The biggest thing that I wish someone would have told me when I was starting out is “on your deathbed, what will you regret?” I finally learned that for myself about 10 years ago, so not too late fortunately, and it really changed my decision making process. If you are faced with a decision, and you are struggling with your decision, just imagine yourself on your deathbed, in your final moments of life, and ask yourself “should I have not done that thing that I did? Was it worth it?” — that will be an honest conversation with yourself, and it will give you the answer. I wish someone would have told me that when I was starting out.
I had the pleasure to interview Attorney Catherine Lombardo. For more than 25 years, Catherine Lombardo has devoted her life to providing aggressive legal representation to her clients. She truly understands the entire legal process. Having worked as a Public Defender in San Bernardino County and serving as a Judge Pro Tem in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, she possesses unique knowledge having spent part of her professional life on both sides of the bench. In addition to understanding the law, Ms. Lombardo has experience in the insurance industry. Clients of The Lombardo Law Firm benefit from Ms. Lombardo’s unparalleled professional experience. Experience in the courtroom matters. Ms. Lombardo’s involvement in more than 100 jury trials means that she understands how jurors think when it comes to determining the credibility of a witness. This, along with more than 20 years of experience in law, helps Ms. Lombardo effectively cross-examine witnesses and bring in the proper evidence to ensure that her clients get the best possible outcome because of their personal injury claim.
I know that this sounds like a cliché, but I truly became a lawyer to help people. I also wanted a career that would last me my lifetime. And I picked the right path. Being a lawyer has been the most rewarding career I could have chosen. Initially, I wanted to help musicians in their plight to become successful performers and songwriters, and I have represented many of them, but there was not much work in that area. Most musicians never made it far enough in their career to need me. So, I ventured out and found the people who needed my help.
One of the benefits of being a lawyer for the past 27 years is the fact that I have become rich with stories. I have represented tens of thousands of clients. And I feel like there is so much more to do, so many more people to help! But recently, I was honored to become a lead attorney, the first attorney, on the most massive shooting massacre in the history of our country; the Las Vegas Shooting at Mandalay Bay Casino on October 1, 2017. I was thrust into this case from the start. I did not know how big this case would become when I first launched it. I have sat with hundreds of shooting survivors, and I have heard hundreds of accounts of what it was like to be in the concert venue running while bullets were flying and people were falling victim to the attack. I was at the concert venue with my team soon after the FBI cleared it for us to inspect. I filed the first lawsuit. I sued MGM, a behemoth publicly held company. Going into legal battle against that giant was not something I would ever imagine in my career. Little me, the courtroom trial lawyer who spent her career helping one person at a time, took on the big giant. Wow, what a fight I was in for.
Of all of the types of people that I have interacted with in my 27 years as an advocate, from Hollywood clients to criminals to CEO’s, my homeless clients with drug or alcohol addictions are the most interesting to me. I realize that might sound strange. But honestly, my transient personal injury clients have filled me with the most wonderment. Representing them has been a special honor for me, because they have been ignored and abused and they don’t trust people easily, nor do they easily form attachments or deep connections. But once they liked me, once they trusted me enough to be vulnerable, then they would open up to me. And the richness of their history and character was just amazing. To witness their opening and be invited in to their world, how they adjusted to living on the street with their new handicap (my clients usually suffered serious personal injuries in accidents such as severed limbs) and just to watch their resilience was amazing to me. You have no idea until you have experienced it.
Ever since I was a young lawyer, I was excited to have the power to help people. I got a thrill whenever I made a difference. Seeing the reaction on a clients face when they experienced the relief that I was able to give them was the reward for my efforts. And to this day, I still feel the same way. When I help a vulnerable client fill out a form, or apply for a resource, or find a way to pay a bill or feed their family, even though that is a small task, and I don’t earn any money doing it, it is so rewarding. It makes me smile. I know that I made a difference. And it fuels me to keep doing it.
The most profound thing that I was told by a professor during law school was this — “it takes an entire career to build a good reputation, but only one minute to ruin it forever.” I understood that and I have never forgotten that advice. Another thing a professor told me was, “as a new lawyer, you will leave your house before the sun comes up and not return until long after it sets.” What I wish he would have told me instead was, “DON’T do that!” I work 6 days a week, 14 hours a day. I always have. My job is the biggest thing in my life, and that causes me to miss out on so much of life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work, and I won’t change my schedule. But I am afraid that I missed out on a lot of fun. I have a strong family, and strong friendships, but they all know that I am working, always. Thank God for weekly family dinners, which we never miss!
Every lawyer experiences “burn out.” It happens to all lawyers. The goal is to overcome it, and come out the other end as a better, more effective lawyer. For me, burn out lasted 7 years. I knew I was in burn out. I gave myself a pep talk every morning. It went like this, “Aren’t I lucky! I get to put on this skirt, these heals, this suit, and drive in LA traffic to 3 courthouses this morning and fight for my clients, fight for a cause, get challenged by the judge, get attacked by the opposition. How lucky am I!” And I pretended to believe it, and I smiled all the way through the day. I was “acting as if” — which is what my mother taught me as I grew up. “Acting as if….” is the only way to successfully help a lawyer get through the days, months and years of being burned out. But when the burn out stage is over, then really good lawyering begins. The best lawyers are the ones who survived burn out.
I realize that some people become lawyers so that they can obtain power or wealth. And power and wealth can definitely be obtained by becoming an attorney. But the real power as a lawyer is the power to help people who cannot help themselves. I have trained my staff for the past 25 years to answer the phone with two attitudes — compassion and confidence. Because when a new client is dialing my phone number and seeking me out, or walks into my office, it’s not because they are having a great day and their life is perfect. It’s because they are in need, they are hurt or suffering, or they have lost something and need help to get it back. Lawyers have a duty to help people, with compassion. If a lawyer uses their power to help people, then the wealth will follow — and not just financial wealth.