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Chuck Geerhart Awarded Civil Justice Award From The San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association (SFTLA)

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Chuck Geerhart
civil justice award

On May 2, 2024, Chuck Geerhart was honored to receive the Civil Justice Award from the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association (SFTLA). This award honors members for their career work helping to promote our civil justice system. Here is my acceptance speech.

Thank you for this honor. Congratulations to the other awards recipients, and the nominees for Trial Lawyer of the Year. These verdicts all reflect great courage and skill.

I wouldn’t be here tonight without the love and support of my wife, Cathy Geerhart. She has supported me and my practice 1000% since we met in 1998. She also once pulled an all-nighter creating exhibit binders the trial judge asked for at the least minute, just so I could get some sleep.  

I have one regret in my legal career, and that is not joining the plaintiff bar earlier. I was a defense lawyer for 10 years. The minute I started representing and succeeding for individual people, I realized this was where I was meant to be. I never got thank you cards from my corporate and insurance clients. I get them routinely from my HUMAN clients.

I want to touch on what has been important for me in the practice of law.  First, the sharing and camaraderie of the plaintiff bar. Helping each other out, sharing briefs, theories, trial skills. The list serv is a great example. We also share our stresses and fears. We don’t have to do it alone. As I realized when I came over to this side,  You are my people.

Second, pro bono work. I encourage everyone here to do it. When I started out in 1989, my large defense firm gave me grief about doing some pro bono landlord-tenant work. This was because there were costs, and the hours were nonbillable. It was a different time. Firms didn’t think pro bono was important and balked at funding it. As a result, I stopped doing it. Then in 1995, I discovered the monthly walk-in legal clinic run by BASF, where we help members of our community solve their legal issues.  I’ve been doing it ever since.

Third, the clients. I love my clients. Most of them. But the ones that cause me grief, you guys taught me that I need to embrace their pain, to understand what they are going through, to help get them justice. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my clients stick around in my life for years after the case is done. They become friends, and that is a huge reward of the work we do.

I didn’t want to let this opportunity on the podium to go by without a wellness pitch. I am in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I can say that proudly now, but for the first 5 years of law practice, I came in hungover every day. Life was not good, and I was slowly killing myself. So I want to put it out there: we don’t have to do it alone. There are lots of resources for folks who are struggling. If you or someone you know has an issue with substance abuse, call me. Or call The Other Bar. We’ll help. Life can begin all over.

I’ll close by thanking you all for making me a better plaintiff lawyer. When I landed my first really big case, a man who had a really bad stroke on an international flight, I called up Mike Kelly for advice on medical experts. He kindly spent time talking to me about exactly what I would need. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. It’s true for all of you– you take the time to help others. For that I commend you. Thanks again for this great award.

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