Laura L. Ferrante ('85)
Conquering New Challenges
As someone who loves to expand her knowledge-base, who gets bored quickly and whose areas of expertise are diverse and broad, serving as corporate legal counsel for Paul Davis Restoration, Inc., is the perfect job for Laura L. Ferrante.
“Paul Davis has given me so much opportunity to do all kinds of different things. It’s been a very challenging, but fun place to work,” said Ferrante, who joined Paul Davis in 2012. The company, which has more than 350 general contracting franchises in North America, is headquartered in Jacksonville.
In providing legal counsel on all compliance, corporate and franchise matters, Ferrante draws upon her background in insurance defense litigation, contracts, construction law and employment law. She began her law career with a large insurance defense firm, so she has worked with businesses since she graduated from law school in 1985. Ferrante’s experience as a certified mediator also has been valuable. In 2013, Ferrante helped Paul Davis implement a new mediation program that has already proven to be successful.
“We have an internal arbitration system – the network agrees to arbitrate rather than go to court when they have disputes, and it works out pretty well,” said Ferrante. “What I noticed when I got here was that there are some instances where there is a lot at stake and the dispute can cause a lot of conflict within the network itself. For example, there could be two franchises that just don’t get along at all and arbitrations can become very protracted, very expensive and it’s very disruptive to the network. So, I thought that a mediation program might work. We had a couple of very difficult arbitrations going on and we decided to give it a try and it actually worked. And people were very happy with the result.”
Ferrante, who still holds an active mediation license, believes that serving as a mediator has made her a better lawyer.
“In everything that I do now, I always ask, how can we make this into a win-win? How can we make any situation work so that nobody feels like they lost? In everything that I do, I take that mediation training and all that experience that I have and it has been hugely important to my career.”
Ferrante’s legal experience is so varied because she enjoys challenging herself and learning new skills. What others perceive as risky, Ferrante sees as exciting. While her mother provided steady love and encouragement, she credits her entrepreneurial engineer father, Thomas Ferrante, with shaping this mindset.
“My dad owned his own businesses. He did everything from being a distributor of semi-conductors to owning a bike shop,” recalled Ferrante. “If he wanted to do it, he just did it. And he was very fearless. He had ups and downs and I learned from that too, that there is calculated risk. I learned a lot from him. He always told my brother and sister and I, ‘Don’t let anything stop you. If you get stopped, just go in another direction.’”
Ferrante’s fearless nature also been invaluable in her personal life.
In 1993, Ferrante was very focused on her career. She and her husband, Frank Hession, were practicing law together and had a 5-year-old son, Travis, and a 21-month-old daughter, Kelsey. Then, in what Ferrante refers to as a defining moment, her little girl was diagnosed with leukemia. “I wanted to succeed and I was pretty hard-charging at that time. When something like that happens, you realize that’s not important. Your family is what’s important. Some of the decisions I made after that, like going into mediation and being available to my kids, I always thought about that.”
During the five years of chemotherapy that ultimately cured Kelsey, Ferrante utilized her legal skills to
establish and expand CHILD Cancer Fund.
“When Kelsey was first diagnosed, she would have chemo in the hospital and then at Nemours Children’s Clinic. I remember going to the clinic and seeing other parents there and nobody really talked to each other,” said Ferrante.
“I started to talk to some of the parents and the medical staff said, ‘We really would like some of the parents to get together to help us provide some of the child life services.’ There is a child life specialist at Nemours by the name of Joli who reads stories to the kids and plays with them and is with them when they’re having procedures. Without her the kids would be lost. At the time Joli was in danger of losing her job because of budget cuts.”
Ferrante and another mother secured donations and Ferrante drafted all of the legal documents to create the non-profit organization.
“We’re still in existence – it’s been 20 years – and Joli is still with Nemours as the child life specialist. We help all families in the Jacksonville area. If they can’t pay bills we help them and we provide support groups. It’s like having someone there for you from the moment of diagnosis and your world crashes, holding your hand through the whole process, helping you through it, until you no longer need them anymore.”
Kelsey, now 24, graduated from the University of Virginia in 2013 and works as an implementation specialist for a software company in Washington, D.C. 27-year-old Travis is a systems engineer at an IT company in Jacksonville.
“I can’t get either of them to go to law school,” joked Ferrante.
Because of her personal experiences, Ferrante also volunteers on boards for Baptist Medical Center and Nemours Children’s Clinics. “My daughter was on a research study while undergoing treatment. They are constantly trying to figure out why people get leukemia, why people get diseases. You’ve got real progress being made in the medical field, I’ve watched in hematology and oncology for the last 20 years. I find it extremely interesting – the things that they know now that they didn’t know 20 years ago.
So, I have been doing this not only to ensure patient safety and to ensure families are fully informed about the studies that they are on, but also to see where research is taking us. It’s absolutely fascinating.”
Through volunteering and her work at Paul Davis, Ferrante is constantly learning and challenging herself. She is seemingly right where she is meant to be.
As printed in the spring 2015 issue of Florida State Law magazine.