Personal injury attorney Stewart Guss likes to start his day early, when the office is quiet and no one else has made it in yet. He spends this uninterrupted time reading and responding to emails and checking the status of dozens of cases. His mission is to help people in need. With 20 years of experience in the legal profession, this 47-year-old Tomball resident knows how to get things accomplished. Here he talks about professional challenges and triumphs, distracting driving, and Atticus Finch.
What separates the good from the bad in personal injury lawyers?
The best personal injury lawyers look at their cases as a challenge. There are some lawyers that start to focus on the money and the business end of things more than doing the right thing for a deserving client. These guys are few and far between, however. I think most of us believe that the best way to do well professionally is by doing good in the world and for our clients.
Describe a typical day in the life of a personal injury lawyer.
My day normally starts before the rest of my staff arrives at the office. I like to catch up on emails and interoffice messages in our case management system. I’m lucky enough to have a pretty sizable docket, so I usually set aside a dozen or so cases to review for status every day—just to make sure everything is moving ahead as planned. When I’m finished, I start returning calls to clients, adjusters, and opposing counsel. After lunch, I usually move on to my bigger projects: preparing or reviewing demand packages, reviewing medical records, reviewing or responding to motions or other correspondence. I’m typically the first in and the last out, but this is a habit my family is desperately trying to get me to change.
How has technology changed marketing?
In the old days, marketing choices were fairly limited: phone book ads, television ads, or billboards. The Internet has changed all that. But instead of reaching out with your marketing efforts, you must make sure that your prospective clients can find you.
Distracted driving is a growing concern, with some reports suggesting it is up to six times more dangerous than drunk driving. What can the law do to combat this?
As with almost everything else in modern society, the law is certain to lag behind technology in this area. As a parent of two children, I am extremely worried about the problem of distracted driving. Ultimately, I think the solution will depend on education. After a significant push by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other organizations, most of society understands just how dangerous drunk driving really is. No one in his right mind would today consider drunk driving “no big deal,” yet that still seems to be the prevailing attitude about texting while driving. It is up to people and organizations that understand the dangers of distracted driving to get the word out and increase public awareness.
Which personal injury cases from modern history stick in your mind or inspire you the most?
Stella Liebeck. This has got to be the most misunderstood and misreported personal injury case in the history of modern jurisprudence. Most of us in the industry know the background on this case, but if you don’t, I suggest watching the HBO documentary Hot Coffee. There is definitely a public sentiment against personal injury claims and claimants in our state and a big part of that is the distorted representation of this case.
What is the most interesting case you have ever worked on?
I once represented a woman who came to me after a car accident. The accident was minor, so she simply exchanged information with the defendant driver, didn’t seek medical treatment, and went to work. About 10 days later, she started having stroke-like symptoms and went to the hospital in a panic. After several days of testing and evaluation, she was diagnosed with a pseudoaneurysm in her carotid artery. As it turns out, my client experienced whiplash in her collision, and she sustained a tiny nick in her carotid artery. Over several days, this tiny defect filled with blood and exerted increasing pressure on the artery wall until it eventually restricted blood flow and caused stroke-like symptoms. While she did require a stent and will be on blood thinners for the rest of her life, my client is alive and doing well. We had originally received a $500 “nuisance value” settlement offer from the insurance company for this “extremely minor” incident. Ultimately, I was able to get a sizable six-figure recovery.
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?
My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and I am constantly fascinated by the human mind. I really appreciate the opportunity to be of service to people, and if I weren’t doing it as their lawyer and advocate, I think I would be doing it as a therapist. Which is, by the way, a role most attorneys have to play part of the time anyway.
Which three famous lawyers (dead or alive) would you like to have dinner with?
Thomas Jefferson, to ask him what he thought of the effects of the Marbury v. Madison decision. Justice John Marshall Harlan, to thank him for his courageous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson. Atticus Finch, to thank him for inspiring me to become a lawyer and, every time I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird, for reminding me what it means to be a lawyer.