Top Lawyers: Laura Roopenian of Gilson Daub On The 5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law

An Interview With Chere Estrin

Chere Estrin
Authority Magazine
17 min readOct 12, 2021

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Prioritization and Multitasking- Finally, I believe my ability to multitask is an essential trait to my success. As an attorney one has to juggle multiple issues, cases and clients. Everyone and everything is important. Having the ability to not only prioritize but to be able to multitask has proven to be a beneficial trait as a lawyer. One of my greatest tools I use throughout the day is my “notes” app on my IPhone. I am constantly adjusting my “to do” list to appropriately prioritize tasks and multitask as needed.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Roopenian, Attorney-Director of New Attorney Training at Gilson Daub, a nationally recognized law firm serving the insurance and business communities in the practice areas of workers’ compensation defense, subrogation recovery, and general liability across 20 U.S. offices.

Laura obtained her J.D. in 1997 from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, and received her Bachelor of Art’s degree in 1994 from the University of California, Riverside with a joint major in Political Science and Administrative Studies. She has been an active member of the California State Bar since 1997 with her primary focus on Workers’ Compensation defense. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and 3 children.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

As a child, I knew that the law was something that had to be followed. However, I was the type of person that always asked “why?” Why do I need to follow the law? Why is this law? Why isn’t there a different law? I absolutely desired an understanding as to the entire legal process. I did not know however, what specific type of lawyer I wanted to become.

That said, I always knew that I wanted to be an attorney when I grew up. In high school, I imagined that my undergraduate degree would be a steppingstone for me to pursue a graduate degree in law.

I attended The University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento Calif. and upon graduating I landed my first attorney job at a small civil litigation defense firm. I learned how to be a litigator, manage a case load, take depositions, appear in court and communicate with clients.

Next, I went on to representing hospitals dealing with breach of contract issues with insurance carriers. As a courtesy to the hospitals, I would appear at the worker’s compensation appeals board (WCAB) to represent their lien interests in large cases. For example, I would appear at the WCAB on a $500,000 lien for severe first degree burns and the associated hospitalization with that injury.

During my time representing hospitals at the WCAB I started observing the attorneys at the WCAB. I observed their personalities, demeanors, workload, stress levels and overall job satisfaction. The stress level appeared more reasonable, the attorneys all seemed to know one another and there was pleasant dialogue between the attorneys. Many attorneys seemed to be friends outside of the workplace. I felt a better sense of community at the WCAB than when I was practicing in civil litigation. It was then that I made the decision to change my focus to workers compensation.

Ultimately, I found that working as a workers compensation defense attorney met my work-life balance goals.

But I also knew that I wanted to teach. Essentially, I wanted to be a college professor and a lawyer. One day, I wrote a letter to a local adult continuing education school that taught legal secretaries expressing my interest in teaching for their program. Approximately one year later, this small neighborhood continuing education school reached out to me and I accepted my first job in the legal field teaching legal secretaries the basics of Civil Procedure and legal filings.

From there, I continued to pursue adjunct teaching in various business law courses while working full-time as an attorney. This further developed into me teaching at four- year universities, graduate programs and community colleges. I’ve taught a variety of courses including Business Law, Civil Procedure, Employment Law, Workers’ Compensation Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution courses.

For many years, I would spend my days working at the law firm, defending cases, appearing in court, taking depositions, speaking with clients, conducting legal research and being a workers compensation defense attorney and my evenings and weekends teaching as an adjunct professor. Working as an adjunct provided me with the outlet for my desire to help and encourage others to achieve their academic and vocational goals.

Currently, I practice law and oversee the attorney training program at Gilson Daub, a leading workers’ compensation defense, subrogation, and general liability law firm, and also teach law and paralegal courses as an adjunct Professor.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

I am a Worker’s Compensation defense attorney for Gilson Daub representing employers and/or insurance companies in Worker’s Compensation matters throughout California. At Gilson Daub, I also have the privilege to work with and train new attorney hires. As I mentioned earlier, I have a true passion and desire to teach and mentor others so this unique position is something that I am very grateful for.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Organization- I am a very organized and structured person. Being prepared helps in multiple ways when working on a file or working with courts and clients. It also helps with understanding the facts of the case, the client’s needs and developing persuasive arguments. Attorneys have to work on multiple files at a time so organization and case management is crucial.

Passion- I believe it is passion that makes people come alive. When I am practicing law, training new attorneys, or teaching at the college level it is the passion that I bring into the room that drives my success. For example, about five years ago I was going through chemotherapy for my breast cancer diagnosis. During chemotherapy treatments I continued to teach one night a week at the community college. I was very weak and unable to drive myself to the school. We would hire a babysitter to watch our three young children and my husband would drive me to the college. As soon as I was in the classroom teaching the law I would come alive. My husband was amazed that I could be so weak in the car but come alive for the few hours of teaching. My passion for learning the law and helping others is what keeps me going when things get tough.

Prioritization and Multitasking- Finally, I believe my ability to multitask is an essential trait to my success. As an attorney one has to juggle multiple issues, cases and clients. Everyone and everything is important. Having the ability to not only prioritize but to be able to multitask has proven to be a beneficial trait as a lawyer. One of my greatest tools I use throughout the day is my “notes” app on my IPhone. I am constantly adjusting my “to do” list to appropriately prioritize tasks and multitask as needed.

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

I know I am very blessed in my success as an attorney and am a very lucky person at this stage of my life. However, this is not something I achieved overnight. I always knew that I wanted to mentor and teach others to help them succeed at their jobs and achieve goals while also practicing law After 24 years, I feel I have finally reached the perfect combination of practicing law, and providing mentoring, training and instruction to new attorneys.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

This is a very interesting question. I attended University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, located in Sacramento Calif. I had an amazing law school experience and treasure the time I spent there. I enjoyed the learning, the studying, and the instruction of my law school professors and believe that my law school contributed to my success as an attorney. I had excellent law professors during law school, was on law review and academically challenged. These factors all contribute to my success as an attorney.

The question regarding how important it is to go to a top-tier law school is more difficult for me to address. I graduated from law school in 1997. The legal industry is different now and has dramatically evolved. I do think that there is value in graduating from a top-tier law school as one may be presented with more opportunities. However, so many opportunities are based upon networking and pursuing your own personal goals that I don’t think the law school alone is the deciding factor. I believe with enough passion and perseverance one can achieve their goals and be successful as a lawyer no matter what law school they attend.

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say?

This is one of my favorite questions. I would tell my 20-year-old self to slow down, there is no rush and to take it all in. There is no need to be overly anxious to accomplish everything at once. I would advise myself that I have a whole life ahead of me and if one thing doesn’t work out it does not mean that everything is going down the wrong path.

Specifically, with regard to law school, I would not have put as much pressure on myself to go straight from undergraduate to graduate school. I think that there is some real value in work experience. This work experience may be working as a paralegal before going onto law school or simply working in a law office or any other type of job. Understanding what it takes to work and what hard work really consists of is something that is a crucial skill for being a successful attorney. I had definitely mastered how to be a student but I cannot say that my part-time employment during undergraduate years was sufficient for me to understand what working really consisted of.

The other bit of advice I have is to talk to everyone about different types of jobs. There are so many different opportunities in the legal field, many of which you only learn about by talking with others. Law school can equip you to be a lawyer but your law degree can also open the door to other opportunities.

Would you do anything differently?

I would not do anything differently. Looking back, we always say hindsight is 20/20 and that is not something that I want to focus on. I believe that we make decisions and we learn from every decision and we move forward. I also rely upon my faith and do not question the path I am on.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

I believe it’s very important to have a purpose behind your work. My primary motivation centers around my family, helping others, and staying mentally strong. Family is a huge priority. Helping my husband provide for our family is something that I treasure. When I first had our three children I did take some time off from work. We have two girls and a boy. It is a great feeling to be an example of a female in the work force for our girls. I feel very fortunate and grateful that as the kids are getting older and becoming more independent I am able to continually invest more and more time into my legal career. Obviously helping my family financially is a blessing as well.

I believe that we cannot just be focused on ourselves and that it is important to be focused on others and to help others. I think that is why I am so driven to help train new attorneys and to teach paralegal and law students. I know how motivating and influential a good professor can be and I strive to be the positive encouraging instructor for my students. Specifically, with the training program at Gilson Daub it is wonderful to see the growth in the trainees. In workers compensation we use many abbreviations. When I first met with the trainees they had no idea what these abbreviations stood for. Now, I can have full conversations using abbreviations and they can follow the dialogue. I also love receiving questions from the trainees. Receiving questions shows me they are thinking about the material and trying to gain an understanding of the legal process.

I am also motivated to stay mentally strong. It is very easy to take on a relaxed attitude in life. There is something that I enjoy and appreciate about being sharp and up-to-date and able to participate in intellectual conversations. The law is always changing and I’m always prepared to learn more through self-study, courses and seminars.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently at Gilson Daub, I am working on our new Attorney Training program. This is an amazing and unique program that the firm has implemented, and it is a program that I am very passionate about. As a new attorney coming straight from law school you are not typically prepared for the workings of a law office. New attorneys need instruction on how to have good client communication, communicate with the court and the ins and outs of a law office. This is all in addition to learning the substantive material of the specific area of law you are practicing.

Attorneys typically know how to perform legal research for an assignment but they may not know how to handle a case that comes in from inception to closure. This is the ins and outs of a law firm that are crucial to understanding. I am very passionate about working with the attorney trainees and guiding them on this journey. I want to constantly equip them with the knowledge to be successful both for themselves and for the law firm.

Currently we have six trainees in the program. I have developed a curriculum for learning the substantive material. Typically, I meet with them twice a week to go over substantive material. In addition to the law, I show them various samples of documents that pertain to the specific subject being discussed. Throughout the week they will work on assignments from their managing attorneys. I am there to help them understand the assignments, to answer any questions and to explain the big picture of the case and where their work product will fit in. As they start to receive their own files I am helping them to understand the legal issues, the client’s goals and their plan of action on the case. It is very fulfilling when they start seeing how far they have come and how much knowledge they have gained participating in the training.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

I feel that I am in the best stage of my career as an attorney and I hope to continue with this path. I want to further expand upon the attorney training program at Gilson Daub and to make an impact in the lives of each of the trainees that enter the program.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

When I first started practicing workers compensation defense law I was immersed in many depositions. It is very common for defense attorneys to take the deposition of the injured worker. One time, I took the deposition of an Academy Award winner. I am a big fan of the entertainment industry. I enjoy The Academy Awards and most things associated with it. At the conclusion of the deposition, I asked if I could shake his hand simply so that I could proclaim that I have shaken the hand of an Academy Award winner.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

One of the greatest features of working at Gilson Daub is the ability to work remotely. This is something that Brent Daub, the founder of Gilson Daub, pioneered and it is very effective.

Although, I do prefer to meet with people in-person occasionally. Meeting in-person for me personally does convey a stronger sense of communication and understanding of the viewpoints of others. However, once an interpersonal rapport has been established, it can continue to be an effective relationship with a remote/online platform. I believe there are benefits to both online and on-site work therefore hybrid is my preference.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

COVID-19 has impacted every business differently. Specifically, with Worker’s Compensation, we saw all of the hearings transferred to online/remote hearings. It is interesting how we were all forced to adapt to different settings and ultimately we have all come through.

One of the courses I teach is Alternative Dispute Resolution. Prior to COVID, we had already seen a movement towards online dispute resolution. Throughout the shutdown, we saw many improvements with online platforms. I think that being forced into this position through has demonstrated to law firms and practitioners that the legal world can definitely succeed if not excel in an online climate.

We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?

“Networking” was a word that I dreaded as a recent law school graduate. I was always fearful that I was bothering or wasting the time of the person that I was seeking to meet and “network” with. I immediately thought they don’t really want to help me and the entire concept was very challenging for me.

Looking back, I can now see the errors in my thinking. Networking is always happening and it is just as important as it’s ever been. Personally, I am anxious to help others and I desire to help others. I realize that when people are referred to me that it’s a pleasure to get the referral. It’s very interesting to see how with maturity I developed a greater understanding of the importance of networking. Networking can bring many opportunities. In fact, it is how I was referred to my first Workers Compensation defense firm. I encourage people to reach out to others and ask lots of questions. We have so much to learn from everyone and anyone so don’t be afraid of networking.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice? Social media is a great marketing tool and I would encourage law firms to leverage specific social media channels that target their desired clients to raise awareness and recognition of their firm.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.

Good communication skills- As a defense attorney you are constantly communicating with clients, opposing counsel and court personnel including judges. Strong communication includes the skill of active listening. People want to be heard and know that they have been heard. A miscommunication can be very detrimental to a case. When communicating with others we are always subject to perceptual errors. Perhaps my opposition is saying he will make a settlement recommendation when in reality he is thinking that the offer is absurd and will not consider recommending it to the client. Having strong interpersonal and communicative skills will hopefully minimize some of these entrapments we bring to the workplace. Everyone comes into their jobs with their own beliefs and biases. Part of that is what makes the world an exciting place to learn from one another. However, that is also what may allow for misunderstandings in communication. Communicating effectively and persuasively is a key ingredient to success as a litigator.

Complete dedication to the goal- When I do something I do it 150%. I don’t hold back on what it is I am pursuing. For example, when defending a client in court, or arguing with opposition I would likely over prepare. I would focus on both large and small issues to make sure that I was prepared for any possible argument which may be raised. Also, what are the client’s goals? Do they want the case settled? Do they want it to go to trial? Do they want to pursue a legal issue to create new law? Once I know and have a good understanding of the client’s goal I need to be entirely dedicated to achieving that goal.

Organization- I cannot overemphasize the importance of organization. As an attorney you will always have multiple files and clients. Keeping information organized for immediate access is very important for success.

Never think you know everything- The practice of law is just that, “practice.” The exciting aspect of the law is that it is ever changing so you need to keep up on the changes in your specialty area. I am constantly learning and improving my skills as an attorney. There are many issues that can be handled from different approaches and different perspectives when working on a case file. It is with this in mind that I think it is so important to understand that I don’t know everything and other people can help contribute to a case strategy or approach on a problem. As I mentioned earlier, I currently am providing training for new attorneys at Gilson Daub. From the attorney trainer perspective, I have found that my greatest concern is when a new attorney does not ask questions. The more you get involved in the subject matter and the issues presented in a case additional questions will arise that need to be answered. It is important to seek out help, other’s opinions and to ask questions. There have been many cases over the years where I have changed my case strategy based upon discussing the facts and law with fellow attorneys.

Having mentors to connect with- When I first started in Workers Compensation defense I was very fortunate to have a strong managing attorney. He served as my first mentor. Overtime I have found other mentors, some of whom I refer to as peers now. Sometimes mentors just naturally evolve and other times the relationship may begin through simple networking. A mentor provides a sounding board for processing cases or even career direction.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Being a woman of faith, a wife, a mother and having success in my chosen field are all important to me. That said, Candace Cameron Bure is a woman who possesses many of these same traits and I would love to have breakfast or lunch with her. I admire her ability to adhere and stand for her faith while pursuing her career goals and other passions. As a mom I know how challenging this can be and I have profound respect for how she has been able to attain these accomplishments.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Chere Estrin
Authority Magazine

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing.