Branding With A Passion

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down for a brief interview with Mike Freed, shareholder and business litigator at the Gunster law firm’s office in Jacksonville, Florida. Mike is the president-elect of the National Council of Bar Presidents, and a man of diverse talents and interests. We discussed some of his hobbies and how his passions outside of the law have affected his professional brand.

Jason Long (JL): Tell the readers a little bit about your practice. What kind of work do you do? Are you in a firm? How large? What are the expectations when it comes to developing business?

Mike Freed (MF): I am board certified in business litigation. I am a shareholder with Gunster—one of the largest Florida-only firms. We have 200 lawyers in 13 offices around the state. We are a full-service business firm. Gunster is a tremendous firm, full of talented and relational professionals. All of our shareholders are not only skilled practitioners but also rainmakers. We represent entrepreneurs and we act entrepreneurially.

JL: You are, in many ways, a renaissance man. What are your hobbies and interests outside of the practice of law?

MF: I have too many to name, but here are a few: philanthropy and board service, faith life, running, percussion, stand-up comedy, teaching law school (I have developed a curriculum entitled: Practical Lawyering for the 21st Century)…

JL: I wanted to focus on two hobbies in particular: Your love of running and your penchant for stand-up comedy. How long have you been running and how did you get into it?

MF: Like so much of my life, I kind of backed into running. I have only been running for about five years. I came up with the idea of raising money for legal aid by running across the state—six marathons over six days. Once the donations started flowing in, I figured I had better figure out how to run… a lot! So, I ran 14 miles the next day, a marathon the next month, and so on. Since then, I have run the six marathons as part of “FreedToRun” each year, and have run a number of other marathons and ultramarathons (distances over 26.2 miles). I’m not fast, but I am able to run long distances and recover quickly. I attribute this ability to the fact that I was in the debate club while my cooler classmates were banging into each other on the football field. In other words, being picked last for dodge-ball has turned out to be an asset; I will be one of the best athletes in the senior citizens’ home.

JL: Give the readers some idea of the extent of your passion for running. We aren’t talking about an occasional 5K race, are we?

MF: While training for FreedToRun each year, I run 75-125 miles per week, sometimes running as much as 50 miles in a day.

JL: I understand you formed a foundation related to your running. Tell us about that.

MF: I trademarked the name FreedToRun, but it’s not a foundation or an organization. It’s a name around which I fundraise for other organizations. My goal with FreedToRun is to help organizations that already are doing good work with raising money to sustain or create important programs. I enlist others to run, volunteer, donate, and spread the word, and the money goes right to the beneficiary organization. No costs, no board meetings, no bureaucracy—nothing but positive impact without wastefulness! It’s a solid model that helps organizations be FreedToRun their programs and helps their constituents be FreedToRun more capably in their lives. You can find out more at

JL: Have you found that your passion for running has translated into a brand identity for you?

MF: Yes. For sure. I often get introduced as “that lawyer who runs for charity” and the like. That’s fun, and I am always quick to follow up by asking whoever I’m introduced to get involved. To the extent it has become or enhanced my brand identity, I believe it comes from a place of authenticity. If I just did it to build an identity, I think people would see through that and it would not be effective, let alone beneficial.

JL: Are there any clients you have gotten because you are a runner?

MF: I have built and enhanced relationships through running and FreedToRun, and some of those relationships are with clients and referral sources.

JL: How did the stand-up comedy start?

MF: I have always been a frustrated comedian, which is to say I have shared what I thought was humorous in settings that were not always the best for comedy. Sometimes this has resulted in awkwardness, and sometimes in a much-needed breaking of the tension. About two years ago, I participated in an eight-week workshop on stand-up at a local comedy club that was capped off with a five-minute graduation show. The club owner asked me to stay on as one of his regulars and I have been doing regular shows since.

JL: Have you had any official gigs?

MF: Absolutely. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t do a show. It has been a challenge during the pandemic, but I have taken the opportunity to bring levity to on-line meetings, conferences, and fundraisers by doing comedy. It’s actually a fun way to engage with an audience and get feedback on the material. You can find out more at

JL: Do you find that translates into your marketing as a lawyer as well? Has it been well received?

MF: I have heard nothing but positive things—at least to my face. The reaction seems to be “that takes a lot of guts!” I think clients want lawyers with guts. There are many good lawyers. All else equal, clients like to interact with interesting people. I like to think that my comedy is an interesting conversation piece.

JL: Do you engage your clients in your passions?

MF: There is a time and place. I have always been relational with my clients and referral sources. They either are, or they become, friends. I care about what interests them… passions, family, challenges, etc., and they generally care about me and want to share in, and support, my passions. The fact that my running and comedy passions are outward-facing makes it easier for clients to share in them.

JL: Any advice for lawyers who want to pursue their passions but are afraid the practice of law demands too much of their time?

MF: Being well-rounded and pursuing your passions not only will increase your satisfaction with your career and life, but it will make you more interesting, which is generally going to benefit you professionally. Discover, or re-discover, what you care about. You should not do it to build a brand or get business; but, if it is authentic, there is a good chance it will enhance both.

About the Author

Jason Long is an attorney with London Amburn, is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association, and is a member of the executive council of the National Conference of Bar Presidents.

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