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Attitude of Gratitude

by Pete Croatto; Photography by Jeff Anderson
He was a grinder—a kid, really, representing insurance companies, squaring off against Philadelphia’s brightest workers’ compensation attorneys. Now, Thomas J. Giordano, Jr., a founding partner of the firm Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano, is up there on the marquee alongside those names.

Six-and-a-half years since this founding, the “attitude of gratitude” hasn’t diminished for Giordano, who heads the Social Security disability department. As one of the founding partners of the Philadelphia firm, the 37-year-old has provided his family with a lifestyle he never knew as a kid.

The past is why he’s here. Giordano grew up in a middleclass home and he appreciates the importance behind these battles for compensation. With the holiday season kicking into gear, the latest news was particularly sweet. His client had been waiting for months for his disability check to arrive. Without it, Giordano’s client couldn’t put on his annual display of Christmas lights. Then, Giordano got word: the check came in, the tradition could shine on. His client, upon hearing the news, was ecstatic.

That moment, Giordano says, is what the job is all about.

Giordano literally has been going to law firms since before he was born. His mother, Elaine, a legal secretary right out of high school, was pregnant with Tom at Post & Schell in Philadelphia—where she still works. Going to the office as a kid was an event—the suits, the energy, how the adults acted. Giordano didn’t know what was going on, but the atmosphere hooked him.

At Towson University in Maryland, Giordano majored in communications, which was a preface to studying law at Rutgers Law School—Camden. After all, he says, who talks more than a lawyer? He worked at Post & Schell over the summer, interned at City Hall in Philadelphia. After law school, Giordano’s childhood dream became a reality: he became a lawyer at the firm that inspired him to practice law.

The narrative stalled. Giordano wound up representing insurance companies in workers’ compensation cases. He felt simultaneously unsatisfied and in awe. While trying to muster the enthusiasm for defense work, Giordano was dazzled by his opponents, who included savvy veterans like Sam Pond. When Pond’s big-league firm in Philadelphia courted Giordano to join the other side, it was heady as much as it was baffling. He’d only been with Post & Schell for about a year.

“I don’t know what they saw in me because, quite frankly, I know I was not that good back then,” he says.

Giordano did know that it was a golden opportunity. The young attorney happily said goodbye to defense work, and found the satisfaction he missed: “I think my passion was more for helping people more like me, like my family.” Giordano got to know Pond, who became a mentor, and was introduced to Social Security disability.

“You would only need to talk to a Social Security disability attorney if you have a medical condition or conditions that keep you from working,” Giordano explains. “Unlike workers’ comp, where you have to be injured in the furtherance of your job, here I am helping people who are not only hurt at work, but maybe they were hurt in an accident outside of work. Maybe they suffer from heart failure. Maybe they have cancer or a disease that is keeping them from work. This is a benefit that every American who works and pays into Social Security is entitled to. Believe it or not, they just don’t know about it. I’ve made it my mission to educate people: ‘Hey, 6.2 percent of every one of our paychecks is going into the Social Security trust fund. They’re not just going there for retirement. They’re also going there if something unfortunate happens to you that makes it difficult for you to work.’”

The down side, Giordano says, is that it’s not easy to get. That’s where he comes in. “I’ve surrounded myself with some of the best lawyers and some of the best staff members that you can have,” he says.

Aptitude is not enough. “You can’t be a Social Security disability attorney and not be empathetic and compassionate about what that person is going through,” Giordano says. “When we get a phone call, we’re getting that person at their worst. They’re in pain, most likely. They are unable to work, unable to pay their bills. They may have a family and they’re stressed out. We have an opportunity to really change their lives.” That means Giordano is and must be willing to fight for that person, and appreciate that person beyond billable hours. For Giordano, whose paternal grandfather was a founding member of the millwright’s union in Philadelphia, he grew up with those people. He knows them. Now he protects them at the firm he helped establish.

Asking to help lead that charge was a life-changing moment for Giordano, one he puts on par with getting married and the birth of his children. “I never doubted,” Giordano says. “I knew and believed in Sam, Jerry [Lehocky], and Dave [Stern]. I just knew anything they were going to put their heart and soul into was going to be successful.”

Again, being approached was incomprehensible. “What [the other founding partners] have accomplished versus what I’d accomplished up to that point—this was night and day,” he says. “But they believed in me. They wanted me.”

Giordano, again, recognized an opportunity. His faith has been rewarded handsomely: “I don’t think most law firms ever grow to this size this quickly.” Currently, Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano has 12 offices and more than 200 employees. “We’re going to treat you right,” he says. “You’ll go in front of Social Security judges with some of the best attorneys in the country.”

It turns out the best part about Tom Giordano’s attitude of gratitude is getting to share it with others.

For more information on Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano’s office locations throughout the area, visit PondLehocky.com or call (800) 568-7500.

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life Magazine, January, 2017.
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