Attorney at Law Magazine Palm Beach Publisher Rhenne Leon sat down with Michael A. Gottlieb to discuss the culture of his firm and his family life.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney?
Gottlieb: I first became an attorney in 1993. My parents pushed me to go to law school. I had been in Washington D.C. studying political science at George Washington University and working on Capitol Hill. I was going into a career as a lobbyist. They felt it would be best if I had a law degree. So, I came home, attended NSU and became a certified legal intern. I was given cases to handle at trial. I handled a few losers and won. The feeling was incredible. I was instantly drawn to the criminal defense field. Helping people who truly needed and wanted my help was fulfilling and being able to defend the constitution while doing it made it all worthwhile.
AALM: Do you have any mentors or professors that encouraged you along the way? What is the best lesson they taught you?
Gottlieb: I learned early on to watch other attorneys. Watch the good the bad and ugly. You can learn from any experience. I still to this day watch other attorneys, their mannerisms, how they approach the state or the bench. I’m learning every day, honing my skills and always striving to be a better lawyer and better person.
AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school? How do you apply that to your career today?
Gottlieb: I learned that the Constitution is a living breathing document. That means that while it was written over 200 years ago and remains a constant benchmark for our liberties and rights, it is also subject to changing with the times and ever-changing focus. I’ve learned that the pendulum of justice swings both ways and that in time what might be seen as fair and just but isn’t will eventually come into clearer view as opinions sway. That it takes time for justice to be sought out and that we are in an everlasting battle for freedom. One day at a time.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
Gottlieb: Losing is by far the best teacher. While there are lessons to be learned in each win, it’s the losses that hurt both me and the client the most. It’s not about me. It’s about the consequences. I represent people who have made mistakes and by and large are being judged based upon their worst moments in life. So, when we lose, when they get sentenced and pay the price with their freedom, the lesson is so poignant and compelling, the consequences and collateral harm that comes from those mistakes has a ripple effect. I have learned to not judge so harshly the mistakes that others make and to ask why they did what they did and how can we prevent this from happening again. When you’ve stood with a client and been judged, you learn to reflect upon yours and their mistakes and to consider the lasting effect those actions have on others.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?
Gottlieb: Helping those in need and especially those with mental health issues. There are numerous people who need help. Cannot get it or do not know how. Being able to help someone to affect their life to make it better. There is no greater reward.
AALM: What traits do you think make an attorney exceptional? What’s the difference between a good attorney and an outstanding one?
Gottlieb: A mentor once told me that this job is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. I still believe that’s true. Take the time to listen and learn. Be respectful and represent your client the way you would like to be represented. When you watch the best attorneys, what moves you the most is the respect they have for themselves, the time, effort and care they put into placing their client’s above all else is truly remarkable. That of course also comes with experience.
AALM: How would you describe the culture of the firm?
Gottlieb: My firm is somewhat unique. It’s myself and Clark Strandell. We keep the atmosphere light and fun. We both think differently. Act differently. Approach the client and opposition differently. Yet we both work each case together. This gives us a unique perspective. The power of teamwork, two lawyers working from different positions to achieve a common goal benefitting the client’s best interest. We argue both sides and view each case from as many angles as we can. We polish the argument and our perspective until we get it right. That is what makes us shine. The firm might be mine and in my name. But without Clark, my right-hand man, the results would not be the same. Teamwork makes all the difference.
AALM: What case most defined or rede fined your practice?
Gottlieb: No one case has defined my practice. I have cases that I have lived with for more than 10 years. Some cases last a lifetime, some get resolved quickly. It’s the fact that in the criminal justice system, we are essentially playing with the lives of other people. They are not numbers. They are good people who have been pushed by life into circumstances which have spiraled out of control. They have made mistakes. It’s how you view the person and the act you are defending that most de- fines you. The perspective you have when looking at someone else’s faults and realizing, that could be me or a loved one. Judging someone based upon their worst moments in life, that will give you perspective.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Gottlieb: Being a father. Anyone can work. Anyone can become a parent. But being a father to my children and instilling in them positive qualities that have been instilled in me by my parents, my wife and by life experience, sharing those in a positive way, which I strive to do daily (I don’t always succeed), but it’s the effort and end result that I’m most proud of.
AALM: What events are you most looking forward to in the coming year? Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10?
Gottlieb: Next year I turn 50. A milestone of sorts. I look forward to reflecting back on 25 years or work and experience and to simply enjoy being where I’m at and knowing how far I’ve come. In 10 years, I see myself in the same place – saving the world one client at a time.