Taking Care

From treating patients to defending doctors, Catherine Gale brings a human touch        

Published in 2008 Upstate New York Super Lawyers — September 2008

Red clogs and an R.N. degree are just two of the ways Catherine Gale stands out from the average trial attorney. The trademark wooden clogs she wears year-round are a throwback to growing up in the "hippie" days of the 1960s. As for her nursing degree, that was her original career track before she experienced an epiphany.

While attending some law-related classes for her master's in nursing, it dawned on her that law was where she belonged. "Wow! This is what I was meant to do," Gale remembers thinking. So she shifted her focus to law. "It was the 1970s, and I was rebellious. I wanted to make a change."

Now she heads Gale and Dancks in Fayetteville, where she defends physicians, nurses, hospitals and nursing homes. "I've never left nursing," she says. "I'm still taking care of clients. I spend more time in the hospital than when I was a nurse."

That's not surprising, given her high-energy personality. "I like human contact, not paperwork," she says.

Gale began her law career at MacKenzie Hughes in Syracuse. She worked there for 20 years and was the firm's first female partner. Gale and her husband, Kenneth, raised five children, two of whom grew up to become lawyers themselves. They probably caught the law bug on Saturday mornings when her children would tag along to the office. The kids brought their skateboards but soon learned how to organize legal documents and use the copy machine.

"They thought it was fun," says Gale. "They put up with me."

In 1997, she opened Gale and Dancks with a MacKenzie colleague, Thérèse Wiley Dancks. The office, in an elegant 1830 building with white pillars and black shutters, is on a former horse farm estate.

Gale says her favorite part of practicing law is the cross-examination. Because of her health care background, expert witnesses quickly realize one thing: "I know what I'm talking about," she says. "It's so exhilarating and wonderful. It's every lawyer's dream to win a case on persuasion."

She still plays nurse around the office when staffers come to her for an opinion on their symptoms. And by now people have started paying attention to Gale's symptoms as well.

The first sign of an oncoming trip to the courtroom is when Gale doffs her clogs and extracts her high heels from her bag. Gale recalls a judge's secretary noticing the red wooden shoes being changed out and remarking, "Uh-oh, guess we're going to trial."        

 

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