Grace Acosta: Understanding People

Grace Acosta
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Storytelling comes naturally to Grace Acosta. As a child growing up in the rural South, Acosta dreamed of being a writer, and she still writes short fiction and poetry. It was her passion for writing and storytelling that helped lead her to a highly successful law career. Today, as a partner at Scalley Reading Bates Hansen & Rasmussen, she is an AV-rated lawyer and has been named as one of Utah’s legal elite.

“When I realized how much writing was involved in being an attorney, I knew it was a skillset I wanted to take advantage of,” she says. “And a big component of being an effective trial attorney is being a storyteller. I have an inherent ability to extrapolate the facts and weave together a story that is cohesive and persuasive.”

She brings that ability and a deep understanding of what motivates people to her clients. Mainly focused in insurance defense, Acosta considers herself the face of the 40-plus insurance carriers she has represented in her career. And it isn’t a face that she believes most people expect to see.

“Insurance carriers are often viewed as the enemy,” she says. “But these companies, like other businesses, are just made up of people trying to do their jobs. Carriers like me because I am different. I am not the stereotypical stuffy guy in a suit. I am a minority female who is a strong member of the community and they like that I am their voice – it is important in front of a jury, an arbitrator or opposing counsel.”

And given how important her diversity has been to her clients, Acosta laments that there are not more minority female law partners in Utah.

“There can’t be more than a handful of us statewide,” she says. “That is a sad statement given the demographics of Utah, but it is a reality. I am proud to represent this group, and my Hispanic upbringing and ability to speak Spanish is a big part of my identity. My Spanish speaking ability really helps me when representing people who are sued and it is one of the things that the insurance companies that hire me appreciate.”

It is also her people-focused approach to resolving cases without going to court that clients and even opposing counsel appreciate. She has a 90 percent settlement rate.

“I am able to figure out what motivates people and that leads to persuading them to take certain courses of action,” she says. “I was taught that if the case sees the inside of a courtroom it is because one person has misjudged their position, because if all parties are being rational and looking at something realistically, compromise is always possible.”

Acosta was also taught at an early age to be open minded and to question. The daughter of educators from Uruguay who came to the United States prior to integration, Acosta grew up in an antebellum home in the small town of Eufaula, Alabama, in what she calls “stereotypically Southern culture.” Being named homecoming queen at Auburn University is her claim to fame in her hometown.

“I often joke that I could win the Nobel Peace Prize and it wouldn’t be as big of a deal as being Miss Homecoming in the football-crazed South,” she laughs.

However, during her childhood she spent summers in Uruguay, which exposed her to different cultural norms and beliefs.

“I really didn’t know very much about the world,” Acosta says. “Spending time with my cousins in South America was a big part of molding me into who I am. It really broadened my horizons.”

Acosta finds it important to both broaden the horizons of others and to continually broaden her own by supporting many professional and community organizations. She brought her experience and expertise to the Utah Minority Bar Association where she served as president. She strives to be a living role model for young minority attorneys. She also sings in a gospel choir and is on the choir’s leadership council.

“My talent is marginal at best but my enthusiasm makes up for it,” Acosta says. “Gospel music is a central part of the African- American experience. I love seeing that other part of Utah culture.”

Acosta is also active in Girl Scouts, from helping with cookie sales to teaching leadership skills. She has two daughters, Bella, 7, and Lilly, 5, with husband Shawn Berger, a stay-at-home dad.

“It is very difficult to be a working mother,” she says. “And he is a great dad and a big part of my success. He allowed me to be the breadwinner while he stays home with the kids. He has given me my children and my career and for that I am grateful. I know that I am very lucky to be so loved and so supported by my husband.”

The family also includes three dogs and three cats; all but one are rescues. Philanthropy was as important to Acosta when she was young as it continues to be today. She and her sister would donate their time washing dogs at the local humane society when they were kids. Today on vacations, the family visits shelters in other states to spend time with the animals. The family also enjoys hiking and camping in their motor home.

How does Acosta balance her law career and her personal and family life?

“I try to focus on living in the moment,” she says. “When I leave work, I leave work. I try to be involved with my kids and family and it is not always easy, but I want to give my kids the same life I had. I love my two little girls. They are magical and keep me young.”

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