When people think of a lawyer, they often conjure an image of a brisk-walking, suit-wearing, briefcase-toting professional. They imagine a partner in a big city law firm, working long hours defending large corporations, buried in paperwork. If you pictured Attorney Stephanie A. Russo the same way… you’d be right. At least, until recently.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Stephanie moved to South Florida in 1996 to attend law school at the University of Miami, School of Law. For most of her legal career, she was a partner at large law firms in West Palm Beach and then Miami. Stephanie met her husband, Frank, at a Miami Hurricanes football game. Frank also is a UM graduate and avid Canes fan, and the two settled in Miami, where Frank grew up.
The happy couple grew their careers while raising their daughter, Brooke. Whenever city life became too much, they visited the Keys, reveling in the slower-paced lifestyle. “Even if we only came for lunch, we always felt like we were on vacation as soon as we hit the Overseas Highway.” Their visits became more and more frequent, and they realized they wanted to end the short vacations and make a permanent move. So, they bought a home and moved to Key Largo in 2015.
Since then, Stephanie has been enjoying more time with her family and, of course, more time on the water — boating, fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. However, she was still working as a partner at her large law firm in Miami.
SILVER LINING OF THE PANDEMIC
Stephanie is a seasoned and accomplished Florida Bar board certified health care lawyer with over 25 years of legal experience. Yet, at the outset of the pandemic, she was directed by her hospital system clients to immediately cease all non-pandemic-related legal services because they considered these services to be “non-essential.” At the time, Stephanie was devastated. Overnight, she went from a high-volume practice to having little legal work to do. But Stephanie soon realized the silver lining to her situation. For the first time since she began practicing law, Stephanie had time to stop, take a deep breath, and reevaluate her professional life.
As a partner in a large multi-office firm, Stephanie was asked every year by her firm’s management committee what more she could do to increase its bottom line – demanding more billable hours and higher hourly rates with little concern for much else. Stephanie says, “Firm requirements with tunnel vision targeted on billable hours, coupled with administrative tasks and firm politics, left me with no time to focus on what matters most – really getting to know my clients, doing excellent, tailored legal work for individuals, as well as corporate clients, and balancing my legal life with quality time spent with family, friends, and members of my local community.”
Stephanie became a lawyer because she loves the intellectual challenge of finding solutions to complex legal problems, which is why she excelled at her big city firm. However, the personal aspect of practicing law was getting lost in the big city hustle. When her work was deemed “non-essential,” Stephanie realized change was essential to become the lawyer she always intended to be.
TIME FOR CHANGE
With time on her hands to reassess during the pandemic, Stephanie realized she needed a drastic change. She became a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family, Circuit and County Court mediator and attended Elder Law College. Her Elder Law College instructor said something that reminded Stephanie of why she became an attorney — to help people. He said Elder Law attorneys are privileged to practice in this field; they can “do well by doing good.”
As a result, Stephanie decided to quit the big firm to pursue her true professional passion. She opened Russo Law and Mediation in the Keys and is now practicing law her way. Stephanie bought an office building in Islamorada with conference rooms for her mediation practice. She still practices Health Law, Contracts, and Corporate Law; however, she devotes much of her attention to the more personal sides of the law, including Estate Planning and Elder Law, and she also expanded her practice to include Nonprofit Law. No longer having to meet former law firm demands, she has finally fully transitioned to the Keys lifestyle, enjoying more time with her family and the friends she’s made in between helping her clients.
PROTECTING YOUR HEALTH & WEALTH
Elder Law is a specialized field that includes estate planning and long-term care planning. Traditional estate planning controls what will happen to your assets after your death, but the first priority in Elder Law planning is long-term care planning for your lifetime. Stephanie explains that this means creating a plan for you to preserve your assets for your own benefit to make sure you have what you need during your lifetime – quality health care and quality of life. The plan also ensures health and financial decisions will be followed even if you become unable to make your own decisions. The fact that through this planning, you may be able to preserve assets to leave an inheritance is an incidental benefit.
“Many people are not aware that 7 in 10 people will need some form of long-term healthcare. An average nursing home cost in Florida is $9,500 a month, and Medicare and traditional health insurance generally don’t cover long-term care in-home or at a facility,” Stephanie explains. “Without assistance to pay for care, what a person or couple worked their entire life to save for retirement and to leave as a legacy to their family, will not last long.”
Stephanie’s planning services help people protect their legacy and get proper care when they need it most.
ON A MISSION
As a community advocate and lawyer, Stephanie is on a mission to assist as many people as possible to protect their own and their loved ones’ health and wealth from legal and financial hardships that could otherwise be avoided. Her personal mission also extends to the community. Stephanie is an active member and serves on the Board of Directors of both the Rotary Club of Key Largo and the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. She is also the Chair of the Chamber Government Relations Committee.
The responsibility of this Committee is to “identify and advocate on public policy issues that impact or have the potential to impact the creation of a vibrant business or community environment and a better place for us to live and work,” including affordable housing, flood and wind insurance, and taxes. Stephanie is still a brisk-walking, suit-wearing, briefcase-toting professional. But now, she’s exchanged long hours defending only corporate clients for protecting individuals and their families. She’s exchanged being buried in paperwork for burying her feet in the sand with her family. She’s exchanged the big city hustle for small town contentment. Stephanie A. Russo is now the lawyer she always intended to be, balancing work and home life while making a personalized difference in people’s lives and their futures.
–Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.