Two people influenced Ann Arbor attorney Stephen Goethel’s decision to become an attorney. “A fictional motivator was Atticus Finch for his role in To Kill a Mockingbird which I read in a High School Lit class. The non-fictional person was my Dad. He had a tremendous work ethic and wanted me to follow in his footsteps in the business world. He knew how much I wanted to go into law. In the end, he stepped aside and encouraged me to pursue my dreams,” said Goethel.
An MAJ member for over 25 years, Goethel believes that an organization can only be as strong as its members. “I have been on the executive board for the last four years and am a member of AAJ and the Washtenaw Association for Justice. There are multiple facets of MAJ that are an integral part of my practice. The ability to network through the list server is crucial. It’s no longer David v Goliath. Utilizing the list server is like having an 800 person law firm. The seminars are hugely important, too; particularly in areas like malpractice.
“I have been handling medical malpractice cases for close to 30 years. I got intrigued with the medical-legal dynamic during law school. I clerked in Oakland Circuit during the day and went to law school at night. Most days were spent in the courtroom. Far and away the most intriguing civil cases were the malpractice trials. The caliber of trial advocacy was the best and the cases were always compelling. I did criminal work for a couple of years then had an opportunity to work for Ed Stein who is an amazing trial lawyer (even after he went to the dark side). That’s how I learned malpractice and medicine. I came to Ann Arbor in 1983 and have been here since. I am still fascinated by medicine. I really enjoy the intense workup that goes into cases at the outset that then transcends into the legal arena.
“I’ve become active in the National Crime Victims Bar Association after working on a series of cases involving sexually abused TBI patients. Getting involved on behalf of crime victims has been a rewarding addition to my malpractice work.”
A monthly contributor to JUSTICE PAC, Goethel stated, “JPAC is important for all of us who do this work. I think all attorneys who consider themselves trial lawyers want a level playing field. Unfortunately the field on which we play is anything but level. In my opinion, JPAC works to help restore that balance.”
According to Goethel, “The most satisfying aspect of being a trial lawyer is the ability to make a difference in the lives of the people I represent. Malpractice cases typically have a pretty long life cycle; on average 3 to 5 years - sometimes longer. At the outset, clients or their families have either just come through, or are continuing to suffer from some disastrous life experience. It’s pretty hard to work on a case that long and not get to know your clients well. The true reward comes not just in getting a good result but with the friendships that continue long after the attorney-client relationship ends. I remember going to the high school graduation of a cerebral palsied birth trauma client I represented. It was years after the case was over. It was the first birth trauma case I litigated. When I first met the client, he was a spastic quadriplegic, who couldn’t speak. He was confined to wheelchair with a body contorted in spasm. He learned to communicate with one arm bracing the other which allowed him to type on a keyboard with one finger. It was painstaking to watch but it gave him a voice. Eventually we were able to get him a talking computer when the technology was really cutting edge. He wound up running for class president and gave a commencement speech on the talking computer. Those experiences stay with you.”
Goethel has been blessed with an exceptionally talented staff. “They make all the difference in the world dealing with the never-ending upside down legal environment we’re in. I also have a committed significant other who has wonderful courtroom instincts and has worked on trials with me for the last ten years or so. Outside the law I have 3 great kids. I like to keep physically active – run, bike and ski. And, try to keep up with my 2 year old black lab, Tar.”