With a father and brother already practicing law together at Gemma Law Associates, Inc. , Mark Gemma knew exactly what he was getting into when he decided to become a personal injury lawyer.
“Back when I was in college and deciding what to do for a living, I watched my father and brother,” Gemma said. “My father had been practicing this type of law for decades and I saw how many people he and my brother were helping with this firm.”
But there was something else about personal injury that appealed to the aspiring lawyer. Not only were his father and brother able to help the injured, they also enjoyed careers that allowed them to interact directly with their clients in meaningful, important relationships.
“I saw that they got to deal with the clients directly, and I saw that they got to be in court a lot,” Gemma said. “Those things really attracted me, not only to being a lawyer, but to being a lawyer at my dad’s firm.”
Today, 12 years after joining the firm, Mark Gemma has become a successful attorney in his own right, recognized nationally for his legal ability and commitment to legal ethics. In December 2009, Gemma received the distinction of an AV Peer Review Rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the highest recognition of legal excellence of its kind. In addition to serving as President of the Rhode Island Association of Justice, Gemma is the President of the Council of Presidents for American Association of Justice.
“Because these honors and distinctions come from my peers, and from the judges familiar with my work, these achievements mean a great deal to me,” Gemma said.
The most meaningful part of Gemma’s job continues to be the relationships he forms while representing accident victims and other injured individuals. Among the most memorable clients was a car crash survivor that Gemma represented early in his career.
“This woman required multiple surgeries and was very significantly injured,” Gemma said. “For a while, I struggled to get her insurance company to pay up to the limits of her policy, and I think she began to wonder why her case was taking as long as it did.”
The case eventually entered binding arbitration. In his closing arguments, Gemma was able to include personal details about the woman’s life and her injures.
“Later, before we even heard how much we had obtained for her, she stopped by the office and told me how much it meant to her that I devoted myself to her case the way I did, and that I was able to speak about her the way I did in the closing argument,” Gemma said. “She told me that she knew she had a lawyer who really understood her situation. What she said was very important to me, and it felt even better when we learned that she had been awarded an amount far beyond the limits of her policy. I have been fortunate to have many client relationships like this since then, but being able to help this woman will always stand out in my memory.”
Unfortunately, Gemma has seen situations where a client comes to his office when it’s too late for him to help.
“It is incredibly important for a person or family to seek legal representation in the beginning, right after the injury, before entering any agreement with the insurance company,” Gemma said. “I have seen it all too many times when people come to see me after they have resolved a claim and they are having second thoughts about their case and they don’t think they were treated fairly. In this situation, there is usually nothing I can do for them. They have already signed their rights away.”
The experience a lawyer has in dealing with insurance companies can be a crucial factor in settlement negotiations, Gemma said.
“A person who is injured often may not know anything about the process they are getting into,” Gemma said. “They don’t have the experience or the familiarity required to negotiate with an insurance company. They don’t have any way to know what an insurance company might be willing to pay. They may have no idea how valuable their case may be.”
Gemma also said it is important for potential clients to understand that an attorney from Gemma Law Associates, Inc. can usually negotiate a larger settlement, even when legal fees are taken into account, than clients would receive if they handled the claim themselves.
Among the skills important to being a successful lawyer, few rank as highly as the ability to listen and communicate, according to Gemma.
“I think if I have any innate abilities that help me as a lawyer, it is my ability to listen to people and really connect with people,” Gemma said. “I think that has helped me understand clients and their needs and help them with what they are looking for. I think this same communication skill transfers to juries as well, in terms of connecting to jurors and dealing with them on a face-to-face basis.”
When he’s not at his office or at the courthouse, Gemma lives an active life, both on the tennis courts and in his community.
“I play competitive tennis locally and I have played since high school,” Gemma said. “In terms of community involvement I have really become passionate about a program called The Tomorrow Fund.”
The Tomorrow Fund is a non-profit organization that supports children with cancer who are treated at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.
Like many lawyers, Gemma’s profession has influenced his taste in entertainment. His favorite legal movie is The Verdict with Paul Newman.
“The writer of that film went to Boston College, where I went to college,” Gemma said. “And the character played by Paul Newman also went to Boston College.”
His favorite legal book is A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr.
“That was also set in Massachusetts,” Gemma said, “Right here in my own backyard.”