TAMPA — Glenn Burton did not take himself too seriously. Photos document a lifetime of mugging for the camera.
He joked about his weight, and when scuba diving in a wet suit often referred to himself as "the manatee."
He pranked co-workers with a fake rat in the office microwave.
But Mr. Burton took the legal profession seriously. He conducted top-level seminars for the Florida Bar, and helped write the recently updated Florida Medical Malpractice Handbook.
As incoming chairman of the Bar's section on trial lawyers, he had big plans to restore basic manners and respect among opposing lawyers — something he felt too many lawyers have lacked in recent years.
Mr. Burton died Wednesday, of cardiac arrest. He was 51.
Earlier this month, he talked to colleagues about his mission. "Glenn was so hopped up," said law partner Ken Beytin, 56. He was insisting, 'We have to get the trial lawyers involved, the plaintiffs' lawyers, the judges, the Florida Supreme Court justices.' "
He wanted to reverse a climate between lawyers that stretches beyond zeal into outright hostility, colleagues say. Some of the signs of the times include trading blistering e-mails, playing tug-of-war over routine business, and withholding information.
"It used to be that your word was your bond, and a handshake would do it and at the end of the day you could go for a drink with opposing counsel," said Mindy McLaughlin, 38, the third partner in Burton, Beytin and McLaughlin. "That seems to have disintegrated into a very adversarial process in which the plaintiff's bar and the defense bar are unnecessarily segregated."
"It's getting meaner out there," said brother Steve Burton, 48, also a lawyer. "You are seeing a lack of civility at all levels, including the appellate level."
On Wednesday, Mr. Burton was returning from a Florida Bar conference in Orlando.
"He had so many plans and goals for the upcoming year," said his wife, Nancy, 53, who had been riding in the passenger seat as he drove down Interstate 4.
Mr. Burton talked about those plans, including a retreat in which lawyers who usually represent opposite sides of cases would get to know each other. If opposing sides knew each other, maybe they would treat each other better.
The Burtons were almost home, approaching the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, when Mr. Burton collapsed at the wheel. His wife steered to car to the side of the road. He died the same day.
Many of Mr. Burton's plans, such as the retreats, may yet be realized. Though his leadership term for the Bar lasted only a year, he had been meeting with likely successors, his wife said. One by one, he had been bringing them on board.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2248.