With a Song in My Court

Tall and solidly built, attorney Richard Friedman is informally attired in an indigo denim shirt, stonewashed jeans, and white leather sneakers. A sliver of white undershirt peeks out from his open collar, bespeaking lawyerly propriety. The midfiftyish Friedman has spent the day moving from his Dadeland Towers office in Kendall to a smaller setup across U.S. 1. Stark white walls embellished with gray squiggles are half-covered with diplomas and certificates. Several more sit waiting to be hung, neatly stacked in two rows on a side table. A pair of chairs are placed squarely in front of his enormous wooden desk. Behind them, barely noticeable, a tiny table rests against a wall; it holds a telephone and one of those push-button gadgets for processing credit card payments.

Credit card payments? Money and lawyers have always been a natural pair in crime-happy Dade. But charging legal fees to a credit card seems a bit extreme, even by Miami standards. Does Friedman actually intend to collect his fees via plastic? Actually, no. In this case the contraption will be put to an even more unexpected use: taking phone orders and processing payments for Friedman's compact disc. Friedman, you see, is no ordinary lawyer. He is the "Singing Attorney," an appellation he hopes to trademark soon.

Friedman may be the Singing Attorney, but he is by no means the only singing attorney in town. Far from it. Indeed, South Florida plays host to a small but vocal group of lawyer/entertainers who balance the practice of law with the performance of music.

Why would successful professionals -- lawyers, no less -- want to endure the frustrations of the music biz? Have too many years of living in flashy Miami convinced them that they might be the next big thing? Or does competing in a county surfeited with more than 10,000 attorneys make scoring a Grammy seem easy by comparison?

Friedman reclines in a high-backed burgundy leather chair. Piles of folders occupy his desk top, as do his feet. "I enjoy practicing law," he says. "Ever since I was eleven, I wanted to be a lawyer, but I've eased out of practicing to a great degree. For me music is a passion. I love it. It provides immediate gratification. People show their enjoyment and pleasure instantly. There's a lot of love when you share your inner self through your interpretation of lyrics and music. You can communicate the song to the public and it gets to them. And you can kind of turn on their spirit and make them feel good, make them feel excited. I like to get people excited when I sing. They're never bored."

A graduate of the University of Miami Law School and a practicing attorney for the past 30 years, Friedman remembers first exhibiting a flair for performing at age four: "I used to walk down the street singing at the top of my lungs." Over the years, however, music took a back seat to his career as a securities attorney. While Friedman kept his pipes in shape over the years by performing at various charity events, only recently did he decide to take his music more seriously.

On July 4, 1996, Friedman executive-produced and released For Love of Country, on his own All-Star Music label. The fifteen-track disc consists entirely of American patriotic songs. A sort of jurist Jim Nabors -- although he would rather be compared with Broadway boomer Howard Keel -- Friedman has a robust voice that he likes to note has been heard by millions.

While For Love of Country didn't exactly light up the charts or spur a world tour, Friedman has played a number of stadiums. He frequently belts out the national anthem at local sporting events -- some nationally televised -- including a Florida Panthers game and several Miami Dolphins games.

Unfortunately, even performing the stadium circuit doesn't guarantee the monetary rewards that most performers hope for. Sometimes cleaving to the dream of playing music means more anguish than self-actualization.

According to Charlie Pickett, frontman for a number of rock bands he characterizes as "small famous" ("known by thousands and unknown by millions") in the early to mid-Eighties and now a securities lawyer at Boose, Casey, Ciklin in Palm Beach, the music business is not so quick to recognize toil.

"The work of law is very, very hard, but at least I know that the harder I work, the more I make. In music, we worked incredibly hard for so long," says the 44-year-old Pickett, who still performs occasionally at Churchill's Hideaway. "We were almost at the same level for six years. We could tour clubs, make records, hang out with famous people -- I jammed with R.E.M. at least half a dozen times. While that was a great lift, a great boost, we did everything but make money, and that was frustrating. If I could have had just a small hit, I would have been so much happier as a musician."

Henk Milne, age 44, a partner in the downtown Miami firm of Aballi, Milne, Kalil & Garrigo, is the lead singer and songwriter for the Volunteers. (The band, which plays rock with a folky Irish bent, includes one-time Maverick guitar player Ben Peeler.) "I started out first as a rock and roll guitarist, purely for the joy of it," Milne says. "The main thing was to be in a band and to have a good time and create music."

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