Meet the lawyer who divides her time between running a busy aviation law firm and pro-bono legal work for disadvantaged children and family life.
Maple syrup pancakes or muesli? Neither is the answer from Suzanne Meiners-Levy, managing attorney and partner, at the Florida-based aviation law firm Advocate Consulting Legal Group, PLLC. “I love that question but I’m going to disappoint you. I’m an intermittent faster. I only eat in the evening. So, the rest of the day is water or coffee.”
Working days begin at 6:30am with a dog walk for Penny, the Labradoodle. After dropping her two boys at school, it’s a 20-minute drive to the office in the Westshore area of Tampa. Managing a busy schedule, every minute is packed with value. The drive to the office affords just enough time for a scheduled call with a client or a colleague.
Arriving in the office at 8:30, the next half hour is devoted to connecting with staff before the working day truly begins. “I might also read the headlines and, if it’s a really quiet morning, do The New York Times crossword – but that doesn’t happen very often.”
Crosswords and puzzles, to which Meiners-Levy is addicted, are not mere entertainment but essential training in creative thinking. “Many people think my area of interest – aviation tax law – sounds boring,” she explains. “But it’s super-creative, when done well, because of its complexity. It’s about fitting all these different pieces of the puzzle – that were not designed with our clients in mind – together in ways that work for them.”
Typical work puzzles or challenges include representing clients facing an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigation or interpreting how regulatory changes can benefit them.
“We bring a willingness to look at things a bit differently and to offer clients another, perhaps less obvious choice.”
Best of all is what Meiners-Levy terms “happy law”. This is about aircraft acquisition. “With happy law, people are excited about getting an airplane. Also, their business is usually in a period of strong growth.” After lunch comes an altogether different form of law.
Fortified by a midday coffee or water, plus a brief “concrete jungle walk”, with husband Jonathan Levy who is also a managing partner within the business and focuses on technology, Meiners-Levy prepares for her afternoon. This includes a mix of aviation law and pro bono work for disadvantaged children plus a coaching session on problem-solving at her boys’ school.
Meiners-Levy sits on the board of the Juvenile Law Center, where she first served as a junior public defender. She also serves on the board of Friends of Foster Children. “I feel a very strong moral obligation to do the pro-bono work. My degree and skill set are an incredible privilege. And we have a bit of an upstairs-downstairs legal system in the US.”
Part of her mission is to mentor young public defenders and occasionally to represent juvenile clients. One typical case concerned fighting for a young person’s right to retain their laptop computer, to advance their studies, while moving between foster homes.
Back on the schedule, the family prioritizes dinner together before the boys tackle their homework and Meiners-Levy shifts her focus back to the aviation law practice. With West Coast clients, the evenings are the perfect time to contact them. It’s a balance that works due to a supportive husband and very capable office team, according to Meiners-Levy. Pro-bono work also helps her aviation practice.
“It’s a two-way street. I understand the legal system much better because there are no more complex challenges than core social problems and that benefits the aviation practice.”
Each day ends with an entry in her private journal. Here, Meiners-Levy lists three things for which she is grateful. Selecting three things can be difficult. But whatever the list, it never includes maple syrup pancakes or muesli.