Nancy W. Gregoire says writing an appellate brief can be as challenging as writing a novel. “You have to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end,” she says. “But you also have to argue why it’s the right story.”
In the past 30 years, Gregoire has presented her clients’ cases to appeals courts throughout Florida. A partner at Kirschbaum, Birnbaum, Lippman & Gregoire, PLLC in Fort Lauderdale, she chairs the firm’s appellate practice and litigation support divisions. As a board-certified appellate attorney and a fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, she often counsels and assists trial lawyers in managing the trial record, and in co-counseling on major legal issues that arise in the course of trial.
“Nancy is an exceptional appellate attorney and a pleasure to work with,” says Richard Ivers, a consumer protection attorney in Coral Springs. “She brings a different perspective to each case, and provides an honest opinion of the likelihood of success at the appellate level.”
Gregoire’s longtime assistant and close friend Cheryl Larson agrees. “When you read Nancy’s briefs, you get caught up in the argument and you keep reading to see what happens next. Her use of the English language is unsurpassed and I have the deepest respect for her.”
A longtime leader in professional circles, Gregoire has served on The Florida Bar Board of Governors, The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, and numerous other Florida Bar committees, including the Appellate Court Rules Committee, the Annual Meeting Committee, and the Appellate Practice Certification Committee. She also served as president of Legal Aid Service of Broward County in 2001 and president of the Broward County Bar Association in 2002-2003.
From Teaching to Law
Gregoire came to South Florida at an early age when her parents, Eugene and Eleanor, moved from New York to Florida. Her father had been a stockbroker on Wall Street before changing careers and opening an ice cream parlor in the early 1950s in Tampa.
After high school, Gregoire enrolled at Loyola University in New Orleans and transferred to the University of Florida, planning a career in medicine. In her junior year, she married a law school student and switched her major from pre-med to education. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Gregoire soon got a job as a mathematics teacher at Melrose High School in a small town 20 miles east of Gainesville. The next year she was asked to teach English as well as algebra and trigonometry – a decision that delighted Gregoire, who says, “I have always loved reading and poetry.”
In the late 1960s, Gregoire and her family moved to Fort Lauderdale, where her husband had found a job. She kept busy, raising her daughter Stephanie and adding to her teaching credentials with an education specialist certification from Florida Atlantic University.
However, the marriage fell apart, and Gregoire decided to restart her career as a lawyer. She took classes at the University of Miami School of Law at night as a scholarship student while working as a court transcriptionist during the day. She later married Mark Gregoire, a veteran of the Vietnam War who owned and operated Atlantic Bicycle in Margate, and had a second daughter Meredith.
After becoming an attorney, Gregoire handled litigation cases for a small Broward firm, but soon realized it wasn’t a good fit for her. In 1986, the turning point in her legal career occurred when longtime Fort Lauderdale attorney Terry Russell offered her a position with his firm, Ruden, Barnett, McClosky, Schuster and Russell P.A. “I was tired of litigation, and thought about moving into intellectual property law,” she says. “But Terry knew how much I liked to read and write and suggested that I handle appeals for the firm. It was a great decision, and I’ve never looked back.”
Her first appeals cases involved foreclosures, representing first and second mortgagees, but Gregoire soon found herself handling the firm’s family law appellate work. In 1996, she left the firm to join Bunnell Woulfe, which became Bunnell, Woulfe, Kirschbaum, Keller, McIntyre & Gregoire, P.A., where she stayed until co-founding her current firm in 2006.
While Gregoire has long been active in family law and probate cases, that experience didn’t prepare her for the personal tragedy of losing her husband Mark to pancreatic cancer in 2012. She is an active supporter of cancer research as well as the Wounded Warrior Project, and also serves as president of the Irish Cultural Institute of Florida. Now, she spends family time with her children, three grandchildren and her two cats, and enjoys reading historical novels, including Harper Lee’s recent bestseller, “Go Set a Watchman.”
Handling Commercial Appeals
Through the years, Gregoire has handled thousands of appeals involving many types of cases. For instance, she represented the nephew of a wealthy widow “who took care of her at a time when she had been deserted by everyone else in the family,” she says. “The other family members challenged her will, which left everything to my client. A probate judge said the nephew had unduly influenced the lady, but fortunately we were able to overturn that ruling on appeal.”
In 2015, Gregoire was successful in overturning a trial court’s guardianship ruling for a New Yorker living in a South Florida retirement home. “His advanced directive documents provided for a less-restrictive alternative to guardianship with his former wife serving as representative,” says Gregoire, adding that the Florida Statutes state, “A guardian may not be appointed if the court finds there is an alternative to guardianship which will sufficiently address the problems of the incapacitated person.”
Now, Gregoire focuses primarily on commercial cases, including insurance defense work at the circuit, district, appellate and Florida Supreme Court levels. “It’s very challenging to look at these matters, and you can trace the logic of these cases.”
Gregoire says the Florida personal injury protection (PIP) statute is 16 pages long and filled with complexities,” she says. “It’s easy to misinterpret the statute and believe you are right.” From her perspective, Gregoire says medical providers submit much higher bills to insurers than they charge other payors. “The statute give the test of reasonableness – what would a reasonable person pay for a service – but the courts often grant summary judgment against the insurer,” she says. “Then, it’s my job to handle the appeal of the case.”
The high volume of PIP, foreclosure and red-light traffic cases in South Florida has affected Gregoire’s appellate work. “In Miami-Dade, these cases start in county court, but everyone can appeal the result to circuit court,” she says. For example, she recently presented a case before a panel of three judges on a PIP appeal. “They knew the right questions to ask and my client received a fair hearing,” she added.
In Broward and Palm Beach Counties, similar appellate panels at the circuit court level read the briefs, but hear no oral arguments, she says. “In my opinion, it’s not a good practice for judges to have to handle such a high volume of both trial and appellate cases,” she says. “Our nation, our state and our municipalities need to provide adequate resources for the courts in order to continue to provide justice for all.”
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