Michael L. Goldberg, a 1997 graduate of the School of Law, always knew he would work in the legal field, noting that when he was a child, his father told him he argued so much that he was going to be a lawyer.
Now a partner specializing in personal injuries with the Atlanta firm Fried Goldberg, he said as soon as he was accepted into the UGA School of Law he knew it was where he would be attending.
“[The University of] Georgia law school was the best deal out there – the best academic school and the best cost,” he said. “I was lucky enough to get into Georgia and, once that happened, that was definitely where I was going.”
Goldberg – who earned his undergraduate degree from Mercer University and also played basketball for the school – said that after years of working with competitive and sharp-tongued coaches that he was prepared for the rigors of law school and stern-faced professors, and found his years in Athens “amazing.”
Goldberg said he particularly enjoyed classes led by University Professor & Caldwell Chair Dan T. Coenen as well as the late Carter Chair Emeritus R. Perry Sentell Jr. (LL.B.’58) and added that he learned lifelong lessons from both men.
“[Sentell] was someone who was larger than life but also outside the classroom – if you ever went by to talk to him – he would do anything for you,” Goldberg said. “When you go out into the profession you want to be a tough person who litigates but at the same time have a soft side when you’re out of the litigation context. He taught me that.”
Goldberg also remembered Coenen telling his class to make sure and “take the time to enjoy the things that matter.” It was Coenen’s “idea of balancing hard work and at the same time taking the time out to enjoy the people around you and what’s going on around you” that resonated.
Now, years later, Goldberg – the father of three – tries to offer similar lessons to those he comes across and who are beginning their legal careers.
“One of the things I’ve told many younger lawyers is there is a position in the law that is right for you,” he said. “The right place is out there for you. You can’t just accept what everyone tells you is right for you. You have to get out there and search for it. It might not be the type of job you thought you wanted … [but] you have to have the willingness and the courage to take the step.”
Having the courage to change course is something that Goldberg knows well. After graduating from law school, he began his career at an insurance defense firm where he defended trucking companies. After a few years, though, he realized that he wanted to help people, not companies, and switched sides.
“I started realizing that what I wanted to do was be the lawyer who helped the injured person be on the same footing as the insurance defense lawyers were, because it always seemed the scales were tipped in the favor of the insurance companies and their lawyers,” he added. “I wanted to be the one who tipped the scales back so everyone was on fair footing.”
Goldberg’s first case as a plaintiff’s attorney remains one of his most memorable. He had previously defended a truck driver who rear-ended another car at a light. After he won that case at trial for the truck driver and the trucking company, the same truck driver injured his knee stepping in a pothole at a delivery facility. The truck driver became Goldberg’s first client as a plaintiff’s lawyer. That case taught him that it was never easy to pursue a plaintiff’s case.
As the truck driver’s trial was winding down, Goldberg became worried about the outcome and whether he had made a mistake working as a plaintiff’s attorney. However, when the jury decided in favor of his client, he knew he was in the right place. Goldberg remains in contact with the truck driver to this day.
“That trial still stands out to me,” he said. “His case was really the case that gave me the confidence to keep doing it and also taught me the lesson that this isn’t going to be easy. You really have to work hard.”
Since then, Goldberg has tried numerous cases but still takes the time to mentor and teach young lawyers about practicing in his field. This outreach includes breakfast meetings, webinars and sharing practice pointers relating to the lessons he has learned over the course of his legal career. He also established the Michael Louis Goldberg Scholarship at the law school.
“There’s nothing better than putting in a hard day’s work and winning something and doing it well,” Goldberg said. “You realize you only get there from doing the hard work.”