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Defending Property Rights

SIX DECADES AGO, MIAMI ATTORNEY E.F.P. Brigham had to convince his banker that a construction loan for a law office at Brickell Avenue and S.W. 8th Street made sense, since conducting business in that historically residential area was rather unprecedented. In the 1960s, his son Toby joined a thriving general law practice at the “Brigham Building” on Brickell, and later devoted his practice primarily to defense of landowners in condemnation proceedings. Today, Amy Brigham Boulris is continuing that family tradition as a third-generation property rights defense lawyer and equity partner at Brigham Moore LLC in Coral Gables.

“Although my grandfather and father were lawyers, I really wrestled with what to do with my life, and thought teaching might be my calling,” says Boulris, who majored in English at Wheaton College near Chicago. “My father encouraged me to attend at least the first year of law school because, even if I never practiced law, it would be a valuable experience. During that year, I fell in love with constitutional law and knew I wanted to work in that field.”

While at the University of Miami School of Law, Amy Brigham also fell in love with a classmate, Mark Boulris, who was seated next to her in the “B” row of contracts class. They married after earning their degrees and now have four daughters, ages 4 to 14.

Upon graduation, Brigham Boulris faced a difficult professional decision: join her father’s firm or strike out in a different direction. “I talked about it with my dad, and saw it as a very special opportunity,” she says. “We agreed that if working together negatively affected our father-daughter relationship, I would go elsewhere. While we are different people with different styles, it’s been a joy, and 22 years later, we’re still working together.”

Boulris has devoted her practice to the defense of constitutional property rights in eminent domain, inverse condemnation, property-related civil rights claims, and related land-use litigation. For over a decade, she has headed the firm’s appellate practice and provides litigation support in many of its most complex cases around the state. “Not only do I enjoy writing and arguing to the bench, but transitioning to a primarily appellate practice has allowed me to work a more flexible schedule, facilitating my most enjoyable and important job — mothering our four daughters,” she says.

Though Boulris is lead counsel on a cache of her own cases, she relishes her frequent litigation support role because she enjoys collaborative teamwork on the firm’s most intriguing cases. This spring Boulris collaborated with partner, Juan Muniz, in achieving a $24.5 million settlement for a Cutler Bay property owner in a case involving the South Florida Water Management District. “This was land the district desired to have someday for a water restoration project and so attempted to block a perfectly legitimate development by our client,” she says. “We essentially argued that agencies can’t indefinitely land-bank property. The settlement accomplished public acquisition at a mutually agreeable price, a win-win for our client and the public.”

Another interesting case involves the City of Marathon deciding not to maintain an aging bridge to Boot Key, because of the cost of maintenance. Brigham Boulris won a ruling that the City has an obligation to compensate island landowners who lost vehicular access. She will try the compensation phase of the case with partner, John Little.

Brigham Boulris also considers “giving back” an important part of her life’s work. A strong believer in faith-based community initiatives and education, she has served as president of the Westminster Christian School Foundation, and on the non-profit governing boards of the Christian Community Foundation of South Florida, Intentional Moms, Inc. and Wellspring Counseling, Inc.

Within her firm, Boulris enjoys mentoring younger attorneys in the practice and encouraging life-work balance. “There is no one formula for everyone,” she says, “and I haven’t always struck the perfect balance, but it’s important to have those conversations. I think long term professional success depends on maintaining a healthy life balance, particularly as parents of young children.”

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