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Improving the Profession’s Image by Improving Clients’ Lives

“I’ve come to believe I’ve helped turn peoples’ ideas around about what attorneys are. There are a lot of people who just don’t like attorneys, who think attorneys are bad, or there is too much litigation. So, by taking legitimate cases, by taking cases with strong facts, I feel proud to say that I’m a personal injury attorney,” says Bill Bender, Esq., Managing Partner of Bender & Gritz, APLC.

The firm, Bender & Gritz, handles personal injury, workers’ compensation, and social security disability claims. Bender is admitted to the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of the State of California and all California District Courts. He is also a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Super Lawyers. Bender believes strongly that his work improving the lives of people who are often living through the most challenging times of their lives also enhances the image of the profession. “I help people who need it, who are deserving. I’m an easy-going guy, but the work I do is serious. Most people who come to us are at their lowest point. They’ve been severely injured. They’re not getting a paycheck. They’re not able to provide for their family or they’ve lost a family member. You become more than an attorney to them. Their case is more than just a case. Sometimes it is literally life and death and I feel responsible for making things right.”

A Mother’s Dream Becomes a Son’s Vocation
The seed to become an attorney was planted early in his life. His mother grew up on a farm along a dirt road—a woman who never had the opportunity to attend college. She always held the profession of law in high esteem and believed it was the ideal career choice for her son. She even encouraged him to watch To Kill a Mockingbird often when he was young. “She was a very intuitive southern lady and she recognized that law was the place for me. She knew it long before I ever did.” Bender was not really on track for a legal career until he became involved in the Special Olympics program in college. “Working with Special Olympics was an eye-opening experience. I realized that there are a lot of people out there who really can’t effectively advocate for themselves. That’s when I started taking life more seriously, appreciating what I had and realizing that I had the ability to make a difference.”Law school became a wakeup call for Bender. Until then, he hadn’t had to work hard to succeed academically. “The very first week of classes it became clear that I was not going to be able to coast through law school. It really tightened up my purpose. The stringency of law school was good for me. I matured quickly.”

"Coming out of law school, I was not super excited about working for someone else. I knew that might be a necessary evil, but I always wanted to do my own thing. Having the autonomy to work on my own and strike my own path was my goal," Bender says.

Following His Own Moral Compass
Bender’s first job out of law school was handling insurance defense and medical malpractice defense for an 80-person law firm. He says the experience taught him a lot from a technical and practical application point of view, but he was not satisfied with the work.“The bottom line is that I was not happy doing what I was doing.” He felt like he was just “punching the clock” but ultimately did not feel as if he was doing the right thing. He decided then to open his own firm with his law school friend, Eric Gritz. He says, “having my own firm, taking the cases I want to take, and feeling good about what I do allows me to follow my own moral compass.” Bender relates a case in which that moral compass paid off in an emotional and unexpected manner that has become typical in his firm’s practice. He recently received an email from a young man who said he had just graduated from Stanford. The letter included, “I don’t really know who you are, but you represented me when I was three years old and I wanted to let you know what I did with the money.” The writer had been attacked by a dog. Bender resolved his case and made specific savings arrangements for his settlement money. When he turned 18, those funds provided his tuition for what became a Stanford education. “That letter, from a young boy I represented 18 years ago, really touched me and it brought things full circle. This was again concrete evidence of what a significant difference I can make in someone’s life,” Bender says.

"But I do feel that we, as a firm, make as profound a difference as possible," Bender says.

A Unique, Comprehensive Practice
Bender’s firm, Bender & Gritz, APLC has a unique niche in the San Diego legal market. They have nine attorneys and 14 staff members who are solely dedicated to three main injury and disability practices. “I’m not aware of any firm in town that practices personal injury, worker’s compensation and social security disability at our level; there are many tremendous attorneys who practice each of those areas, but few that understand how all three sometimes work together.”Recently, the firm represented an individual in a serious personal injury case. The incident occurred on a construction site and there was an underlying work comp claim—but another law firm represented the injured worker. “The worker’s compensation attorney resolved the comp claim while we were still litigating the civil claim. The client’s injuries were severe enough that he qualified for social security benefits and we took on his case for SSD benefits and notified his worker’s compensation attorney. Settlement documents were executed in the comp matter and unfortunately, the other attorney did not consult with us. He failed to include a “Hartman Formula” (Sciarotta v Bowen (1988) 837 F.2d 135) as part of the work comp settlement. When settling a work comp case, the attorney can attach an addendum that allocates amounts for future medical care versus permanent disability monies. The permanent disability money can then be amortized over the worker’s anticipated remaining lifespan on a monthly basis. This is important because spreading payments out over time is less of an offset if the person is receiving social security disability benefits. In this instance, the other work comp attorney did not include a Hartman Formula, and the Social Security Administration took credit for the entire amount of the work comp settlement up front.

As a result, the worker’s Social Security Disability benefits will not be payable for several years. This could easily have been avoided had the work comp attorney used the Hartman Formula. The cost to the injured worker in Social Security benefits was substantial. This is a very basic issue affecting an injured worker’s rights to social security payments, but we discovered from that work comp attorney and several others we spoke to, that they were unaware of the Hartman Formula and how to employ it.”“So, when potential clients ask what makes our firm a better choice and what makes us different, it’s really the diversity and breadth of our very unique practice. There are deceptively complex issues that affect the interplay between personal injury, worker’s compensation and social security law that no other firm in town really has the experience or knowledge to identify and handle.”Two newer additions to the firm, Lisa Hernandez, who was recently named a partner, and Tyler Campbell, a new associate with tremendous potential, are helping propel the firm to greater heights.Eric Gritz is a founding member of the firm and partners Carl Kreibich and Brandi Kurlander have been with Bender & Gritz since 1998 and 1999 respectively. Bender makes a point of stating that he never uses the term ‘work for me’ in reference to his employees. “I work with these people. To some degree they’ve invested their future with me. I take it seriously. These people have families. They have their own lives and they’re looking to work in a place that values them, that cares about them beyond work.”He says he fosters the attitude that ‘we’re all in this together’ and he tries to hire people who really want to help people as well. That understand the importance of what they do.

Helping Those in Most Need of Help
Bender says that a majority of his clients live paycheck-to-paycheck. They do not have the luxury of not being able to work for months at a time and often do not have health insurance or other resources. That kind of responsibility puts tremendous stress on the attorneys representing these people. “But I do feel that we, as firm, make as profound a difference as possible,” Bender says.“A lot of attorneys I know do not enjoy their job and tell me ‘I would never want my child to do what we do.’ But if my daughters can experience the job satisfaction that I have as an attorney, I would be so fulfilled. I really want my daughters to feel that same satisfaction in their careers. I’d want that for anybody.”

Bender lives in the La Playa area of Point Loma in an historic architectural home built in 1954 with views of the harbor and downtown skyline. He has two daughters, Bailey, age 17, and Riley, age 14. He enjoys playing and watching sports. The firm has season tickets to the Padres, Aztecs and Gulls and they often go to games together and provide hundreds of tickets to employees and clients a year. He collects fine wine and has a collection of 3,000 bottles. “If there is one thing that I’d like people to know about our area of law, it is that for those who do it the right way, there is no more pure form of law. People can think what they like about personal injury attorneys and call us ambulance chasers all they want. I know in my heart that we do the right thing, the right way.”

» EDUCATION

  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law, J.D., 1993
  • San Diego State University-California State University, 1985 – 1989
  • Business Administration, Marketing

» HONORS & AWARDS

  • Super Lawyers - 2015 – 2018
  • AVVO Rating - 10
  • Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, Member
  • Bar Admissions

» BAR ADMISSIONS

  • California
  • U.S. District Court Central District of California
  • U.S. District Court Southern District of California
  • U.S. Supreme Court

» PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIPS

  • The Orange County Trial Lawyers Association
  • American Association for Justice
  • The San Diego County Bar
  • The State Bar of California
  • Consumer Attorneys of California
  • Consumer Attorneys of San Diego

Contact Information
Bill Bender, Esq.
Bender & Gritz, APLC
350 10th Avenue, Suite 900
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 515-0222
bbender@bendergritz.com
bendergritz.com

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