Making a Life-Size Difference
The community’s need can be overwhelming, but Rachel Gusman just keeps chipping away
Published in 2018 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine on October 11, 2018
From an age when she was playing with dolls, Rachel Gusman was encouraged by her mother to give back to the community, which she did—through her church and the Girl Scouts.
In her junior year at high school in Dodge City, Kansas, Gusman became involved in a mentorship program, connecting with younger Latina kids. She asked a girl whose family was barely scraping by what they were planning for Christmas, and the child said “probably nothing”—though her heart was set on a My Size Barbie, one of those kid-size versions of the iconic doll. Gusman launched a community-wide effort to raise $150 to buy the doll. “I can still see her smiling,” Gusman says.
When the effort for the little girl succeeded, Gusman asked herself, “Why stop now?”
So she hasn’t. Now a personal injury lawyer at Graves McLain in Tulsa, Gusman is passionate about the volunteer work she does for such groups as Lawyers Fighting Hunger and Tulsa Lawyers for Children. A common thread, she feels, runs through her pro bono work and her day job: making a difference in the community.
By her second year at the University of Tulsa College of Law, she was already working for Graves McLain. She’s still there. “One of the reasons I was drawn to Graves McLain is that Chad McLain was an awesome mentor to me,” she says. The firm’s co-founder made clear from day one that pro bono work was expected. He believed a good lawyer had a positive presence beyond the workplace.
Gusman, who is on the diversity committee and minority caucus of the American Association for Justice, is also concerned about inclusion in the workplace. When recruiting for her firm, she focuses on finding promising women and minorities.
“I think it provides perspective,” she says. “As a female minority, there’s a perspective you can give to your client’s case, to the court, even to law firms in a more general way. When you look around, the people on top are not female; not minorities. Breaking the glass ceiling is important.”
Gusman’s recent volunteer projects have included her firm’s program to provide bicycle helmets to more than 250 children in the Tulsa area; as well as an initiative by several firms, along with the Oklahoma Association for Justice, to donate backpacks—loaded with school supplies—to students from some of the neediest school districts.
She is also a board member of Operation Aware of Oklahoma. “They teach prevention education on many levels—how to prevent drug use and cyber-bullying; how to make good relationship choices,” she explains. And she sits on the executive board of Lawyers Fighting Hunger, which provides needy families with a turkey or ham and a food pantry box twice a year. “The schools are having a hard time with the food programs,” she says, “and the kids are going hungry.”
The need is overwhelming. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister recently noted that 61 percent of children enrolled in Oklahoma schools qualify for public help for meals. Things are even worse in the summer, when just 6 percent of school-age children receive nutritional help.
“I’d like to hope that whatever changes we are making catch on and continue to grow,” Gusman says. “I think there’s room to keep chipping away at the problem by banding our time and resources together.”