Philadephia Born and Bred

Workers’ comp attorney Samuel H. Pond, one of the founders of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano, draws on his blue-collar background to create a successful practice

Published in 2012 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers — June 2012

Q: What first got you interested in the law?

A: My father was a union member for 35 years. He was always very much involved in the union movement. They had to turn to lawyers to be able to strike, collectively bargain and those types of things. He always taught me about the importance of the rule of law. But I don’t think I ever had that affinity until I got into undergraduate school at Drexel University, and started thinking about going out and representing the folks that I grew up with.

 

Q: I understand you had a couple of interesting jobs before you became a lawyer.

A: I worked at all the Philadelphia institutions—I worked at Tasty Baking Co. in production; I worked at the old Schmidt’s Brewery in Brewerytown; and I worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer as a union member for nine years on a lot of Friday and Saturday nights while going to Drexel and Temple Law School.

 

Q: You hit the high spots.

A: Yeah, when you work at Schmidt’s, Tastykake and the Inquirer, go to Drexel undergrad and Temple Law School, go to a Philadelphia high school and grade school and come out of a Philadelphia neighborhood, it doesn’t get much more Philly, I guess. [laughs]

My mom worked in, more or less, a dry-cleaning sweatshop in North Philadelphia, and my dad worked as a machinist in Local 686, which is the gas workers union. I boxed; I fought at the Philadelphia gyms and the Fishtown Boxing Association Gym. I fought George Bochetto [of Bochetto & Lentz] at the Blue Horizon three years ago for a charity event—

 

Q: How’d you do?

A: I did OK—I’d rather not judge my performance. I’ll leave that to others. We raised money, so it was fun. It was a thrill. Two Philadelphia lawyers battling it out in a ring, not in a courtroom.

 

Q: How does your blue-collar background inform your practice?

A: It’s at the core. Doing these jobs myself, and watching my parents and uncles and aunts do this kind of work, it just allows me to feel very comfortable with my clientele. It allows me to be empathetic with them, compassionate with them. I mean, I lived it. I saw my father get burned; I saw my mother break her hip on the job. There are two [things] these people come with: They come with ignorance and they come with fear. Once you give them some knowledge and resources to go to battle with, you literally make differences in people’s lives. The whole background just allows me to talk the talk.

 

Q: Workers’ comp seems like a natural thing to do, then.

A: Absolutely. Not that we don’t represent professionals and white-collar folks, who I can relate to as well. But I think my background allows me to converse with them in easy language and to be able to communicate their rights under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

 

Q: I understand you now represent your father’s union.

A: I do. My father started there in November of ’46. I just spoke at their union meeting last Thursday. The first time I spoke to them, it was a very emotional evening. It’s a thrill.

My father worked for 35 years, and on his deathbed—they both died my first year of law school—my mother would have been a natural beneficiary for his pension, but because she had passed, he called the union president to Jefferson [Hospital], where he was dying of cancer, and designated my sister and I for his pension. That was denied by the gas commission, and the nature of the denial was that my father was not alive the first day of the month following, that being April 1, 1982.

After 35 years, the fact that he didn’t live another nine days is why they denied that pension. We were successful in challenging that, and I now have a scholarship fund in my mother’s name that I use this money to fund.

 

Q: What is it about the courtroom experience that you love?

A: I love prepping my clients before they go into the courtroom. Representing and allowing them to tell their story through great direct examination. And then being on the side of the workers’ comp system where you’re not representing an insurance company or an entity or the bottom line, you’re representing a person. I just love the whole dynamic. Being in the courtroom is almost zen-like—you’re just in the moment. But it still takes getting up early in the morning and staying up late at night to prep. It helps to deal with the pressure when you have the obligation of professional responsibility to be totally prepared.

The pressure is getting the result for our client. But as far as going into court, at this point we’re carrying a pretty heavy stick. We’re able to go into the courtroom and have a real presence.

 

Q: Do you do anything special to prepare, or is it just diligence and time?

A: It’s diligence and time, but it’s also creativity and understanding the soft points and strong points of your case. Workers’ comp is very technical, and if you can bring to bear some technical arguments, that’s excellent. We have the extra resources at our firm to do that.

 

Q: How do you deal with losing a case?

A: You have to communicate with the client, you have to have passion, you have to be empathetic, and you have to deal with it immediately. And then see if there’s anything to take out of the ashes. It’s hard on an emotional level. You just have to feel it in the moment, with your client, and then you have to move on. You can’t sit there and suck your thumb and feel sorry for yourself. It’s the hardest thing that we do.

 

Q: Your law firm is a couple of years old now, right?

A: We spun off on July 1, 2010, so we’re about 19 months out. We left with 22 people and we’re now up to 75.

 

Q: What was the inspiration for creating the new firm?

A: I think it was time for us to spread our wings and let our vision of practice come to fruition. Our vision is to be the best workers’ comp and Social Security disability practice. A culture of excellence, not mediocrity. When I say that, I’m talking about the client experience. We want our clients to have a great experience from the time they call our office with the initial intake, to coming to our office, to being greeted, to having a comfort level with the attorney, to being fully informed, and to go through that journey with us at a very high level. Then to spend a little bit more money to bring added value and resources to their case and to get a real strategy on their case, not just on the legal end of it, but with their life. To get you to the other side, where you’re going to be better off.

The other part of the vision is to work with the labor movement and to give back.  Whether it’s getting involved in collective bargaining agreements or the political landscape that affects organized labor or charities that they’re involved in.

 

Q: What’s been the biggest unexpected challenge in getting the firm off the ground?

A: To get it off the ground, we had to literally do it within six weeks.

 

Q: Did you sleep in those six weeks?

A: I didn’t, and I had my walls covered with rubber. You’re talking about getting a new phone number, getting a website, going and getting space, getting equipment, getting personnel, changing over the 401(k), getting benefits in place. The list is endless. It’s incredible. Then you wonder, “Is anyone going to call us?” Then, I think because of the work we’ve done and our reputation, it was mind-boggling. Hundreds of intakes in the first month.

 

Q: What advice would you give young lawyers?

A: Get with an organization that has good leadership. If you practice on your own, get a good mentor and listen. Respect and honor the practice of law and the rule of law. And it’s somewhat a cliché, but you have to be passionate about it. If you are, you’ll never look at the clock during the day.

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