Two events in attorney Richard Malafy’s early life would set the course. When he was 12, the family visited Key West for some relaxation and fishing. When he was 16, he got a traffic ticket for some “alleged drag racing.” He argued his way out of the ticket and his mother, in turn, spared his life.

“I had a whole presentation for the judge about the calibration of radar guns and the acceleration capabilities of my Jeep,” he said. “The two cops congratulated me on the way out of the courtroom and told me I should be a lawyer.”

Originally from New England (Connecticut and New Hampshire), Malafy did his undergraduate work at University of Tampa and received his law degree from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale. 

In September, Malafy was awarded Man of the Year, a people’s choice recognition in the Best of Marathon awards. Next week, he’ll receive the Equal Justice designation from Dade County Legal Services / Put Something Back program for his pro bono work.

Full name? Richard Malafy.

When did you move to the Keys? In 1999 I joined the Cunningham law firm. Now I’m a partner at Campbell and Malafy.

What type of law do you practice? We specialize in civil trial work — business disputes, real estate disputes. We don’t do divorces, or criminal cases or even transactional work like real estate closings. Only about 20 percent of our cases end up going to trial, so a lot of work is hearings, depositions, etc.

What’s your personal definition of lawyer? Well, sometimes people need protection from themselves. Sometimes it’s about protecting them from others. I think lawyers get a bad rap, but that isn’t true. If someone has a dispute, they need help to get through it. 

Is the work satisfying? I like to write. That’s how I spend 75 percent of my day. And I like putting an argument together; it’s like piecing together a puzzle. But it can be stressful at times, and it’s not a 9-to-5 job.

What’s it like to practice law in a small town? I spend about 50 percent of my time talking people out of lawsuits. I tell them, “Let’s get this resolved.” Marathon is a small town and you’re going to have to deal with the same people again.

What type of pro-bono work did you do after the hurricane? Mostly I just helped people through the SBA (Small Business Association) and FEMA applications … they were daunted by the process. Sometimes it was just sitting with them while they filled it out. We also handled a lot of tenant and landlord disputes. I spent about 250 hours on this. (Editor’s note: That’s six work weeks!)

So you weren’t arguing Hurricane Irma claims? Mostly it was just reviewing policies, which we did for free. We told people just get your best offer before you hire us, otherwise you’re gambling with your own money. 

What was it like assisting Keys residents with their Deepwater Horizon oil spill claims? We calculated that our Keys office handled more than $25 million in claims. I felt like Santa Claus, driving around and handing out checks.

Dream meal: you are sitting at the diner counter eating … who walks in and sits down next to you and what do you order? My wife of seven years, Cristina, and we eat whole fried yellowtail. She is the luckiest thing that has every happened to me.

What is your nerdiest passion? Taking selfies with my dog.

If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning a medal for? Drinking beer.

Beer, wine or whisky? See above. Beer. Bud Light. Nothing fancy.

What’s something you like to do the old-fashioned way? I try to call my family and friends on their birthdays. 

What website do you visit most often? — looking for that new boat.

Finish this sentence … 

I live by the motto … Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. It applies to both law and fishing.

Upcoming free legal clinics:

• Key West: Friday, Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to noon at Freeman Justice Center.
• Key Largo: Wednesday, Nov. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Key Largo library.
• Key West: Friday, Nov. 16 from 9 a.m. to noon at Freeman Justice Center.
• Marathon: Friday, Dec. 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Marathon Community United Methodist Church.

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