In September 2021, one of the legal community’s most recognizable names celebrates 50 years of law and service in Fort Myers, Fla. Since 1971, when he established practice in Lee County as the 110th lawyer member of the Lee County Bar Association, with his wife Cheryl by his side, Bruce L. Scheiner and Southwest Florida have achieved countless milestones along a journey which now spans half a century. Bruce’s passion for helping others turned into a paradigm-shifting legal career that has given a voice to countless victims and advanced the cause of equal access to justice regardless of a person’s financial status. Over five decades, Bruce has witnessed the transformation of Fort Myers from a small town to a bustling city with a fast-expanding skyline. He has seen the construction and renovation of airports, the building of bridges—literally and figuratively—and the founding of a full-fledged university.
New bridges during Scheiner’s 50 years: In 1992 the northbound span of the Edison Bridge opened, followed by the southbound span in 1993, replacing a drawbridge. The Midpoint Bridge opened in 1996.
Scheiner grew up in New York City, the son of a firefighter who drove the tiller of a ladder truck from Hook and Ladder 21 located in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Bruce became the first member of his family to graduate from college when he moved to Florida to live with his grandparents and attend the University of Miami. He went on to obtain his law degree from the University of Miami before starting his legal career as an assistant attorney general for the state of Florida. While living and working in Miami, Scheiner’s neighborhood newspaper delivery woman (who also collected the subscription fee back in those days) was robbed twice, prompting his wife, Cheryl, to ask whether the west coast of Florida might offer a better life. Exploring the possibility, Bruce and Cheryl used a gasoline credit card to book a room at what was then the Ramada Inn on West First Street in downtown Fort Myers and visited Sanibel and Captiva before deciding that Southwest Florida was the perfect place to begin their new journey.
Scheiner started his search for a law firm that might want to employ him in the local yellow pages. “I was the outsider from New York and Miami, and wasn’t sure I would be welcomed,” he remembered. He ended up making an office-sharing arrangement with Frank Alderman III where he started as a general practitioner—handling virtually any type of legal case brought to him by a prospective client. A short time thereafter, with Cheryl, who helped establish most of the firm’s policies and procedures, as his office administrator, Scheiner opened his own practice in a two-room office above a restaurant called the Earl of Sandwich in September 1971.
One of his first cases was winning an appeal for a man who was convicted of uttering a forged instrument and denied post-conviction bail pending appeal. Bruce’s early practice encompassed everything from appellate work to criminal defense, probate, and personal injury litigation.
Population surge during Scheiner’s 50 years: Fort Myers grew from 27,351 in 1970 to more than 87,000 today while Lee County’s population exploded from 105,216 to almost 800,000 today.
Early in his practice, he discovered a burning passion to represent people who had been injured in accidents but had a tough time finding or affording good legal counsel. The hourly fee based legal work that Bruce performed in general civil litigation cases created a financial barrier to access justice that Bruce eliminated by representing injured clients on a contingency fee basis. “I found the way to give an average person, the everyday worker, a key to the courthouse where they could hire a lawyer without having to pay a retainer,” Scheiner said. “It put them on equal footing (with big corporations).”
Education changes during Scheiner’s 50 years: Edison College was chartered in 1973 and renamed Florida SouthWestern State College in 2014. Florida Gulf Coast University opened in 1997.
Scheiner’s passion for justice and commitment to fighting for the average citizen helped launch a remarkable career of seeking compassionate justice for those who would otherwise have no voice. Today, his firm has handled more than 25,000 cases. Scheiner endeavors to be personally accessible to all his firm’s clients, reaffirming his personal commitment to combating the perception that attorneys are only accessible to the wealthy—or those who can afford to pay a high hourly rate. “I am most proud of the fact I give each and every one of our firm’s clients my cell phone and tell them I am available to help them 24/7,” he said.
During Scheiner’s 50 years, cities came to life. Cape Coral was incorporated in 1970, the city of Sanibel in 1974, Fort Myers Beach in 1995, Bonita Springs in 1999 and the Village of Estero in 2014.
Protecting the rights of motorcyclists who have been injured in accidents is another passion for Scheiner. “I saw it as a unique area of personal injury law that was underserved,” he said. “I have really enjoyed being able to help motorcyclists and the motorcycle community.” Scheiner’s commitment to the riding community includes sponsoring events promoting motorcycle safety and general community events such as Cape Coral Bike Night.
Scheiner’s community service has also extended to supporting law enforcement agencies in their efforts to promote traffic safety. He is proud to serve on the advisory committee for the Florida Highway Patrol and support law enforcement efforts to combat drunk driving.
Knowing that the success of our community will be shaped by the next generation, Scheiner and his firm founded and presented the annual Make a Difference Award, recognizing local middle and high school students for more than two decades. The Make a Difference program provides scholarships to students who make a positive impact in the community. Bruce is also proud of his longtime support of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Eden Foundation, Lee County Injury Prevention Foundation and the March of Dimes Toys for Tots campaign.
Even after 50 years in Southwest Florida, practicing law and serving others means everything to Scheiner. He has passed this passion on to his son, Preston (P.J.), a trial attorney in the firm who works side-by-side with his father every day. The elder Scheiner is proud to have more than 70 employees, all of whom he proudly kept working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the rare times when he is not working, Bruce can be found outside running four miles a day, exercising on his Peloton bike or paddleboarding.
“As I celebrate 50 years of practicing law, I still love working six to seven days a week, working with staff and talking with people,” Bruce said. “I have been blessed by God with a brain that still works.”