She always loved arguing for other people, and now she’s built an eight-attorney employment and PI practice
Catching a trial lawyer with a half-hour to spare while they’re in the middle of a trial is quite the tall order, and that typically goes double for Tanya Gomerman. But you wouldn’t know it from her seemingly relaxed and upbeat disposition as she endures a long, drawn-out personal injury case.
Gomerman, who founded and runs her own firm out of offices in San Francisco and San Jose, said the advocacy bug bit her long before she even thought about becoming an attorney, and somewhere along the line, it formed into a fascination with employment and anti-discrimination law. She followed that track and kept moving forward, letting very little change her course.
“I’ve always wanted to help people. I know it sounds corny, but ever since I was young, I was always advocating for friends and family,” she said. “I was always interested in law and learning how to advocate better. I took some law school classes that just furthered my interest, and when I was in law school – I went to Loyola – they really pushed their top students to work at big law firms. So, I did take a summer associate position on the defense (side) at Paul Hasting, which was the top employment defense firm in Los Angeles.”
That four-month stint provided Gomerman with some invaluable experience, and she learned a lot about employment law, the culture of a big firm and how to manage a legal practice. But defending insurance companies and other corporations in such cases didn’t feel right, she said. It wasn’t something she would be able to sustain as a career.
Later that year, she did an externship with U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner, and it was this work that cemented her decision to pursue a career in plaintiffs’ law.
“It’s funny because I thought I wanted to be a judge. But then when I actually saw what judges do, I did not want to be a judge,” Gomerman said. “I did notice a different caliber of lawyers. I felt like there just were not as many good quality lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side. Like, when I would get briefs or anything like that from big firms on the defense side, I felt like I could trust it, and you don’t have this tight check. You can just kind of trust what they say. Whereas on the plaintiffs’ side, at least in the federal court, from what I was seeing, it seemed like a lot of things were rushed, and there wasn’t one firm that stood out.
“So, after I finished with federal court, I thought, OK, I want to do plaintiffs’ law,” she continued. “But I definitely wanted to spend the time and advocate, not just take on a whole bunch of cases and not have the time to handle them properly.”
It’s a philosophy that has worked well for Gomerman while she was employed by others and when she decided to become her own boss. Today, the Law Offices of Tanya Gomerman has eight lawyers, including herself, and handles all types of employment law and personal injury cases. She has recovered tens of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients since the firm’s inception in 2012 and has been recognized as a top lawyer by regional, state and national organizations.
Gomerman was raised in San Francisco but decided on a temporary move away from home for her schooling. She attended UC Riverside for her undergraduate studies in psychology before going to Loyola Law School. While she had designs on returning to the Bay Area for her law career, she stayed in Southern California to get it going, taking a job at Simon & Simon LLP, an Orange County firm that “did just about everything,” she said.
“It was a small firm, and they literally threw me into the deep end,” she recalled. “I opposed summary judgment motions, I argued them. So, I was able to get some experience again on the plaintiffs’ and defense side for all kinds of litigation. They did everything from construction defects to employment law. And they took on a bunch of cases; anything that I would bring in, if people were willing to pay, they would take it on.
“So, I brought in a few cases of my own that I was interested in working on and actually got to do a full-on trial. I brought in a case, it was an eviction case, and they let me do the full trial – question witnesses and everything. I realized then that I wanted to be in court. I didn’t want to be the person writing all the motions or doing memos or discovery. I really wanted to be in court.”
Time to move on
After more than a year of building up her experience at the Simon firm, Gomerman decided in 2012 it was time to get back home and launch her law practice in earnest by opening her own firm. She took her now-broad experience along with many of her clients, and moved to San Francisco. Technically, she had already started the business while she was employed at Simon & Simon, she said, handling her own marketing and having people contact her directly, though the firm would then sign them up.
While having a client base helped make the transition much smoother than starting cold turkey, the timing was the biggest obstacle Gomerman would have to overcome.
“My transition kind of happened unintentionally because when I moved here, the market had crashed,” she said. “I thought I’d start looking for work but not close down my own practice. So, while I was looking for work, I was giving a lot of free consultation. A lot. Anybody who would call me, anyone who would ask, I’d give a free consultation to.
“Then people just started writing reviews and recommending me to their friends,” Gomerman continued. “I maybe had a few cases, but I was happy just to have my phone ring. And then slowly I started signing up cases and co-counseling with other law firms.”
Crossover opportunities from PI to employment law
With the myriad free consultations and the frequent paid co-counsel work in personal injury and employment law, Gomerman recognized there were crossover opportunities: People who got hurt might run into trouble with their bosses at work, she said, and then they had an employment law issue on their hands. She started handling the cases by herself and taking cases other lawyers didn’t want, eventually building up a regular line of referrals.
“So, slowly, even though I was taking smaller cases, after about a year, I was able to build up enough of a client base,” Gomerman said. “I used other people’s offices – my mom’s friend was a lawyer, a family law attorney, and let me use an office. And then I was able to start my own practice in terms of getting an office and getting an assistant.”
After about a year, she hired her first employee, she said. Nowadays, Gomerman estimates that about 50 percent of her time is spent doing management versus handling legal work. She helps her colleagues manage cases, she does consultations or she’ll bring in a case. But she made a point of saying her team is top notch, and it hasn’t been easy for her to hand off some of the duties she became accustomed to performing all herself.
“I’ve been pretty good at delegating and finding good employees and being able to train them,” she said. “I think that’s been a huge portion of getting me to where I am now, being able to manage and trusting others.”
Sharpens focus for trial
When it comes to trial, Gomerman said she disconnects from everything else about two weeks or a month before it starts. As it is with most plaintiffs’ attorneys, preparation is critical, and since she has the luxury of other people managing the rest of the firm, she assumes a one-track mind. Such an approach, she said, gives her a leg up on the defense, which up until the day of trial likely is still working on other cases.
Trial is a team effort, too, Gomerman said. With eight attorneys and a few assistants, she always has someone who can jump in and handle a motion last minute or any other procedural issue.
“And I do focus groups,” she said. “I think those are invaluable, whether it’s in my office or Zoom. You get so much information.”
Trials have been few and far between since before the pandemic, so Gomerman couldn’t think of a more memorable case than the one she was trying at the time of the interview. It involved a client who was struck by a security guard’s vehicle in a parking lot and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Gomerman thought it was a straightforward case, that there wouldn’t be any disputes, but on the contrary, the defense disputed everything – liability, causation, damages – since she first got the case back in 2017.
Despite a CT scan that showed a skull fracture and brain bleed, then an MRI that showed cerebral dysplasia, the defense claimed there were no real differences in the victim’s condition, saying Gomerman’s client wasn’t that smart before the incident. They low-balled on their initial offer, then continued to raise it only after it was too late in the negotiation.
Why we need to try more cases
“They were playing games for so many years,” she said. “Cases like these are memorable for me because they feel like the insurance companies … would just do whatever they can to save a few dollars. And attorneys that don’t litigate cases like these are really setting the rest of us up for low offers. We need to take cases to trial, and it’s not about getting a million dollars for a case that’s worth a million dollars and has a million-dollar policy. It’s about being able to get more than what the insurance company offered when the insurance company doesn’t pay the true value of the case.
“I’m lucky to have clients who trust me to take their cases to trial and not just fold when the insurance companies, you know, throw a bone to them,” she continued. “During COVID … I think a lot of attorneys were hungry and a lot of clients were hungry and didn’t want to wait. The insurance companies would just throw pennies. It was crazy. Mediators were telling me ‘You’re my first case that doesn’t settle.’ It was shocking.”
Parent and mentor
When she’s not in the courtroom or the office, Gomerman enjoys bicycling, hiking or just hanging out with friends and watching TV. Most of her free time, however, is spent with her toddler son.
“He’s a spoiled little person. He gets to decide what I like to do now,” she said. “It’s hard to remember what I actually enjoyed. But it’s been great. I definitely enjoy spending time with him and enjoy having a toddler at home. It kind of lets you be a big kid. All the things that I didn’t get to do when I was a kid, being able to relive that and see all the joy.”
You need a mixture of big and small cases
Gomerman also tries to make time for professional organizations and events, and in fact highly recommends to her younger colleagues they do the same. And when it comes to the one piece of sage advice she would offer to someone on a similar path as hers, she advises them to pick something that’s going to supplement the big cases.
“What I’ve heard from other people and what I’ve kind of seen is if you’re going to get big cases, they’re going to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to litigate and get full value,” she said. “And you don’t want to be that person settling a case for less than full value because you can’t afford to keep litigating it or you need to use that money to pay for other cases. So, handle some hourly work, review some contracts.
I did a lot of severance review. I did some defense. Just because you’re a plaintiffs’ attorney doesn’t mean you can’t take on a defense case every once in a while. I think it gives you a very well-rounded perspective.
“So, getting some (money) coming in every day or every month is something you have to think about, and with small PI cases, while you’re not making a lot of money, it could definitely bring in money when other big cases are kind of stagnant.”
2023 by the author.
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