Amy Gunn has established herself as one of the top trial lawyers in the State of Missouri. Her accomplishments and awards are far too numerous to list here, but they include the Lon O. Hocker Trial Lawyer Award, awarded to trial attorneys by the Missouri Bar Association who exemplify the heights of professionalism and candor in the courtroom, as well as the Thomas G. Strong Trial Attorney Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a trial attorney by the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. Practicing with the Simon Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri, Amy has spent her legal career fighting for injured plaintiffs against large corporations and hospitals. Amy spends some time with Lawyer Minds discussing her practice and her new podcast.
Lawyer Minds: You have a new podcast, “Heels in the Courtroom,” which is outstanding. Tell us more about how this podcast came about.
Amy Gunn: First, thank you. We are very proud of it. I started listening to podcasts about a year and a half ago and was struck by how easily they fit into my hectic life because they lend themselves to multitasking, one of my favorite pastimes. I could hear interesting stories, be entertained, and learn something at the same time. Because there are so many podcasts, I started looking for one that reflected my life as a woman, trial attorney, mom, wife, etc. While I found shows focused on the practice of law and some even hosted by women lawyers, I could not find that specific combination of women, trial attorneys discussing everyday challenges both at the office and at home. At my firm, we are lucky to have five women attorneys all in different stages of our careers who would often find ourselves sharing our trials and tribulations. I wondered whether we could turn our discussions into a podcast and with a lot of support both in terms of resources and enthusiasm from the firm and our families, Erica, Liz, Mary, Elizabeth, and I recently launched our first season and intend to continue full steam ahead.
Lawyer Minds: In your practice, what types of cases do you handle? How did you end up handling these types of cases?
Amy Gunn: I began my career as a defense attorney at a great, medium sized firm largely handling personal injury litigation. After a few years, I received the opportunity to “switch sides” and started at The Simon Law Firm, handling generally the same types of cases for the plaintiff with the addition of medical malpractice. Partially because I really enjoy the intersection of medicine and law and partly because more and more attorneys were fleeing from medical malpractice litigation due to changes in the law by the legislature in 2005 and pretty much every year since then, medical malpractice has become my biggest practice area in terms of workload. About 10 years ago, I got a few calls from local attorneys asking me to investigate their clients’ cases for potential medical malpractice. In that process, I discovered that those clients had the same type of medical device implanted causing problems and so began a product liability investigation that resulted in over 500 of those cases and ultimately a concurrent practice involving that and other mass tort litigation. I have worked hard to keep both areas active and successful for our clients ever since.
Lawyer Minds: Do you have a mentor or mentors? If so, how has that helped you in your practice? What advice would you give a newer attorney about finding a mentor?
Amy Gunn: I have been extremely fortunate to have mentors/role models every step of my journey starting in high school in the late 80’s when I interned for one of the only (maybe the only, I should probably try to confirm that) women lawyers in my hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky. The best part of that experience was that I did not walk away turned off by the uniqueness (read “otherness”) of her practice but rather emboldened by it. I had already known I wanted to be a lawyer before that time (8th grade to be exact, when my best friend and I declared our career paths: me, law; her, medicine, both of which were achieved), but the challenge of being a woman lawyer really appealed to me because of that uniqueness and I credit the work of my first role model, Jeannie Owen Miller, and my second, Jill Hall Rose, another authentic trail blazing woman attorney for whom I worked in college for teaching me the power and importance of that individuality.
Knowing what I know now about the scarcity of solo practice women lawyers in Kentucky in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I cannot believe how fortuitous it was that I landed with each of these women, but I would be remiss if I dismissed those opportunities only to chance. In fact, the credit should go to Jeannie and Jill for their willingness to teach, coach, and lead by example a nobody high school and college student into a challenging but supremely gratifying career. I have no way of repaying these ladies directly, but believe my strong commitment to mentoring, guiding, and taking the time to be available to young women in high school, college, and law school who are interested in the law takes a small step in that direction.
Since law school, my mentors have included Ted MacDonald at my first firm whose patience with me as a young attorney was nothing short of remarkable. While Ted taught me how to practice law, for which I am grateful, as equally as impactful was his dedication to his family, including his young children and all their activities. Ted knew how to manage his time and his priorities, the importance of which became clear to me a few years later when I was in the middle of trying to do the same. One more thing about Ted, he never treated me differently than the male associates at the firm.
Making a gender distinction, subtle or overt, for good or bad, creates disparity among young attorneys trying their best to navigate their new profession. Young men and women lawyers not being treated dissimilarly by partners and supervisors goes a long way to obviate actually feeling differently or lesser than. Without question, a good atmosphere in which to start a career.
I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t mention John Simon as a mentor both when I first started practicing with him almost 18 years ago and today as we navigate practicing law, having families, and managing a firm and our staff. John has never truly doubted me (at least not to my face!). That confidence and faith has compelled me to trust myself, a true gift that cannot be overstated.
Lawyer Minds: You’re also heavily involved with organizations like the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. How has your involvement in organizations like MATA helped you?
Amy Gunn: The power of MATA is two-fold: First, one of the things trial attorneys in conservative states like Missouri experience is a sense of helplessness when it comes to the anti-civil justice laws that affect our clients’ rights to be fully compensated for their losses and create barriers to the courts.
I find going to the Capitol and testifying against harmful legislation to be another form of high-level advocacy that we owe our clients. MATA provides that avenue for effective attorneys like ourselves to take the fight directly to those making the unjust, one-sided laws. Second, from attending CLEs to direct communication with fellow trial attorneys, MATA allows an open dialog among lawyers with similar practices to share ideas, techniques, and strategies to the betterment of our clients and their cases.
There is a tremendous amount of selflessness among our members, which is all the more remarkable when you consider many of us compete for the same types of cases. MATA consists of trial attorneys who truly want to see each other succeed because we know that means our clients are finding justice under very difficult circumstances.
Lawyer Minds: Back to practicing — What are some things you look for when first meeting with a client?
Amy Gunn: The realty of plaintiff work is that most cases, especially medical malpractice, are very difficult to win and terribly costly to investigate, litigate, and try. Before I sign on to taking a case, I have to have good evidence of negligence (e.g. a medical error) as well as a clear link between that negligence and the client’s damages. Without all three of those things, even with otherwise compelling factual scenarios, the case can easily be lost. In that first meeting, I seek answers to these questions as well as try very hard to educate the potential client on the process of the investigation. I want to set realistic expectations both in terms of what I can do as well as what is required of the client. I am looking for trust and I hope to earn it even in that first meeting.
Lawyer Minds: Do you still struggle with nerves/fear when you go into a courtroom? For new lawyers who might read this, how have you tackled that throughout your career?
Amy Gunn: Simple answer, yes, but as the question proposes, I have learned to mitigate the outward signs of it. I remember sitting in my trial advocacy class in law school, taught by an Administrative Law Judge who confessed that before being appointed to the bench, when he was heading to Court to begin a trial, he would hope to get into a car accident. No kidding. Since that time, I figured that as long as I did not purposefully run my car off the road on the way to court, I was probably going to be okay. My advice to get past the anxiety that goes along with being a trial attorney is to fail. Lose a trial and still get a hug from your client because you were the only one who at least stood up and fought for her.
Lose the argument, but do so with grace and despite being the most prepared lawyer in the courtroom. Fail and survive. Know that you have chosen to practice law — to practice law, not to conquer law. These are words easy to write but incredibly hard to live, by the way.
For me, it has taken quite a few years, many losses accompanied by self-pity sessions and several doses of perspective generously handed to me by my husband and kids to keep going. But keep going we must. We did not chose this profession because it sounded simple and inconsequential. We chose law because it is the opposite of those things, complex and important. The bottom line– I would rather lose a fight than miss the war.
Lawyer Minds: What sort of fulfillment do you get from being a lawyer?
Amy Gunn: I could say pride, passion, power, self-identity, the opportunity to change people’s lives (for the better), financial security, a fix for my need to be needed, but truly the fulfillment I get from being a lawyer is immeasurable.
Many thanks to Amy for sharing some many insights into her practice. Amy’s charities of choice are Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Our Little Haven, and Rainbow Village (among others). Please take a chance to review these organizations to see how you can help!