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Love of Law: A Way of Life

As the newest attorney to join the renowned plaintiff's firm Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield, LLP (CaseyGerry), Melissa Deleon is absolutely living out a dream. "I truly have the heart of a plaintiff's lawyer. I started clerking for a personal injury attorney in law school and this area has been my only focus for the duration of my career. I love it because I love people, and I love learning their stories. Being a plaintiff's attorney is an opportunity to help people who are often at their lowest. We stick up for people in a way no one else can. Nothing fires me up more than a wrongdoer unwilling to take responsibility for their conduct, or who determines that a person's suffering is unworthy of compensation," Deleon says.
For former full-time journalist Deleon, the opportunity to join CaseyGerry and work alongside some of the most accomplished attorneys in the personal injury practice in California has only bolstered her passion for helping those who have been harmed through no fault of their own. "CaseyGerry is a very special firm. This firm is historical. We were the first plaintiff's firm in San Diego. We are also one of the few firms dedicated exclusively to personal injury law," she explains. But beyond that, Deleon says, the firm has embraced and sought out diversity amongst its team of attorneys and staff, which resonates with Deleon, who is proud to be extraordinarily active in the Filipino community.

Professional Goals Become Personal
"Three of the most recent attorneys to join the firm are women of color. The partners recognize the value in shared perspectives. They welcome our ideas and value our opinions. When I first became licensed and had my own caseload, I was surprised at how few females I encountered. Lawyers should be representative of all people. This helps build trust in our legal and judicial system," says Deleon. All the same, she recalls, "My first year out [of law school], there were times I felt that I was the odd man out in a courtroom or deposition setting. I looked around and thought, 'Where are the lawyers who look like me?' There seemed to be a lack of diversity and very few women. There were moments I felt very aware and selfconscious of my bar number, gender and ethnicity. Eventually, I just took ownership of this. There's value in being new and bringing new ideas to the table," Deleon says.
Concurrent with an "unconventional" start to her legal career, in which Deleon spent a few years working for several different personal injury solo practitioners on a project basis, while simultaneously marketing herself and generating her own business, she took complete ownership of not only her career, but of blending her professional life into her personal life. "I really enjoyed the variety of personalities I worked for and seeing how different practitioners worked up their personal injury cases. I had a lot of valuable and fun opportunities to be involved on some very righteous cases," she explains.

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Continuing, she adds, "I also discovered the Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego (FALSD) and found another female Filipino attorney in litigation. She became my mentor and eventually one of my closest friends," Deleon says. The discovery was invaluable, and Deleon launched herself into action in the San Diego Filipino legal community with everything she had, eventually becoming President of FALSD. She also became a member of the National Filipino American Lawyers Association, serving on its leadership team.
"I can't count the number of cool opportunities I have experienced because of the Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego and National Filipino American Lawyers Association (NFALA). There is so much momentum in the Filipino community and I'm honored to be a part of it. Earlier this year, I attended the NFALA midyear conference in Las Vegas. About 25 Filipino lawyers from all over the country attended to discuss our mission, growth and goals. There is a real sense of family within NFALA. Filipinos are not associated with the legal profession and we hope to change this perception," she says.

"California has one of the largest populations of Filipino- Americans in the country and here in San Diego, the Filipino community is the second largest ethnic group," she says. In addition to her work with FALSD and NFALA, Deleon is a director on the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce. She also contributes articles to San Diego's local newspaper, Filipino Press, which also happens to allow her to continue to nurture her journalism roots. Lastly, Deleon was appointed to the advisory council for the Philippine Honorary Consulate of San Diego, and this month she attended the White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders' official celebration of Filipino History month, which was an invitation-only event.
"It is very humbling to be asked to serve as a representative for a community that means so much to me," says Deleon. "My parents were both born and raised in the Philippines. They had modest beginnings, and are very accomplished people. My dad served in the Navy for 25 years and retired as an officer. My mom is a small business owner. They raised me with a sense of being very proud of our background and culture, and I am eternally grateful for that."

The Filipino community is also undoubtedly equally proud of Deleon. In her five years of practice, her work has already resulted in the accumulation of awards and distinctions that impress even tenured attorneys. In 2011 and 2013, she was named a Top Young Attorney by the San Diego Daily Transcript. In 2014 she was named a Top Young Influential by the San Diego Daily Transcript and was named to the Best of the Bar by the San Diego Business Journal. She also received the San Diego County Bar Association's "Outstanding Service By a New Lawyer Award" and the Business Journal's "Emerging Leaders" award, for being one of San Diego's top 25 leaders in their 20s. In 2015 she was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star and received a "Top Hat Rising Star" award by the Philippine American Business & Development Association.

Labor of Love
Deleon credits her accomplishments to sheer passion for her work, along with a natural drive to succeed. "I'm a bleeding heart. I meet with new clients who have just lost family members or suffered catastrophic injuries. I'm not afraid to hug them, console them, shed a tear with them. This does not preclude me from being a professional, gathering the necessary information and explaining the process. It's important to me that our clients know they are in competent hands. It is equally as important to me that they know their lawyer is moved by their experience and has heart," she says.
Indeed, Deleon resolutely refuses to try to be something she is not. "I'm known to crack a joke at my own expense, and I love getting to know new people. Maybe it's my journalism background, but I am so interested in the story behind every person. This idea of being open and engaging with everyone around me—I extend this to colleagues, clients and even opposing counsel. This profession tends to be stoic. I'm not. I infuse my personality into my practice. This does not mean I do not work hard. Hard work, preparation and diligence are essential. But in my view, in order to be the best lawyer and most effective advocate, I have to be my genuine self," she says.

Deleon's ability to seamlessly blend her professional life into who she is as a person, has resulted in an attorney who is incredibly enthusiastic and immediately likeable, which, coupled with her track record of success, undoubtedly helped her earn her position at her dream firm. "I was a longtime fan of the firm for years. I was given valuable advice early in my career: if you get the opportunity to sit down with someone you want to work with, you have to ask for what you want. It seems simple, but it's not always intuitive, and may not feel comfortable," she says. Certainly for Deleon, however, the rewards were more than worth the risk.

"Years ago I sat down with a partner at CaseyGerry, gave my elevator pitch and asked them for consideration now or in the future. Now here I am, and the caliber of cases that I'm able to work on is incredible. The cases that come in the doors of this firm are unbelievable. Our clients have lost people they love, and there is nothing about our relationships with our clients that is even remotely clinical. We care about them as people, and we know that we can never replace what they have lost," says.
"What we do is our way of helping to get some form of justice for the victims. It is a noble practice, and I'm thankful that we are here for the people who need us. The talent and expertise of the lawyers in an inclusive and collaborative environment have created the recipe for success at this firm. We're friends, colleagues and teammates. All of the attorneys in the firm eat lunch together once a week to exchange ideas and feedback about cases. The incredible recoveries speak for themselves. My job now is just to continue to work as hard as I can to fight for those who need my help."

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» EDUCATION

  • San Diego State University, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, 2007
  • California Western School of Law, 2010

» LEADERSHIP

  • San Diego County Bar Association Ethnic Relations & Diversity Committee, Vice-Chair, 2015
  • National Filipino American Lawyers Association, Affiliate Leader, 2015
  • Filipino American Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors, 2015
  • Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego, President, 2012-2014, Secretary, 2012, Director, 2011
  • Philippine Honorary Consulate of San Diego, Advisory Council, 2015
  • Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego, Board of Directors, 2011-2013

» ASSOCIATIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS

  • Consumer Attorneys of San Diego
  • American Association for Justice
  • American Bar Association Scholar
  • Lawyers Club of San Diego
  • San Diego County Bar Association

» AWARDS

  • Super Lawyers Rising Star, 2015
  • Philippine American Business Improvement & Development Association Top Hat Rising Star Award, 2015
  • Best of The bar, San Diego Business Journal, 2015
  • Emerging Leaders Award: Top 25 San Diego Leaders In Their 20s, San Diego Business Journal, 2014
  • San Diego County Bar Association, Outstanding Service By A New Lawyer, 2014
  • Best of The Bar, San Diego Business Journal, 2014
  • Young Influential, San Diego Daily Transcript, 2014
  • Young Attorney, San Diego Daily Transcript, 2014
  • Young Attorney, San Diego Daily Transcript, 2013
  • Young Attorney, San Diego Daily Transcript, 2011

Contact
Melissa Deleon
Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield LLP
www.caseygerry.com
melissa@gclaw.com
Tel: (619) 238-1811
110 Laurel Street
San Diego, CA 92101-1419

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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