In 2011, I spent 27 days attending Gerry Spence’s acclaimed “Trial Lawyers College” on a ranch in Dubois, Wyoming. The experience affected me profoundly as a human being and trial lawyer. We apply what I learned there to each of our cases every day. We are especially blessed to have the former President of Trial Lawyers College, Jude Basile, available to us in an Of Counsel capacity. He developed curriculum and teaching materials for Trial Lawyers College for many years. I am blessed to have one of the largest and most successful plaintiffs trial firms of any graduate of Trial Lawyers College. I was recently asked to write about my experiences running a “large” practice from a Trial Lawyers College perspective. I share here what I wrote.
I opened my firm in November 2005 with 2 not-so-promising files, a card table and a boom box. It was me and my Office Manager and Paralegal. A long-time friend, she was the first call I made.
We found office space, signed a lease, and sat around for close to two weeks waiting for the telephone and internet to work. I found someone to design us a logo, business cards and a website. Eventually we came by some furniture. We held ourselves out as personal injury trial lawyers. And so, “The Gomez Law Firm” was born.
Ten years later, “Gomez Trial Attorneys” includes 3 offices, 21 attorneys, and close to 50 legal professionals. Our practice areas include not only personal injury, but class actions, mass torts, business and environmental litigation. We represent thousands of human beings in class and mass tort litigation and scores of government entities, including the cities of San Diego, San Jose and Spokane in environmental litigation against Monsanto Corporation. Roughly halfway through my firm’s ten years, in September 2011, I attended and graduated from the Trial Lawyers College. I write here to describe my struggles, successes and approaches to running a large firm as a Trial Lawyers College graduate. I hope that perhaps my experiences may help one or more of you.
One thing I learned from Trial Lawyers College is the importance of an intense human connection between lawyer and client. Some have suggested that, to truly serve our clients well, we must limit the numbers of those clients – and by extension, the size of our firms. I see things differently. I believe my firm’s very large “reach”, in numbers of people we represent, the people we employ, and the cases we litigate – allows us to help more people, and hence, do more good in the world. In addition, and regardless of the nature of the case we litigate, we represent one human being at a time. We employ approaches and controls to ensure that every single human being we help receives every single ounce of our human connection and care.
I believe that the very best predictor of organizational success is the energy, spirit, health and wellbeing of that organization’s members. To that end, I have always focused on hiring positive, happy, upbeat people that are kind and compassionate human beings. We provide longevity bonuses, gym and yoga memberships, enjoy inspirational speakers and “field trips” together, and otherwise treat each other as family. Jude Basile, former Trial Lawyers College President and Of Counsel to Gomez Trial Attorneys, leads group work where we reveal ourselves at a deeper level and come together more closely as a family.
Trial Lawyers First
We always have and always will try many cases before juries. We intensely believe that, only through actually trying cases before juries, can we obtain full and complete justice for the people we care about. The title of each of our attorneys is “Trial Attorney” or “Senior Trial Attorney.” Trial is so important to us that we have a full size mock courtroom in our downtown San Diego Office. We use the courtroom to “practice,” conduct focus groups, and work with clients. We also have an in-house trial and graphics consultant. We encourage every lawyer in the firm to take any case necessary to trial. We support our lawyers even after losses and disappointments. We encourage our trial lawyers to take chances.
We strongly encourage our lawyers and legal professionals to remain active and involved in the legal and larger communities. Our lawyers currently serve in a number of leadership capacities in local and national bar associations and legal organizations. We also give back heavily in terms of both money and time to local, national and international charities. We are so committed to charity and community service that we have employed a “Director of Outreach,” that coordinates our giving and volunteer activities. We believe that, as trial lawyers, we have a responsibility to improve our communities not only through litigation but also community service.
Our lawyers enjoy outstanding reputations both on the bench and in the larger legal community. We are always reasonable, professional and civil. We do not believe we need to bully, bluster or boast. We let our trial results speak for themselves.
Running the firm
Over the past ten years we have enjoyed tremendous success. With growth, however, have been challenges. As we continue to grow both in practice areas and numbers, we have gone deep into debt several times. We have had lawyers and employees leave unexpectedly. We have lost tremendous amounts of money and time in trials that didn’t go our way. Despite all that, we now are more successful than ever. The key, from my perspective, was sticking to our vision and core values: We hire the very best human beings that we can, we work harder than anyone else, and we are fearless about trying cases. I also have learned to delegate. I have great people directly in charge of virtually every operational component of the firm, freeing me to try cases, help my lawyers prepare for trial, and help other lawyers to try cases. That, of course, is my highest and best use and what has made us successful so far.
For me personally
Many of my lawyer friends worry about me. They calculate what they think my overhead is (it’s higher believe me) and shake their heads, feeling sorry for me. They look at my trial schedule and wonder how I’m still alive. The funny thing is, ten years later, with my firm larger than it has ever been, I’m happier than ever. Because I have so many great people working for me, I can spend the time I need to with my kids. This year, I coached 3 separate teams for them. I take time for myself and get away between trials and when I need it. I take time each day to connect with and worship God. I practice and express gratitude. I enjoy time with the woman I love. I strongly believe that to be an effective leader, I need to take care of myself physically. I train intensely (for a guy my age at least) in boxing, jiu-jitsu and yoga. I take care of myself first, so that I can take care of my firm and all the responsibilities that come with it.
As graduates of Trial Lawyers College, we enjoy an understanding of ourselves that some others may lack. That has allowed me to develop and run my firm in a way that best expresses my values and my humanity. I suggest that any of you will have the same success that I have been blessed to have enjoyed if you embrace and practice consistent core values and take care of yourselves and those you work with as human beings. And try cases. We all graduated from the Trial Lawyers College after all.