- Law Job Star
The Life and Career of larger than life Miami Attorney Ira Elegant
by Mary Waldron
Ever since news broke that the seven-foot center for the Phoenix Suns was divorcing his wife of five years, Shaunie Nelson, Elegant has been behind the scenes handling the case.
Elegant originally wanted to become an electrical engineer, but the more math he took in high school, the more abstract the profession became to him. As a result, he decided to reset his sights on the law.
"I had a number of uncles who were lawyers, and I turned to law," says Elegant.
Elegant studied economics in undergraduate school with a minor in psychology and graduated from the University of Miami in 1963. He also returned to the University of Miami for law school, from which he graduated in 1966.
After his first year in law school, Elegant began working in the law office of a former circuit court judge. Here, he spent his days, nights, and weekends working all throughout law school. The office handled many types of cases, including divorce cases. It was here that Elegant got his first taste of handling divorce cases — aside from his own.
"I think the first divorce case I had was my own — that was in law school," he says.
Other than his own, Elegant's first significant divorce case was that of Ben Novak, the owner of the popular Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, and his wife.
"We represented the wife, and I was the law student law clerk who had over 200 hours in that case. I had no idea why I was keeping time; I was being paid $100 per month," Elegant says.
Elegant continued with the firm for the first year he was an attorney. In 1967 he transitioned to the city attorney's office, where he became the first assistant. Elegant worked as a first assistant for three years until he was offered the position of city attorney.
"They wanted me to stay on as city attorney, which was a great honor — I was a young kid, and it was a great idea," he says.
Instead of snatching up the opportunity, however, Elegant decided to branch out a bit. He next worked as in-house counsel for industrialist Victor Posner for six years.
"I was an officer and director for most of his companies. I coordinated all of his litigation throughout the U.S.," Elegant says.
"We had somebody else in the firm before, but this is the odd couple," says Elegant of the business-partner match made in heaven. The duo handles family law and commercial litigation mostly.
"I used to do more family law," Elegant says. "Probably more of my work today is commercial and real estate oriented and just very hard, grinding litigation. I also do a lot of governmental work. I represent municipalities. I handle cases against municipalities and governmental agencies. It's a strange mix."
"In criminal law you see bad people at their best, and in divorce law you see good people at their worst," Elegant says of the toll family law takes on its attorneys. "In any number of divorce cases, you see custody issues. Half the time people don't communicate with one another or want to communicate, and you know who gets short-changed: children. That's the tragic part of those cases."
Ever since the summer of 2007, Elegant has been representing basketball legend Shaquille "Shaq" O'Neal in his divorce of ex-wife Shaunie Nelson. O'Neal filed for divorce early last September. The petition that Elegant submitted stated that the marriage had been "irretrievably broken." The petition also states that Nelson has been "secretive about her assets." Allegedly she has been hiding the couple's wealth in offshore accounts, and O'Neal has demanded that all money she came into during the marriage be investigated. Rumors have also surfaced that Nelson may have been having an affair with her personal trainer.
Because the case is still pending, Elegant won't dish out many details about the case's progress, but based on Elegant's track record, I project he'll earn a slam dunk for Shaq.
Looking back at his own career, Elegant has found mentorship in the attorneys he worked with at his first law firm job, in addition to some other admirable lawyers.
"One of the greatest lawyers that Florida produced was Marion Sibley. I had the pleasure of working with him on a number of cases before he died. He was an absolute genius," Elegant says.
"Preparation is the key," Elegant says with regard to being a good attorney. "If somebody goes to law school and learns how to think like a lawyer, that's the biggest thing he or she can get. A lot of people think they can just wing it, but that doesn't work."