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August 17, 2022 When I was a new lawyer

When I Was a New Lawyer: Gary Gassman

By Gary L. Gassman

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

I grew up in a “you’re going to grad school” type of house. My parents inspired me to be a lawyer. My dad thought highly of the way people are taught to think and learn in law school. My mom went to law school while I was in high school and loved it. I witnessed her enjoying studying law and developing her written and verbal skills and then practicing. Before becoming a lawyer I was a student—I went straight through —but I contemplated heading to Broadway briefly in college as I continued to sing and act until I graduated from Indiana University.

How did you become involved with the ABA?

My partner and champion, Janet Davis, was active in TIPS and saw that I was looking for a way to get involved outside of the law firm. She invited me to some programs and encouraged me to take a chair-elect designee position on a TIPS committee that was floundering, and I was hooked.

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

The people you meet, friendships you forge, and opportunities for networking, personal branding, education, and exposure are endless. You meet lawyers and non-lawyers from all walks of life. There is diversity wherever you look and however you define it—in backgrounds, practice type, geography, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and everything else. We offer tremendous programming and opportunities to speak and publish and a great education from the vast knowledge and experiences of everyone around you.

What early career practices led to your success?

Working hard and constantly challenging myself.

What early career mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

I stayed too long in positions that were no longer challenging or had become toxic and did not always speak up for myself. I learned to run from toxic people and environments. I learned that happiness at work is attainable. And I learned that knowing your worth and standing up for yourself are essential tools of the trade that sadly go unused far too often.

What is your advice for dealing with difficult partners, colleagues, or counsel?

Try to find common ground, even if agreeing to disagree. Speak to your allies about the situations you encounter. Stand up for yourself and do not be afraid to seek reassignment or to remove yourself from the situation if it compromises your mental health, ethics, or integrity.

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

Focus on your strengths and be prepared to fully engage. Developing clients is like developing any other relationship—clients are people. People are responsive to other people—not people acting like lawyers. Learn about people’s lives, take an interest, listen, be honest, and don’t be afraid to share. And deliver your best product, always.

What challenges you the most?

Entering my time on time! Taking a compliment. Believing that I’m really good at what I do. Remembering that everything will not get done today. The fear of not being the best that I can be in every aspect of my life at all times.

What gives you the most satisfaction?

Knowing that I am a great husband to Joe (Thomas – my other half) and dog dad. And entering my time on time, taking a compliment, knowing that I’m really good at what I do, accepting that everything will not get done today (and that it’s ok), and striving to be the best that I can be in every aspect of my life at all times.

What are your future ambitions for the next five to 10 years?

Figuring out how to pull back a bit and what I want the next chapter of my life and career to look like, making sure the people in my life know how meaningful they are to me, and enjoying my life and the people (and dogs) in it.

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By Gary L. Gassman

Gary L. Gassman is Co-Vice Chair, Global Insurance Department, Co-Chair, Professional Liability Practice Group at Cozen O’Connor, and incoming TIPS Chair, 2022-2023.