Interview with Cullen Tonry

#1: What made you choose a career in law?

I was teaching in a technical 2-year school, when several students relayed to me a few issues that they and their families had encountered with the local and State government. My father was an attorney, and I was able to witness the things he did to help those kinds of people. It was then that I decided that I not only wanted a career in law, but a career in changing the laws and standing up for the people who's rights are getting trampled.

#2: In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?

Me…You can hire a lawyer anywhere. Many of my clients become my friends and I treat them as such. I approach the practice a little differently. I am latched on to the concept of change. There are many laws out there that prevent or restrict an adequate recovery. Insurance companies and big businesses have the money to lobby. This requires our elected officials across the state to change existing laws to better compliment the corporations. I often relate myself to David overcoming Goliath, and over the last several years of practice I have been successful at defending the rights of those harmed by the negligence of others.

#3: Tell us about a case that you are particularly proud of:

One client in particular passed away as a result of lung cancer. His doctor failed to properly diagnose him with cancer after an MRI by actually claiming he had pneumonia. He subsequently passed away after 7 months of not receiving any treatment. I was able to recover $300,000.00 for his heirs as a result of this medical malpractice.

On an older case, we represented hundreds of Hurricane Katrina victims regarding their property insurance claims. Represented clients included a governmental agency as well as an entire school board. We recovered over $4 million for the school board, which enabled the school to rebuild their facilities sooner for the returning population. This was crucial for the returning population and the entire rebuilding of a Parish.

#4: What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?

The steps vary from case to case, but if it is a particularly difficult case I will generally consult with other attorney's and ex-judges for any ideas I may not have thought about. Difficult cases involve lots of legal research and carefully choreographed motions.

Some take longer than others, but we are definitely proactive about handling our cases. Rather than waiting for the insurance companies to act, we put them on the defensive and we keep them there.

#5: How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?

Many clients have become my friends over the years. I take the role of legal counsel, life coach, general counsel, and friend just for plain advice. I am approached with varying questions on a daily basis. My clients are the lifeblood of my business. They must be put first and foremost.

#6: What sets you apart from other attorneys – why is this important?

Passion. I have a DEEP rooted passion for helping those who are being taken advantage of. I despise when I feel that someone in a greater position takes advantage of those less fortunate. The disparage in wealth is a clear cut example of the deterioration of the middle class, so what we are facing more and more is corporate bullying to further the divide.

I am here for more than just your case . Every case involves some type of injustice. (Some valid and some not so valid). What I do is try and make sure that the same mistakes do not happen again and again. If this involves creating an association to lobby and have a voice with the state lawmakers…I do that. If it involves getting a labor union or association to get up and act…I do that.

There is more to just "handling" someone's case…it involves trying to make sure the next person walking in your office doesn't have the same problem. Sometimes, a permanent solution is not feasible. In this instance, I make sure I represent the client to the best of my ability and repeat the work done until the issue or problem complained of gets noticed by the right people.

#7: How does having experience benefit your clients?

The practice of law is just that: "Practice."

Having hired new lawyers in the past, what I quickly realized is that experience is everything in the practice of law. Having the ability to come up with creative ways of settling disputes is sometime the difference between a ZERO case and being made whole. In addition to the creativity that comes with experience, confidence is a trait built with experience. With confidence, you are less likely second guessed and are thought to speak with authority of the law. This goes a long way when dealing with insurance adjusters and/or other attorneys.

Experience also builds relationships. These relationships often mean that these large companies know who they are dealing with. They may have a history of working with a particular attorney. I know first hand a few adjusters that I work with regularly that understand the way I work and these cases tend to go very smoothly.

Would you get operated on by a doctor who has never performed a surgery? (If you had the choice)

#8: What types of cases do you specifically handle?

Personal Injury and criminal defense are my main types of cases that I handle. This does not mean that's all I handle. I have my fair share of wills, real estate transactions, corporate entities, and even civil defense cases… I take it all on a case by case basis, but in no circumstance do I handle divorce or custody issues.

My main focus though deals with auto accidents and criminal defense work. As far as criminal defense work goes, I have handled everything from murder, aggravated rape, and molestation to simple disturbing the peace. On the personal injury side, I have handled everything from medical malpractice, slip and falls, and of course auto accidents.

#9: In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I get this question a lot and the answer varies…

  1. Personal Injury Matter: When a client with a complicated case comes into my office explaining a case that no other lawyer would take. A matter where although they were wronged or harmed by another's actions, their amount of damages is low, and I am not only able to recover damages on behalf of that client, but damages that he/she never thought possible. Many of these claims involve someone who is of very low means, and the ultimate recovery makes a real difference in their lives.
  2. Criminal Defense Matter: Any time a person I believe is not guilty gets his criminal charges dismissed. Every now and then I realize that many people are free and able to be home with their family because of my actions. The reward is knowing that not only are we functioning in a broken system, but sometimes the system actually works. This provides not only hope, but great satisfaction in what I do.

#10: What advice do you most often give your clients & why?

Many of my client's problems could be avoided or at least not become quite as ugly. Most criminal and civil matters are merely miscommunications. My number one piece of advice is that they stay informed. Keep on top of legislation and EXERCISE their right to vote. Most don't realize that the laws protecting the other people are bills that their own legislator introduced. They need to keep their elected officials in the loop when it comes to our civil and criminal rights. They need to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions. Finally, I explain to most of them why they should vote democrat. :)