Gary Gassman pursues his passions every day – as a shareholder at Cozen O’Connor; as the Chair-Elect of the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section; as the co-leader of Cozen O’Connor’s LGBTQ+ attorney resource group; and as a devoted partner, son, brother, uncle, friend, and proud dog parent.
A practicing attorney for over 25 years, Gassman’s work is defined by each of these divergent roles and his devotion to diversity, inclusion, and love of the law. Gassman understands the importance of feeling represented in the workplace and encourages lawyers to become better educated on diversity and inclusion and to champion people different from themselves.
Growing up in a household that fervently valued education, Gassman saw his mother study for law school and serve as case note editor for the law review in her third year while he was still in high school (they graduated from law school and high school, respectively, on the same day in 1986). Her example inspired Gassman to pursue law as a profession. He describes his mother as very open-minded and supportive of disenfranchised people and underrepresented communities which sparked his interest in both the law and diversity and inclusion work.
Gassman was involved in music and performance throughout college yet chose to attend law school rather than to try to make it on Broadway. “I had spent all of my younger years as a performer, but at 21 years old, I determined that I wanted a greater level of stability in my life than life as an actor would likely provide,” says Gassman.
His father also emphasized the importance of graduate school and favored the education, thinking and reasoning skills that law school offered. “It was really my parents who influenced me in the direction of law school.” Gassman chose to study law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago and knows that he absolutely made the right choice.
Today, Gassman is a shareholder in the Chicago office of Cozen O’Connor’s Global Insurance Department, where he serves as a counselor and advisor to and defender of insurance companies. “A substantial portion of my practice involves professional liability insurance and I handle a variety of claims and litigation for insurance companies deriving from directors and officers liability, employment practices liability, and a multitude of miscellaneous professional liability policies,” he explains.
Cozen O’Connor’s unwavering commitment to pro bono work, and diversity and inclusion has allowed Gassman to use his legal skills to support his community. Most recently, he has focused on helping transgender people with legal name changes and describes this work as “extremely rewarding.”
In addition, Gassman currently serves as Chair-elect of the ABA Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section (TIPS), one of the ABA’s largest sections with more than 17,000 members. He will become President in the 2022-23 bar year. Gassman was previously the organization’s diversity officer and the co-chair of the TIPS special standing committee on diversity and inclusion.
Gassman also serves as the co-leader of the LGBTQ+ attorney resource group at Cozen O’Connor. “I take that role very seriously because I believe in the importance of ensuring that when people walk into a room, they see themselves represented,” says Gassman. “Cozen O’Connor is extremely supportive of diversity and inclusion initiatives and I am proud to be an ally and champion for other LGBTQ+ lawyers at Cozen O’Connor and in our community.’”
“I am happy to report that there are many other self-identified LGBTQ+ lawyers amongst Cozen O’Connor’s members and associates, a sign that the firm’s welcoming environment is making a real difference,” Gassman added. “One of my colleagues at Cozen O’Connor is Jesse Ryan Loffler, who currently serves as president of the National LGBT Bar Association’s Foundation board of directors.”
While self-identifying in his professional life as LGBTQ+ is important to Gassman, he knows that there are still hurdles to overcome before everyone can feel comfortable disclosing their LGBTQ+ identity to their employer or colleagues. Gassman recognizes that the fear of the unknown plays a big part in the hesitancy to self-identify as LGBTQ+, especially given that many law school graduates feel the need to take whatever job they can find and may fear repercussions from coming out in the workplace.
Reflecting on his own experiences when graduating from law school, Gassman states, “I set out to prove myself as a lawyer so that my skills would speak for themselves and ultimately my sexual orientation would be a non-issue. Even today, I still lead with the quality of my skills and work ethic, but there is great importance to and pride in being your authentic self and everyone should strive to get there as soon as possible. I am not just a lawyer – I am a gay lawyer. My identity affects my work because it shapes my life experience. It allows me to bring an authentic perspective to everything I do which benefits my clients, my law firm and the community.”
Gassman’s advice to young lawyers who are afraid to come out at work is to “find the place (like I did) where you ultimately can be your true self and where you can be comfortable, as quickly as you can. It will impact your attitude and your focus and skills as a practitioner.” He adds, however, “I’m not going to preach to young lawyers that they need to reveal themselves right out of the gate – I understand that people need to pay their bills. While I never liked hiding that part of me, I tried not to make it an issue. I led with my skills and eventually found the place where I felt comfortable being my complete authentic self.”
When Gassman presents on and trains legal and other professionals he implores them to strive to employ support and sensitivity to diversity and inclusion issues in their daily lives, acknowledging that as long as discrimination persists inside and outside the workplace, there will always be people who fear revealing their authentic selves at work.
Gassman emphasizes that “if you approach each day focused on advancing diversity and inclusion in all aspects of your life and try to be more in-tune with your own interactions with people who are different from yourself in every encounter and everything you do, and listen, you will be a catalyst for more positive change.”
Gary Gassman is a shareholder at Cozen O’Connor and the co-leader of its LGBTQ+ attorney resource group. He also serves as the Chair-Elect of the ABA’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section and will become President in the 2022-23 bar year. Gassman has been a proud member of the National LGBT Bar Association since 2013, when he sought us out to find other LGBTQ+ attorneys. To learn more about Gassman and his practice, click here: Cozen O’Connor: Gassman, Gary L..