A Personal Look at Attorney Seymour Wasserstrum and the History of his Firm
I was born in Augsburg, Germany on June 25, 1948, the only child of Sam and Clara Wasserstrum, who lost virtually their entire families in the Holocaust. My parents came to the United States with me, as immigrants, by ship in 1949. We docked at Ellis Island, and settled in the lower east side of New York City.
As Holocaust survivors, my parents were permitted to enter the United States because they were sponsored by a Jewish organization. Esther Distenfeld, my mother’s older and only sister, and her husband, Solomon, were also Holocaust survivors, and they had arrived in New York City, with their two young daughters, Nella and Yetta, about a year earlier. Esther and Solomon were able to help my parents find housing in New York, where my father was fortunate enough to obtain an excellent job opportunity, working for a leather bag manufacturer.
In the early 1950’s, Esther and Solomon decided to buy a chicken farm in Vineland, New Jersey, and they moved their family from the big city to the country. My mother and her only sister had always been very close, and this was the first time that they had been separated for any extended period of time. My father believed that my mother missed Esther, and he felt that she certainly wanted to be as close to Esther as possible, so he decided to surprise her. One day my father took a trip to Vineland to visit Esther and Solomon, and while he was there he quickly checked out a chicken farm that was for sale. Although he knew nothing about chickens (other than that he liked eating them and their eggs) he made a quick decision (without my mother’s knowledge) to buy that chicken farm.
Imagine my mother’s surprise when my father told her that the family would be leaving the big city, where they had made many good friends, for the opportunity to work with beautiful chickens, in modern 1950’s style chicken coops, where the manure supposedly smelled like perfume. I think that someone must have told my father that a chicken farm would be an easy way to make a living, and that the chickens did virtually all of the work.
As things turned out, Vineland had become the home of a fairly large amount of Jewish immigrants, and the town welcomed our family in 1953. My mother and I really didn’t want to leave New York, and Vineland was quite an adjustment. I was just barely old enough to start school, and my parents sent me to a private Jewish school in Vineland, where we studied religious Judaism during the morning, and English classes in the afternoon.
In 1961, I had a Bar Mitzvah at age 13, and when I started 8th grade, I transferred from the Jewish Day School to public school. That was quite an adjustment for me because I had spent eight years in school strictly among Jews, and this was the first time I was exposed to teachers and students who were not Jewish. A lot of the public school kids made fun of my name, and I was often bullied by some of the “tough kids” in school.
Although the adjustment to public school was difficult, I took school very seriously. My parents had told me that education was the key to success, so I studied very hard.
Around the same time that I transferred to public school, my father purchased a little mom and pop grocery store in South Vineland in 1961. If you want to know what happened to the lovely chicken farm, please speak to me personally, and I’ll give you the details. Suffice it to say that my parents did a lot better in the grocery business than in the chicken and egg business.
I got very excited when my father bought the grocery store. I was just 12 years old at the time, but I was already very interested in business. I asked my father to let me work in the store, and he was very happy to have my help. I especially loved working in my parent’s store. I suggested we name the store after my father, so we called it Sam’s Market, and I loved checking out the customers and working the cash register. I was very good with numbers, and more often than not, I would add up a customer’s purchases and total them in my head, instead of using the adding machine. After I announced the total price of the purchases from the computations I had made in my head, I would then use the adding machine to verify the total amount due, and the customers were often quite amazed with my mathematical prowess.
I couldn’t wait for the school bus to drop me off at the store after school, and I did my reading and homework at the cash register, in between customers. For many years, my father, my mother, and I were the only ones that worked at the store.
My parents always kept a Kosher home, meaning that we only could eat food that was approved by the strict laws of the Jewish religion. For example, we weren’t allowed to eat pork or shellfish, and we couldn’t mix meat products with dairy products.
My mother had always been a fantastic cook, and every night around 5 pm she would leave the store, drive home, and cook dinner. Once she completed the cooking, she would eat dinner by herself. When she was finished, she would drive back to the store, and my father and I would drive together to the house and eat as quickly as possible so that my mother would not be left alone at the store for too long. The store was open 7 days a week from about 7:30 in the morning until about 10:30 at night, and that didn’t leave very much time for fun for anyone in the family.
I was fortunate enough to graduate second in my high school class in 1966. I had to give the salutatorian speech in front of about 2000 people, and although I was scared to death, I pulled it off pretty much flawlessly, and even surprised myself at how well it went.
I was the first in my family to have the opportunity to go to college. I decided to go to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and live in the dorms on campus. As a result, my parents hired various people to replace me in the store. Normally, however, I would come home on weekends and go back to the usual “work in the store/study at the cash register” routine.
I was fortunate enough to have a refrigerator in my dorm room, and every weekend when I returned to Penn, I would bring back several large “care packages” of Kosher food from my parents’ store. As Holocaust survivors, my parents had taught me the importance of always having plenty of food on hand. Those were the days when I always had plenty of Kosher salami, bologna, corned beef, pastrami, American cheese, Swiss cheese, muenster cheese, longhorn cheese, cheese cake, honey cake, sponge cake, apple strudel, cream puffs, napoleons, donuts, Milky Ways, Three Musketeer Bars, Zero Bars, Turkish Taffy, Now n’ Later, and lots of other goodies for my sweet tooth. I really ate a lot back then, and those foods are all things that I have not eaten at all in many years. I hardly knew anything at all about nutrition back then, other than if it tasted good and it was Kosher, I would eat it.
I took college very seriously. Many of my friends partied and went out on lots of dates, while I spent time studying. I often thought that I could be having the best time of my life at Penn if I just didn’t have to study so much. Well, I guess my studying paid off, because I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970 magna cum laude, with High Honors in Economics. I also made Phi Beta Kappa. I got all A’s, but I felt that I never really understood economics, I just sort of memorized my notes and regurgitated the stuff on my exams. Once I got out into the real world I learned that pretty much no one really understands economics anyway.
The fact that I got such good grades opened the door to many of the top law schools, and I decided to stay at the University of Pennsylvania to pursue my legal career. My parents still owned Sam’s Market, and I figured it was a good opportunity to continue my study in the store routine, which had proved very successful in the past. It also would have been very difficult at that time for me to give up all of those wonderful, delicious, and delightful “care packages” that my parents put together for me.
Little did I know at the time that the philosophy of the top law schools was to scare you to death during the first year, work you to death during the second year, and bore you to death during the third year. Actually, I would say that the first year succeeded in both scaring me and working me to death, although many times I was so scared that I couldn’t even study, and I was really afraid that I was going to flunk out of law school.
I can’t say that I loved law school, and I doubt that many attorneys would say that their law school experience was absolutely wonderful, ecstatic, and fulfilling. Nevertheless, I persevered and often suppressed my strong desire and urge to quit and become a disc jockey and playboy. I made it through with excellent grades, and I graduated law school in 1973, although not with the high honors to which I had become accustomed in the past.
Being an only child, still loving my mother’s fantastic cooking, and still wanting to do some work at Sam’s Market, I decided I would stay close to home and take a law job in Vineland. Being single, however, I didn’t think that Vineland was the greatest place to meet women.
I therefore decided that I would try for the best of both worlds — work in Vineland at a small two partner law firm (for a small town I was actually offered a pretty decent starting salary at the time), spend some time at my parent’s store, feast on my mother’s wonderful home cooked meals, and spend my social life in Philadelphia, where I was able to share a graduate dorm room with one of my friends. I passed the bar exam on my first try and I naively thought that I was now ready for the real world.
Having gone through so many years of rigorous schooling and training, I was very shocked to find out that the attorneys at the law firm actually expected me to work hard to earn my pay. I mean, I thought once you did all this education stuff, that everything was supposed to be handed to you on a silver platter, and that lawyers really didn’t work that much anyway. When I realized what was expected of me, I figured I must have hooked up with the wrong law firm. This just didn’t make sense to me. I had suffered all of those years in school, and I thought that now the rest of my life was going to be easy.
I soon realized that I really didn’t like being a lawyer. I tried to fake it as much as possible, but the truth was that I didn’t think I was cut out to be a lawyer. I was scared to death, and I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t stand going to work, and I couldn’t wait to leave the office. I figured I had made a very bad career decision, and I ran to Philly as often as I could, to socialize and to get away from it all. It was clear to me that law school simply hadn’t prepared me for what the practice of law was really like.
Ultimately, the patience of my bosses began to wear thin. Within a year of becoming a lawyer, they told me that I was not working hard enough, that law was not a 9 to 5 job, that this type of practice was not my cup of tea, and I was being fired. They were nice enough, however, to keep me on and give me a reasonable opportunity to find work elsewhere.
Now here we are about 44 years later, and I would say that getting fired was a wake up call, and probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. I now realize how blessed I am to be an attorney, and that God has given me a wonderful opportunity to help many thousands of people.
Therefore, at this point let me just say that I am blessed to have a very successful diversified law practice. I love to help people and to share the many gifts and talents that God has given me. I have two excellent attorneys on my staff, Bill Clunn and Gabrielle Nonnenberg, both of whom are very bright and hard working, and they really care about our clients.
I have a support staff of about 20 people, and I have two law offices, one in Vineland and one in Cherry Hill.
I have learned that being a lawyer is a very honorable, fulfilling, and rewarding profession, and it has given me tremendous opportunities to help people.
I have also learned that practicing law can be fun, and I do my best to make my office an informal, friendly place, where our clients can relax and know that their needs are being met by people who really care about them.
For many years I had very friendly cats in my office. They have all now died, and on June 7, 2015, I married my beautiful blessing, Theresa, who is by no means a cat lover. Theresa is an attorney licensed in Illinois, and she has been working as my office manager for the last two years. She has made tremendous improvements to our office environment, and I now have the best legal team that I have ever had.
Our purposes as a legal team are:
- To create a family of staff members who are inspired and fulfilled in such a way that they serve our clients’ needs and wants beyond expectations;
- To improve the quality of people’s lives by providing superior legal counsel and service;
- To deliver our legal expertise passionately and with integrity as a friend and trusted advisor to all of our clients;
We do our best to live by the following values:
- We deliver legal counsel passionately from the heart, doing our best to help our clients achieve the outcomes that the need;
- We openly value and appreciate our clients, other members of the community, and each other;
- We hold ourselves to the highest level of ethical behavior in our work and in our personal lives;
- We enjoy what we do. Our work is our life mission, and we work in a spirit of ease, fun, and play;
- We want to always improve and get better, and we pursue personal and professional excellence;
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I often could not understand how and why my parents worked so hard and for so many hours. Well, as a lawyer for 44 years, I have often worked long days, nights, and weekends. Since having married Theresa, I have done my best to cut out working on the weekends, but Theresa and I realize that our work is a big part of our life’s mission, and we are willing to always do whatever it takes to accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished.
If you’d like to hear more about how I went from being fired from my first full time legal job in 1974 to where I am today, I would love to share the story with you. In fact, I’ve been working on my autobiography, and I think I’m going to call it “Seymour Unleashed”. If you happen to be interested in a sneak preview, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be happy to let you critique some of my writing.
Contact the Law Offices of Seymour Wasserstrum for a free consultation with an experienced Vineland, New Jersey lawyer.