that life at a big firm wasn’t for her. The long hours and the sacrifice of her personal and family lives was something she couldn’t live with.
Her choice was a smart one, she now litigates on some of the most high profile land use cases not only in Florida, but nationally as well.
One of her favorite memories was as the attorney for the Surfrider Foundation, when she, along with the Surfrider Foundation helped to stop the town of Palm Beach, Florida from potentially ruining miles of beaches and coral reefs.
West opened her own practice, just north of Crescent Beach on A1A, three years ago and says that she couldn’t be happier. She says that being her own boss allows her to not have to make the sacrifices that other lawyers might have to make.
Kyle Benda, West’s associate, added that West has one of the few land use law firms in the area, which gives her an immediate advantage.
It also lets her spend more time with her family, something that West really enjoys. She has two boys, Sawyer and Wyatt who are ages six and seven. “They make me laugh,” she said. She went on to talk about how important the balance of work of and family is.
One of the biggest forms of adversity West has faced throughout her career has been the treatment of female lawyers. She recalled a particularly horrifying experience in southern Florida where, during a two day hearing, the presiding judge called West up to the bench. He then asked, “This is two day hearing, correct?” When West confirmed that it was the judge instructed her to “wear something appropriate” the following day.
In the end for West it really is all about the preservation of Saint John’s County. “It kills me driving down roads that I drove down 20 years ago and seeing them developed,” she said.
West has a point, much of Florida’s undeveloped land, especially in the central corridor of the state, has been built over in the last few decades.
Diana White, West’s part-time secretary, says that West’s best attributes are her control of politics and her fantastic people skills.
Benda said that West is great with clients and opponents, but that she isn’t afraid of anyone. White added, “She has a way of doing it (handling clients and opponents) while still maintaining respect.