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Becoming The Best We Can Be (1996)

Gregory S. Cusimano

I decided to become a lawyer when I was about 10 or 12 years old. Encouraged by family and teachers who thought that I “asked a lot of questions” and “could successfully argue my point” (both necessary skills for a good lawyer), I never wavered in my desire to become a lawyer.

As a young man, I remember thinking that it would be great to help people every day, to fight for people’s rights, and in the process to gain respect and also make a living. Only after I started practicing law did I realize it was not that easy. There was much more to the practice of law than my childhood images anticipated.

My early years of law practice served up a true smorgasbord of cases, including criminal law, real estate, contracts, bankruptcy, divorce cases, wills and estate planning, civil cases—the list goes on. After several years of a very diverse practice, it became apparent to me that the privileged, powerful, and prosperous had the ability to protect themselves but that the underprivileged, weak, and neglected needed the protection of a trial lawyer. I believed that trial lawyers were (and still are) the major social architects of this country, and I was committed to becoming one of them.

When I talk about being a trial lawyer, I’m referring to being a lawyer for those who are wrongfully injured or treated, which generally means representing the plaintiff. If you have a strong sense of justice and fair play, you will most naturally gravitate toward the plaintiffs’ bar. If you care about the injured, the oppressed, and the less fortunate in our society, you will naturally gravitate toward the plaintiffs’ bar.

During those early years of being a trial lawyer, it was difficult not to measure my value by the number of cases I won on behalf of my clients. However, as time passed, I realized that I was turning real human dramas into facts, charts, and procedures. I, on occasion, treated cases as if they were mine rather than the clients’. I became so involved in the battle that I forgot the purpose of the war.

I believed that trial lawyers were (and still are) the major social architects of this country, and I was committed to becoming one of them.

As I became more and more involved with the people I represented, I began to see and recognize their humanness in a way I hadn’t before. These individuals had feelings, emotions, and families and all the same cares and considerations that I did. It has been difficult to keep stripping the veneer that builds up as emotional protection from the human tragedies that are encountered daily. In the fight to preserve life and perpetuate justice, it is easy for plaintiff attorneys to lose the way.

In the process of maturing as an individual and as a lawyer, I have learned that my commitment to becoming a good trial lawyer is really the same as my commitment to achieving personal growth. I believe now that by becoming better individuals, we can become better lawyers. The same sincerity and credibility that are so necessary when representing clients in the courtroom are necessary in our daily lives.

Our growth as individuals becomes synonymous with our growth as lawyers because our values and behavior—what we think, feel, and do—must be congruent. If they are not, we will become anxious and frustrated. Satisfaction with our work as trial lawyers comes from a purpose.

Trial lawyers are concerned about their fellow man and woman; they are concerned about their community; and they absolutely cannot stand to see someone taken advantage of. I believe that the truly dedicated trial lawyers don’t do it for the money. The only true, lasting satisfaction comes from within. As we work on becoming the best we can be, we lose the necessity of justifying our existence by the number of symbolic dragons we slay in the arena of the courtroom.

We are meant to serve but not be shackled, to fight but not be a fighter, to cry but not be a crier. Our work provides a tremendous challenge and satisfaction for each of us. We must learn to seek balance and harmony in all aspects of our lives.

Gregory S. Cusimano

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