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NC Workers' Compensation Lawyer - Jay Gervasi - Part 4

Noted Greensboro Workers' Compensation Attorney Jay Gervasi joins Law Talk with Bill Powers to discuss the practice of law.

Bill Powers: Right. That's the good stuff as you get older. I've got one that's about to go off to college and you realize, oh, you have so many days and they're limited and they're counted and they're measured. Sometimes that's good, and sometimes you're, "Boy, I'm a bit lonely." So I don't know if younger lawyers or even law students realize that the practice of law, I think, and I want to hear your perspective on this, but I think it is more of a marathon than it is a sprint. There are periods when you sprint, and it's always important to work hard, but there's a large measure in my mind of pacing yourself and being smart with your time.

Bill Powers: And Jay, when I first started practicing law, I was telling someone at the clerk's office about this yesterday, and my first lawsuit I filed I typed it on an IBM Selectric. And I had to explain to them first what that was, they had no idea, and I said, "If you really want to talk about how interesting it was," we used to use something called onion skin and then we would put a piece of carbon paper. And we would do- Jay Gervasi: Stone tablets.

Bill Powers: Right, right. [inaudible] form, right? But with the advent of technology, and I'm a techy guy, I mean I remember always priding myself I had one of the first pagers in the courthouse and I remember having the sports feed and we had the Nextel flip phones with texting. And now, it's a tool and it's something that I use, but it is also something I have to be very careful with my time as far as access with clients. How do you deal with that? I personally, I don't mind calling people after hours if it's my choice to do that, as opposed to giving full, unfettered access, which I don't do. I don't know many lawyers that do. What are your thoughts on that?

Jay Gervasi: I don't think you can do that, and especially with the clients that we have, that you have as well as I do, you're talking about a very personal relationship with your clients, with ordinary people. The things that are happening with my clients are bad. And it's sort of like church, you can't... If you open yourself up too much, to empathy basically, you can be drained and then you become useless to everybody. I mean if you allow the process to suck you dry into just an empty husk, then you're not going to be any good for any of your clients.

Jay Gervasi: So you have to, I talk to my clients at odd hours but yes it's my choice, and I've got a friend, in fact the lawyer I'm going to be arguing the court of appeals case for next week. Her clients have her cellphone number. And occasionally we'd be at lunch or something and she'll spend most of the time fielding calls from people who have problems. She also does pretty much all workers' comp stuff. And it's just, I just can't imagine doing that. You have to have the ability to not have the practice all over you all the time. But it does tend to chase you around. It's one of those jobs, you don't leave it at the office when you go home. Or at least I can't.

Jay Gervasi: There are too many medium and long-range horizons going on. I don't know how your practice is, because I know a lot of what you do is going to be trial focused on your DWIs and that sort of thing. For me, the cases, a workers' comp case goes on potentially for a very long time. But you'll have a person who's getting benefits and different issues will come up, you'll have to have trials over them, you'll go to the court of appeals, that sort of thing. Maybe sometimes multiple times in the same case over the course of a decade and it doesn't really leave you... you're never really finished everything at the office.

Jay Gervasi: But that doesn't seem to get to me much. Again, with respect to any law students who are listening, it's really very individualized. Like you were saying, things that help us to maintain balance are very personal and individualized. So you sort of have to figure out what it is that's going to make you balanced and do that.

Bill Powers: Do you.

Jay Gervasi: What do you think?

Bill Powers: I agree with that, I said you do you is kind of the thing. Now, one of the things I'm interested in as a lawyer is this idea, what I call an internal compass, a moral compass, natural law theory. Some would argue that we know, I guess intrinsically in our inner souls, what's right or wrong. To you, is being a lawyer merely a business or is it something else? Should it be more? Are there aspects of serving your community in the practice of law?

Jay Gervasi: Well, if it was a business then I'd be screwed because I'm terrific at business. I might be okay handling cases but I've just got no vision, you know. One of the reasons I practice by myself is I can't manage organizations.

Jay Gervasi: I think it may depend on what you do. Again, doing work for insurance companies is important work. I don't know that it... It's not the sort of thing that would make me feel like I was, again, doing what I should be doing, but that's not to say that other people aren't. Build can't have a system in which our side just gets whatever we want, there have to be people on the other side to maintain balance and there's nothing wrong with that. It's wrong for me but it's not wrong in general.

Jay Gervasi: I think for me, and again in a practice where you're representing people in some of the most basic parts of people's lives, it kind of goes beyond being a business sort of thing. I almost don't have to look at business very much, it's really about representing the people. But again, that's for me. And I think you and I both do a service to society by... One of the things that defines the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, for example, which you've been president, I haven't. Used to be the Academy of Trial Lawyers back in the good old days, is that whether it be criminal practice or workers' comp or personal injury, that sort of thing, in general our defining characteristic is we represent the relatively powerless individuals against larger systems. When you go to a trial, every case is one in which the entire case of North Carolina is opposed to your individual client. They're always bigger than you are. For me, my hurt person never has the raw power of the person on the other side and I just find that really rewarding. It makes it easier for me.

Bill Powers: And I agree with you. One of the things I like to tell younger lawyers, and I try to disabuse them of some notions, one of which is that lawyers just [inaudible] it in the financial perspective. The better part of compensation in my mind is being able to help people and getting to know our clients. And there are some practice groups where they just [inaudible] it, they make a lot of money, but the average in and out lawyers I just don't think that's the case or it's not what people think.

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