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September 01, 2021 Did You Know?

“When I Was a New Lawyer”

By Catherine Tanaka Surbeck

What inspired you to become a lawyer? And what did you do prior to becoming a lawyer?

I went to law school directly out of college, so I did not have a career before becoming a lawyer. I was inspired to become a lawyer because I wanted to help people. Our world is organized by rules and regulations. People of all socio-economic backgrounds need assistance in navigating the world, whether it be businesses, personal matters, healthcare, or injuries to name a few. I wanted to help people through the maze. It turns out that I have dedicated my career to the area of work injuries. Early in my career, I represented employers and their carriers but for most of my career, I’ve assisted injured workers.

How did you become involved with the ABA?

A fellow workers’ compensation lawyer and TIPS member, Stacey Tees, recruited me to join in 2013. I joined TIPS Employer’s Liability and Workers’ Compensation Committee. I am still a member of this committee. In the years since I first got involved, I am active with TIPS as a member of Council, the CLE Board, The Brief, and the Women’s Trial Lawyers Committee.

What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active with the ABA?

As a new lawyer, your benefit of becoming active with the ABA is, first and foremost, exposure to some of the best lawyers in your field. The lawyers who are involved in the ABA are leaders and experts in their area. You will be exposed to lawyers not just in the city or state you practice but across the country. Further, you will meet lawyers in other sections of the ABA. I have several good friends who are not in TIPS but other Sections. You develop relationships and friendships that will aid in your professional as well as personal development.

What early career practices led to your success?

I was extremely lucky to have some talented and generous mentors early in my career who taught me how to be a skilled lawyer in my area of practice. In addition to learning the law, I learned how to communicate with my clients. First and foremost, learn the law. Be a skilled practitioner. If you do right by your client, they will return to you and importantly, share their thoughts about you with their family, friends, etc., allowing you to build your practice.

What is your advice for a new lawyer seeking to acquire, retain, and nurture client relationships?

The most important advice I can give is to take the time, do the work, and learn how to be the best lawyer you can be in your area. Learn the law. Put in the time. Your best efforts on behalf of your client, even if you do not win, will garner your client’s respect and bring you more work. Finally, be true to yourself and be who you are. Take the time to get to know your client and be genuine.

What are your future ambitions for the next five to ten years?

I am at the point in my career where I am considered a seasoned lawyer. My future ambitions are to pay it forward. i.e. mentor, open doors for the upcoming lawyers as doors have been opened for me.

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By Catherine Tanaka Surbeck

Catherine Tanaka Surbeck is an associate at Freedman &Lorry.