Taking Nothing for Granted
A life-threatening medical condition can alter a person’s life and influence their future goals. It happened to attorney Phil DiComo.
He was just 38 years-old when a relatively minor heart condition detected in his teens became problematic. Phil was camping with his wife, six year-old daughter and friends at Disney World in 2003 when he noticed alarming changes to his physical and mental well-being. “I couldn’t hammer a nail correctly, later I sat down to play poker and couldn’t concentrate, and when I went to bed I had trouble breathing,” he recalls. “That’s when my wife, Karolyn turned to me and said, ‘We need to go to the doctor.’”
Five months later Phil underwent open heart surgery for a mitral valve repair at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. He calls the medical event, life changing. “It made me realize you’ve got to value what you’ve got.”
The traumatic experience also motivated Phil to rethink his career and eventually leave a larger law firm for Haile Shaw & Pfaffenberger, P.A. in North Palm Beach, where he’s a shareholder today. It was a strategic move that would allow him to concentrate on areas he loves best, nonprofit law and emerging companies. “I started working with all these businesses that can’t afford the big firms; privately held companies just above the mom and pops – and I could pursue nonprofit work.”
You might say Phil’s commitment to the nonprofit world is ingrained in his DNA. He spent the first 15 years of his career working in public broadcasting, a path he chose as a young man.
While an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, Phil drew up a list of 10 places he’d like to work after graduation and called each one. Nonprofit organizations dominated the list. “I wanted something beyond making money and that was focused on the public good.”
The job-searching strategy helped Phil land a job in Membership and Development at Miami’s public television station, WPBT. He went on to work at WXEL-TV in Palm Beach County and eventually became Vice President of Marketing and Development. “I literally did a bit of everything and could pretty much work in any position at the stations, from radio and television production to programming.”
However, during his years in broadcasting, the idea of attending law school was always in the back of Phil’s mind. One evening an underwriting spot at WXEL caught his attention. NOVA Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center was starting an evening program. That news, coupled with the fact that his wife was about to begin a master’s degree program and she wouldn’t be home many nights, convinced Phil the timing was right for law school. “Attorneys are always surprised I went to law school at night. They ask ‘How did you do that?’ and my answer is always the same, ‘You don’t think about it, you just do it.’”
Thanks to that dual career path, a special synergy abounds at Haile Shaw & Pfaffenberger, P.A., as Phil’s nonprofit work has snowballed over the years. “My background gives me good context to understand my clients. I understand the issues from the inside.” Phil also notes that nonprofits and startup companies deal with a lot of the same issues related to funding and boards of directors. It’s all made practicing law highly enjoyable for Phil. “It certainly makes law more interesting being grounded in something I did before being an attorney.”
Amicable and very approachable, Phil attributes his success on all fronts to a strong work ethic instilled by his parents. As a boy growing up in Florida, he saw how hard his parents worked and he says it was driven by the common working class goal of wanting to provide a better life for their children. “I saw that in my parents and it’s how I’ve lived.”
Outside of work, Phil enjoys simple pleasures. He recharges by doing yardwork and spending time with his wife and daughter, Kara, who is now 21 and a senior at New College of Florida. He also appreciates Florida’s year-round beautiful weather. “I like getting up early and sitting outside with my coffee, listening to and watching the birds.”
Simple pleasures, enjoyed by a man who understands the value of everything he’s got.
F – French fries or tater tots? Depends
R – Right brained or left brained? Left brained
E – Email or carrier pigeon? Depends
S – Sunshine or moonlight? Yes
H – Homebody or party animal? Homebody