This article is dedicated to the memory of Senior Partner Lawrence D. Smith, whose 30 years of service to the firm and its clients was an extension of the founders’ original vision.
As the second oldest law firm in the State of Florida, Walton, Lantaff, Schroeder & Carson has a vast and unique history. Founded in 1934, Miller Walton built the firm on solid ground: a professional commitment to providing exceptional – and honest – legal services complimented by a moral commitment to community engagement.
Miller Walton came from a very prominent family in colonial Georgia. His ancestors played roles in the history of both the state of Florida and our country. One of his ancestors was a representative for Georgia in the Continental Congress and went on to sign the Declaration of Independence.
When Mr. Walton’s ancestors later moved to Florida, they founded Walton County in North Florida. Mr. Walton, who was described by many as the perfect Southern gentleman, went straight from high school into law school at the University of Georgia, clearly an impossible thing to do in today’s world, and rare even in the early 1900s.
He moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1925 and nine years later opened the doors to his own practice. It was from there on that Mr. Walton dedicated his life to both his work and his community, instilling the values which Walton Lantaff came to pride itself on.
The first Walton Lantaff office found itself in the heart of Miami in the Congress Building, which has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. After the firm moved to a new location, the Congress Building became the first building in Miami to have air conditioning.
Famously, Miller Walton would not allow the firm to return to the much cooler building for fear that going from an air conditioned building to a humid courtroom would engender disease and illness amongst his employees.
Mr. Walton, himself, was a workaholic, often working six or seven days a week and often found vacationing on the beach with his case files.
Said to be very thorough and dedicated to his clients, Mr. Walton could be found in the Walton Lantaff Miami office as little as two months before he passed away in 1987 with over 60 years of practice before the Florida Bar.
A civic leader, Mr. Walton joined the Baptist Hospital board of trustees in 1957, three years before the hospital actually opened. He was involved in the Hospital’s planning stages and in 1960 led the not-for-profit hospital through a very difficult financial crisis.
In 1963, Mr. Walton was named chairman of the board and for the 22 years that followed, he oversaw Baptist Hospital’s enormous expansion. In all of those years, Mr. Walton never missed a board meeting, even attending one meeting while a patient in the Hospital, showing up to the boardroom in pajamas and slippers. Truly the epitome of a volunteer, Mr. Walton never received a penny in compensation for all his years working with Baptist Hospital.
In addition, his civic engagement extended to mediation. A problem solver, in 1951, Mr. Walton was part of a four man trustee committee dedicated to resolving a tumultuous rift between faculty at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida in order to revamp the school.
He would later go on to serve on the board of trustees as chairman for the College from 1953 through 1969. Miller Walton was also a deacon of his church and a lifetime member of the Kiwanis Club, an organization internationally dedicated to helping children in all facets of life.
William “Bill” Lantaff was one of the most powerful political figures in South Florida of his time. Originally from Buffalo, New York, Mr. Lantaff moved to Jacksonville in 1921 and then to Miami in 1929. He attended the University of Florida for both his undergraduate and legal studies. He began practicing in 1937, serving as Assistant City Judge of Miami Beach from 1939 through 1940.
In 1941, Mr. Lantaff was inducted into the Florida National Guard as a first Lieutenant, where he served as executive officer for the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department General Staff. From 1947-1950, Bill Lantaff was a member of the Florida House of Representatives and from 1951-1955, Mr. Lantaff was a U.S. Representative for Florida’s Fourth District.
Mr. Lantaff was a delegate to the 1956 and 1960 Democratic National Conventions. After his political career, Mr. Lantaff joined Miller Walton in his legal practice in Miami.
Following in the Walton Lantaff tradition of giving to the community, in 1967 Bill Lantaff became a founding member of the Dade Community Foundation, now The Miami Foundation. The Dade Community Foundation was put into place in order to allow philanthropists a more effective and efficient means to serve the community. Since its inception, the Foundation has been trusted with over $220 million, which has allowed the Foundation to invest over $10 million in community improvements every year.
A true “Yalie,” Laurence “Larry” Schroeder moved to Miami in 1931 after graduating from Yale Law School during the height of the Great Depression. Originally from Ohio, Mr. Schroeder became so entranced with the City of Miami, that he decided to stay rather than return to the north. Mr. Schroeder was one of the best trial attorneys of his time and remembered by many as being a gentleman in court.
During World War II, Mr. Schroeder served as director of rent control in Key West, ensuring that rooms and apartments were made affordable for servicemen who were stationed there. After the war, he returned to practicing law.
Mr. Schroeder was director of the Dade County Bar Association from 1940-45 and again from 1968-71. He served as a member of the Yale scholarship and admissions committee for 30 years.
Although Mr. Schroeder retired from Walton Lantaff in the mid-1980’s, he was often found in his office working on his cases late into his 70’s, with over 60 years of practice.
Larry Schroeder and his wife, Elizabeth were married in 1936, and were a huge presence in Miami charities, further establishing the Walton Lantaff philanthropic tradition and service in the legal community.
Samuel “Kit” Carson was originally from Lake City, Florida. As a child, he enjoyed fishing, hunting, and trapping, and so his parents gave him the nickname Kit after the famous American frontiersman, Kit Carson. Mr. Carson attended the University of Florida for both his undergraduate education and for law school.
A scratch golfer, Kit played for the University’s golf team. Prior to practicing law, Mr. Carson served as a law clerk in the Florida Supreme Court. This clerkship likely played a huge role in his incredible ability to write in shorthand, a difficult skill to master, even winning him the title of the State of Florida Champion Shorthand Writer one year. During World War II, Mr. Carson was in the Navy, in which he served as a yeoman for an admiral. Following the War, Mr. Carson joined Walton Lantaff.
As an attorney, Kit is remembered as one of the best insurance defense trial lawyers in Miami. His secret to winning so many jury trials? What Kit referred to as “getting in the box” with the jury, meaning that he made it a point to understand his juries so well that it felt like he was sitting in the jury box with them. Mr. Carson would also drive his opposing counsel crazy by sitting at counsel table and reading novels during breaks in his jury trials. Kit was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a very prestigious organization, dedicated to improving the standards of trial practice.
Mr. Carson was a deacon in his church, in which he also sang in the choir and taught Sunday School.
Perhaps a part of his frontiersman alter ego, Kit was a very casual man, and always drove around in an RV styled Ford Ecoline Van, which he enjoyed traveling and camping in. He was always found in his trademark “Hush Puppy” shoes and never wore a suit, but a more casual attire consisting of a sports jacket and trousers.
SERVING ON THE BENCH
In addition to its long tradition of philanthropy, Walton, Lantaff, Schroeder & Carson also has seen many of its attorneys serve as members of the judiciary. Most notably, the Honorable C. Clyde Atkins, a partner with the firm from 1941-66, served as President of the Dade County Bar Association and the Florida Bar Association. He was named a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Paul VI in 1965.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated and the Senate confirmed Judge Atkins to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the Southern District of Florida. Judge Atkins served as Chief Judge from 1977-82 and continued to serve until his death in 1999, assuming senior status in 1982.
In 2007, the House of Representative passed legislation to designate the United States Courthouse located on North Miami Avenue as the C. Clyde Atkins United States Courthouse. Mr. Atkins’ brother, Ed Atkins, also a former partner with the firm, served as President of the Florida Bar Association. Other members of the judiciary who once walked the halls of Walton Lantaff include Palm Beach County Circuit Judge, the Honorable Joseph P. Metzger who served on the bench from 1969-72; Palm Beach County Circuit Judge, the Honorable David Crow, appointed in 2002 who worked for Judge Metzger while at Walton Lantaff; Palm Beach County Circuit Judge, the Honorable Diana Lewis, elected in 2003; and Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge, the Honorable Amy Smith, elected in 2004, who, while working for Walton Lantaff, was an avid skydiver, taking part in the “first all-lawyer demonstration jump” in 1994.
TRADITION OF EXCELLENCE
As the second oldest law firm in the State, WLSC is proud of its unique history and deep Florida roots.
Today, after 77 years, Walton Lantaff strives to follow the traditions established by its named partners: a dedication to the ethical and adept practice of law and a dedication to helping our community. Miller Walton and his partners understood that a healthy law practice could not exist apart from its community, and that service to one was service to the other. This philosophy enabled the firm to expand its practice statewide.
Many of the attorneys at Walton Lantaff serve on the Board of their local County Bar Association, some even as Executive Board members, and are actively involved within the legal community through various local organizations.
To date, the firm has appeared in over 1,200 written appellate decisions in Florida and Federal Courts, including over 117 in the Florida Supreme Court, dating as far back as 1943. Many of these opinions have resulted in significant changes or advances in Florida law.
Both individually and collectively, Walton Lantaff supports numerous community-based non-profit organizations. Charities such as His House Children’s Home and SOS Children’s Village, both aiding abused, neglected and drug exposed children; Friends of 440, a scholarship fund for the children of injured workers and insurance personnel; Lighthouse of Manasota, an organization dedicated to caring for the blind; the Office Depot Foundation, dedicated to providing school supplies for children in need; Smile Train, an international charity that provides cleft palate surgery to those in need, as well as provides training to doctors; Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Lawyers for the Children of America; USO; The United Way; American Diabetes Association; National Multiple Sclerosis Society; American Cancer Society; Make a Wish Foundation; Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association, Unicef; Make a Wish Foundation, and more.
Walton, Lantaff, Schroeder & Carson is proud of its unique history and deep Florida roots. We are truly a family, finding ourselves in each others weddings, on each others intramural sports teams, and at each others family gatherings.
We remain committed to providing exceptional legal services while serving our community and look forward to making more history in the many years to come.