Dan O'Keefe

Seeing Double: How a Gator twin found dual passions in business and law

Dan O’Keefe found his place at the crossroads of business and law. He’s now using his education to give back to UF through his work on the Board of Trustees.

When Dan O’Keefe (BSBA ’90, JD ’95) thinks back to why he chose to apply to the University of Florida in the late 1980s, two factors stood out – UF’s reputation and affordability. It also helped that his twin brother, Doug (BSBA ‘90, JD ‘94), would be attending UF at the same time.

“The finances made it an easy decision to choose UF,” O’Keefe said. “My twin brother also studied business, and we had some classes together. We used to look almost identical, and when we were at school together, we would change shirts halfway through the day. It fooled a lot of people!”

The twins would also go on to both earn their JDs from the UF Levin College of Law. Arriving at the decision to do so was very different for Dan O’Keefe than it was for his brother, though.

While Doug O’Keefe had always been set on law school, Dan O’Keefe’s experience after earning his undergraduate degree in business cultivated his interest in adding law to his resume.  

O’Keefe’s first job out of college was with what is now Bank of America in its management training program. In the role, he worked with several lawyers, an experience through which O’Keefe realized that attorneys did more than sit in a courtroom.

“I was really fortunate to have the management training experience because they were training us to be the future managers of this financial institution while paying us to do so,” he said. “Having that experience and perspective was critical when I went to law school. I wasn’t learning in the abstract and was able to apply so much of what I learned in the business world to my law studies.”

The combination of business and law would lead O’Keefe to what he describes as his “natural fit” – real estate law. After graduating with his law degree, O’Keefe started his practice in real estate law at Foley & Lardner, a firm with 800-plus lawyers at the time. Out of the firm’s Orlando office, O’Keefe represented many financial institutions in real estate deals for three years before joining the firm he’s been with ever since – Shutts & Bowen.

When O’Keefe started with Shutts & Bowen in 1999, it was a much smaller firm than he was used to, with around 15 attorneys at the time. O’Keefe continued to focus on real estate law at the new firm, representing many developers throughout the process of turning raw land into residential and commercial properties, and eventually became one of the firm’s youngest equity partners.

“Combining law with finance, that’s the essence of most real estate deals,” he noted. “Having a business background in my career and school gave me an advantage in law, especially in attracting business clients.”

In addition to his work at Shutts & Bowen, O’Keefe was chairman of the South Florida Water Management District for six years – a role that made use of his experience in business, law and real estate projects as well as his personal passion for protecting Florida’s resources.

As an avid outdoor and water-sport enthusiast, the appointment by then-Governor Rick Scott in 2011 was an honor and opportunity for O’Keefe to oversee water resources in the Everglades and 16 Florida counties and learn more about working with both business and government agencies.

In the chairman role, O’Keefe led the board’s efforts, from working with the Department of Environmental Protection to the Army Corps of Engineers to bringing government officials into the Everglades on air boats to highlight its significance, which resulted in the state dedicating more than $4 billion to the restoration of the Everglades and other wetland protections.

O’Keefe’s years of practicing real estate law and work on the South Florida Water Management District would prepare him for the role he still holds today, serving as Co-Managing Partner of Shutts & Bowen’s Orlando office. In his role, he is solely focused on real estate, mostly development and some transactional real estate, for clients like national home builders. In addition, O’Keefe also manages the real estate investments of clients ranging from professional athletes to high-net worth families.

While O’Keefe’s days are filled with discussing strategy and having calls with clients on their business and legal issues, he gets to spend time each day giving back to his beloved alma mater as a member of the University of Florida Board of Trustees.

“To be able to be involved and contribute to a school I really love is incredible,” he said.

The source of O’Keefe’s passion for the University of Florida extends beyond his experiences in classrooms at the Warrington College of Business and Levin College of Law. It’s the place where he met his wife of almost 30 years, Linda (BDES ’91) and the institution that has educated three of his children, with hopes that the fourth will make them a Gator family of six.

While the scope of the work that can be done at the university is large, O’Keefe focuses his efforts on three areas he’s particularly passionate about – real estate, finance and the student experience.

“I never want anyone to feel like a number at UF,” he said. “I don’t want to lose track of what’s important when looking at all the metrics. We want to make sure that everyone feels valued and that we’re proud to have them at the University of Florida.”

One such strategy to improving the student experience that O’Keefe is particularly proud of is the implementation of surveying students after they use UF services. Through feedback from students, departments and services can see data on what can be improved in their student offerings.

A personal suggestion O’Keefe has to students about not getting lost in the sea of their 60,000+ peers is to get involved in a way that’s important to them.

“Like most things in life, you get out what you put in,” he said. “Don’t just do the bare minimum, like going to class and studying. Find something that interests you, be a part of a community and get engaged. You’ll get so much more when you give.”