Career Corner: UF Law grads expand firm, share experiences, gain accolades
By Jenna Box
An affinity for good wine and humor aren’t the only things Bruce Bokor (JD 72) and Wally Pope (JD 69) have in common.
They both have UF Law degrees, are former editors of the Florida Law Review, and are founding partners at Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns, LLP.
While in law school, the two never imagined using their law degrees alongside each other to grow the firm into 40-plus lawyers with offices in Tampa and Clearwater. But that’s because they didn’t meet until years after their graduations.
In the early 1970s, Pope was on the hiring board at Trenam law firm in Tampa when Bokor came in for an interview. “We developed an instant rapport,” Pope said, but Bokor took a position with Greenberg Traurig in Miami instead.
Pope didn’t know it, but Bokor had a mentor and longtime family friend, Norman Lipoff (JD 61), who was also impressed by Bokor’s academic successes, drive, and what Lipoff called a “likeability factor.” Lipoff had convinced Bokor to join him at the Greenberg Traurig in Miami.
Lipoff said Bokor “has always related well to people he deals with.”
Perhaps that’s what Pope had experienced when he met Bokor at Trenam, because a few years later when he started a law firm and needed a tax lawyer, Bokor came to mind.
“I cold-called him, told him I was coming to Miami for some legal business, and we arranged to have dinner there,” Pope said. “I pitched our opportunity to him. After a visit by Bruce to our offices — which weren’t much — in Clearwater with his new wife, Joanne, he made the decision to join our firm.”
In Bokor’s eyes, the opportunity was exactly what he needed, he said, because he longed to be at the “forefront and try to build something.”
“The glue that made me closer to Wally was that we were both UF Law grads,” Bokor said. “I can trust this guy.”
Since its founding, Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns, LLP, has been devoted to efficiency, teamwork and the highest ethical standards. As a result, the firm is now the largest in Pinellas County.
“I have a great debt of gratitude to the College of Law,” Bokor said of his current professional accomplishments, which includes being named a 2014 “Best Lawyer” in Tax Law and Trusts and Estates. His son, Brian, and daughter-in-law Amy, graduated from UF Law as well.
“It laid the foundation for my success,” Bokor said.
Pope, too was named a 2014 “Best Lawyer” in Bet-the-Company Litigation
Commercial Litigation; Litigation & Controversy – Tax; Litigation – Antitrust; and Litigation – Real Estate.
They both agreed that in order to succeed and make a name for yourself, as they have, students need to be dedicated.
While in law school, both Pope and Bokor were so dedicated, that they barely noticed the challenges, they said.
Bokor said he stayed focused by being prepared and finding passion, advice Lipoff gave him as a student.
“If (students) find a passion and pursue it, not only their career but their entire life will be enriched and enhanced,” Lipoff said in an interview, echoing Bokor’s memories.
Pope, who was an Army veteran, husband and father while attending UF Law repeatedly said that “failure wasn’t an option.”
“Work hard, read and brief every case, get to know your fellow law students,” he said. “Go to parties from time to time, and have a great time.”