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As bar association chief, Carlton Fields attorney seeks effective change

Carlton Fields attorney Nat Doliner, shown at the law firm’s Tampa office last month, was elected in August to head the business law section of the American Bar Association.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Carlton Fields attorney Nat Doliner, shown at the law firm’s Tampa office last month, was elected in August to head the business law section of the American Bar Association.

Nat Doliner, a 31-year veteran of the Carlton Fields law firm, has long been an active player in the American Bar Association. In August, he took the reins as this year's chairman of the business law section of the ABA.

It's a crazy economic time to chair a large national slice of attorneys whose practices encompass mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, commercial litigation, securities and private equity. After all, when was the last time the economy struggled this much? The nation just spent the past 12 months trying to prevent itself from falling off an economic precipice.

What will Doliner do in his newly elected role for an encore? At the ABA, one key responsibility is to try to influence legislators and regulators threatening massive financial overhaul to not seek change for change's sake. Change for the better — "smart regulation" as Doliner calls it — is more critical than ever. Says Doliner: "We are in serious times."

Beneath the tall exterior and firm handshake, there's humor. Consider this brief exchange, captured 14 years ago in the ABA Journal, between a Carlton Fields lawyer and partner Doliner.

"When I began the practice of law," commented Doliner, "I knew she was a jealous mistress. But I didn't know she was a damn nymphomaniac."

Doliner's got a long track record of involvement in the community, including board positions with the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa's Child Abuse Council and Tampa's Hillel Jewish Community day school. He lives in Carrollwood Village with his wife, Debbie. They have two sons.

Carlton Fields' office in Tampa in Corporate Center Three offers a panorama view of the city and nearby International Plaza. Doliner, 60, sat down with Times columnist Robert Trigaux recently in a small conference room adorned with paintings of the law firm's founders. Here are some excerpts of the conversation:

What's your top priority for the ABA's business law section this year?

The strength of the financial system. Our economic engine has been a good one for many years. How do we keep it that way?

So what role does the ABA's business law section play in this economy?

We're here to offer principles and guidance to legislators and regulators considering changes. Regulation is often a response to a political crisis. Elected officials feel like they need to react right away. There is a need for more reflection. Let's have smart regulation, not duplicative regulation. We want to help prevent future shocks to the system. But I hope they do not go forward pell-mell.

I understand business law is the American Bar Association's biggest section?

Yes, it has about 60,000 members from more than 50 countries, while the overall ABA has 400,000 members.

Is that unusual for the American Bar Association to have so many international members?

Not these days. Lawyers from Canada, Europe and Latin America are interested in the U.S. legal system. Some come to learn and others to network. And we learn from them.

How much time are you devoting to your ABA section chair responsibilities?

On some days, 40 to 50 percent. Other days are lighter. I find it very satisfying.

Did you always intend to be an attorney?

I originally wanted to go into broadcasting in New York or maybe enter politics. I thought the law would offer a good entree, but then I found that I enjoyed law. When I got my master's in tax law at the University of Florida, they asked me to stay and teach for a year. I thought about teaching but wanted to practice law. I did litigation for a few years in Daytona Beach. Then I landed at Carlton Fields, which at the time was downtown in Tampa's old Exchange Bank building with about 70 lawyers. (Carlton Fields now has more than 300 attorneys.)

You are a Florida native, yes?

True. My parents moved to Daytona Beach. They were Holocaust survivors from eastern Poland.

What do you do in what little spare time you have?

Family is important. I stay current with law developments. I read. Some recent books are Michael Chabon's Kavalier & Clay and an economics book by Thomas Sowell.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

As bar association chief, Carlton Fields attorney seeks effective change 10/11/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 11, 2009 4:30am]
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