Attorney, United States Navy veteran, community volunteer and scholar. F. “Jahra” McLawrence was born on August 11, 1972, in Portsmouth, Dominica in the West Indies.
In Dominica, McLawrence was raised by his great-aunt and her husband. As a child, he overcame childhood malnutrition and pneumonia. At age seven, he immigrated to Queens, New York, to live with his single mother, a medical secretary, in the tough government housing projects.
McLawrence’s mother continually reinforced the importance of a good education. In 1986, McLawrence was accepted into one of only three prestigious specialized New York City high schools, Brooklyn Technical High School. Acceptance at this top high school came at a price for the adolescent McLawrence, as he was frequently forced to defend himself on the subway rides between Queens and Brooklyn.
“I remember having to fight almost every other week just so I could go to school and get a good education,” McLawrence says. “That experience was definitely a turning point in my life. It taught me, more than anything else, that nothing, not even an education, was going to come to me without a struggle.” After high school, McLawrence joined the U.S. Navy, to give back to the country that gave him so much. During his time in the Navy, McLawrence served tours in Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After serving for more than four years and traveling around the world while in the military, he enrolled at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee. While at FAMU, he worked several odd jobs, including as astockboy at Eckerd’s, salesperson at Gayfer’s department store, electrician for a construction company, computer lab technician, and graduate school assistant— all to earn money to cover tuition and living expenses.
Although McLawrence started college five years later than his peers, due to his service in the military, he was determined to make the most of his educational opportunity. And that he did. McLawrence not only completed his bachelor’s degree in three years, he was also inducted into the Golden Key National Honor Society and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s of science in accounting.
Following college, McLawrence matriculated through law school at the University of Florida Levin College of Law inGainesville. At UF, he was selected as a member of the Florida Journal of International Law. After graduating law school and passing the Florida Bar Examination in 2001, McLawrence worked as a law clerk for the firm of Stephen Rakusin, P.A., in Fort Lauderdale, which specialized in creditor’s rights and construction lien litigation.
In 2003, McLawrence fulfilled a personal promise to protect the constitutional rights of the indigent, by joining the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. Soon after, McLawrence became an adjunct professor at Florida International University, where he taught “Women, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System” and “The Legal Issues in Corrections.” In 2006, in keeping with his passion for the law, he
served as a guest lecturer for the Florida Bar, discussing civil and criminal procedure. He now operates his own firm in Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to his dedication to the law, McLawrence makes a conscious effort to give back to Broward’s communities. He has conducted legal seminars at churches and schools throughout South Florida and mentored youngsters in the Public Defender’s summer justice program. He volunteers with the NAACP and the Urban League, and supports numerous community activities.