TS: What inspired you to become a lawyer? And what did you do prior to becoming a lawyer?
Gourash: When I was very young, I used to watch a TV show called The FBI with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Inspector Lewis Erskine. I became fascinated by criminal justice and was intent on pursuing a career in law enforcement with the hope of getting into the FBI. I studied criminal justice at the University of New Haven, taking courses from the famed forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee. An adjunct professor, Austin J. McGuigan, who was then Connecticut’s Chief State’s Attorney, inspired me to shift my focus from law enforcement to becoming a lawyer, which I did. But, with no one else in my family ever having practiced law, studying law and becoming a new lawyer was foreign territory.
TS: How did you become involved in the ABA?
Gourash: One of the young partners at the law firm I joined out of law school was Alan Kopit. He was ascending through the ranks of the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and eventually became chair. He invited me to the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans in 1986, where I met other young lawyers who became some of my closest friends in life. I was quickly volunteered for a variety of tasks and eventually was elected chair of the YLD in 1993–1994.
TS: What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active in the ABA?
Gourash: By far, the single greatest benefit of becoming active in the ABA is to associate and work with the finest lawyers who have as their mission improving the justice system in America and promoting the rule of law around the world. Beyond that, to be a part of the work that gets done to preserve the independence of the judiciary, to promote diversity in all aspects of the profession, and to improve access to the justice system is extremely rewarding. Of course, the friendships you make along the way are the real treasures.
TS: What early career practices led to your success?
Gourash: I was very fortunate to get trial experience very early in my career. I was taught to think backwards, starting with the likely jury instructions and then building a discovery plan from there. I still use that approach very early in any new matter, regardless of how big or small. This approach also serves me well in the world of litigation budgeting. Another early realization was that I could not imitate anyone else in making presentations in court. Instead, I realized the best way to be truly successful in court is to be myself. And, that means accepting all the imperfections that go along with being authentic to one’s self. Finally, an early tip I learned was the importance of being courteous and friendly with the folks who work in the court on a daily basis. Winning the courtroom, so to speak, goes a long way toward achieving success.
TS: What is your advice for dealing with difficult partners, colleagues, or counsel?
Gourash: First off, do your homework about the partners and colleagues you will be working with before accepting a job at a law firm. Learn whether they have the same interests, work ethic, and fun quotient. Contemplate whether you could be yourself in that firm setting with those people. Second, when working with partners, understand the pressures they face, which are likely different from the ones you are facing. A deadline might seem arbitrary to you, but it may be that the partner set it because that was when she had time to review your work product and get it in shape to provide to the client. In that same vein, work to get clear deadlines and know the assignment and the expected deliverable. The goal is to meet the expectations of the partner. If the partner is difficult to communicate with, use email, find them in the hall, or do whatever it takes to clear up your question. Also, recognize that in some settings, getting to the next step involves competition between and among you and your colleagues. In most settings, that includes being a good team player. Again, know your role on the team and play it well.
TS: What gives you the most satisfaction?
Gourash: I am most satisfied when the expectations of the client are met. This means understanding the business or personal needs of the client, developing a strategy that gives the best chance for serving those needs, and then executing it as efficiently as possible. That does not always mean winning at trial. It could be a settlement or a creative business solution. In the beginning and at the end, the client did not come to you because he or she was having a great day. Clients come to lawyers with problems that they cannot resolve without your help. I am most satisfied when I have helped a client solve that problem, big or small. That is why I became a lawyer.
Dan Gourash’s Advice for New Lawyers:
- To be a successful trial lawyer you need three things: (1) Intelligence to understand the problem presented; (2) Innate curiosity to ask questions that go beyond the obvious; and (3) Endurance, because this is hard work.
- Love what you do. That makes even hard work easy.
- There is no perfect trial. At best, you can anticipate 90 percent of what is going to happen. Preparation allows you to handle the other 10 percent.
- Get out into the community and use all the skills that make you great to help others.
- Exercise, have hobbies, eat well, laugh a lot, and love your family and your God.
- Keep your knives sharp, they cut better that way.
- Sleep is overrated, especially while you are young.