With the start of the holiday season, Gary Lesser is feeling thankful for a lot of things.
His West Palm Beach-based law firm, Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, is celebrating its 90th anniversary, an impressive milestone at a time when very little stays the same.
Lesser also recently served as chairman of a major fundraising breakfast for The Lord’s Place, an organization that combats homelessness by providing housing and offering employment and job training services. The 10th Annual Ending Homelessness Breakfast was held Nov. 16 at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.
Lesser is managing partner of his law firm, founded by his grandfather, Joseph Lesser, in 1927. It is one of the city’s oldest law firms and also has offices in Boca Raton, Wellington and Stuart.
During his two decades at the firm, Lesser has grown the firm to include not only personal injury and medical malpractice law but also some interesting legal specialties, too. For instance, the firm now has attorneys who specialize in nursing home matters as well as cruise ship cases.
Lesser’s own practice consists of federal tort claims, or claims against the federal government, such as malpractice cases involving the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lesser said his firm’s goal is to foster close relationships with the community, and not only through its work on behalf of clients but also through the charity work performed by Lesser and other firm members, too.
A self-described workaholic, Lesser said his community involvement doesn’t take away from his practice. Instead, he said, it recharges him, giving him fresh energy for his many pursuits.
Name: Gary S. Lesser
Hometown: West Palm Beach, Florida
Education: B.A. in International Affairs, George Washington University: Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law
Family: Wife, Jennifer Lesser, married September 24, 1994; Daughters Lillian (20), Josie (17) and Rebecca (12)
About your company: The firm has grown, from when I came on board 25 years ago, from my semi-retired father and part-time receptionist to just hiring our 12th lawyer along with a staff of over 25 great employees who work together helping our clients.
First paying job and what you learned from it: Arby’s. I learned that you learn what the job requires. Some people get caught up in the challenges and setbacks of the “now,” but if you work your hardest, things work out in the long term.
First break in the business: Getting a clerkship with Tod Aronovitz, one of the leading trial lawyers in Florida. While Tod was a family friend, I didn’t really know him that well personally at the time. My grandmother encouraged me to reach out to him. We had lunch, and that turned into not just a great job, but a great mentorship and friendship, and we still work together on cases after all of these years.
How your business has changed: For 90 years, our firm has attracted clients by referral and word of mouth. Starting 25 years ago, I moved the firm almost exclusively into personal injury law, and in that same time, this field of law that has become heavily invested in advertising on TV, billboards and such. Continuing to get the word out about our firm, the good results we get on the cases we handle and how we provide great service and communication, is much more of a challenge in what seems like the “noise” of so much lawyer advertising. We continue to work on referral and word of mouth, and many clients really like that we don’t advertise and the “old school” way our firms operates in our community.
Best business book: Not really a business book, but great lessons that can be learned can be found in “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. You have to be at the right place, work really, really hard and be dedicated to your craft, whatever that is. For us, we like doing a good job for our injured clients and their families, and we like to help them through the process, as attorneys and “counselors at law.”
Best piece of business advice you received: My mother wanted to be a lawyer, but women of her generation were discouraged from doing so. Nonetheless, she gave me great advice. She told me years ago to make decisions that you will not regret in five minutes, five months or five years. Make the “right” decision, not the easy one. And always treat everyone, from every walk of life, with the same respect you would like to receive.
What you tell young people about your business: Don’t become a lawyer to make money. Become a lawyer to help your clients. If you go for the money, you will never make enough money to feel content. If you go into law to truly help clients, you will have many rewarding days when you have really made a difference in someone’s life.
Many successful people learn from failure. Do you have a failure you can share and what you learned from it? Never be afraid to go outside your comfort zone, to try new things. For a number of years, we resisted social media and other ways of getting our firm’s message out, helping clients and our community. It’s important to have an open mind, to realize that we don’t have all the answers.
What do you see ahead for Palm Beach County? Continued smart growth, becoming more of a dynamic place for great education, culture and business for our residents. I would like to see more affordable housing so people don’t have to leave and live outside of Palm Beach County in order to work in Palm Beach County.
Power lunch spot: Stresa Italian Restaurant on Okeechobee. The word is starting to get out, but it’s a real treasure. Besides great chicken parmigiana and other classics, the specials are fresh and delicious. It’s a bit of a “see and be seen” place but not excessively so.
Where we’d find you when you’re not at the office: Ideally, you would find me at my favorite place, at home with my family. You may also find me at a meeting or an event to help people in Palm Beach County. I find giving back to the community so rewarding. It’s a value that was so important to my grandfather. But it was my mother who taught me the importance of helping other people in need. I have been so fortunate to be spending a lot of time with The Lord’s Place this year. It’s an amazing organization dedicated to ending the cycle of homelessness. And they believe that every single life matters — because it does, and that’s how they are able to help so many people. Being the chair of their Ending Homelessness Breakfast this year made me decide to do our “12 days of giving” (social media campaign and item drive) solely focused on helping the Lord’s Place.
Favorite smartphone app: Waze. Real time traffic, navigation and directions. It’s very helpful to get you where you need to be. I spend a lot of time on the road, so this saves me a lot of time.
What is the most important trait you look for when hiring? Values and ethics by far. A job candidate can say they “like to work hard” or “make money for the firm” (that is actually a bad thing to say in an interview with me). I have found that people who value their family time and who like giving back to the community are great to work with. They are great team players and are compassionate for our clients.