Bernadette Catalana: Counsel, Lavin, O’Neil, Cedrone & DiSipio


Who are you and what is your role?

My name is Bernadette Catalana and I am of counsel to Lavin, O’Neil, Cedrone & DiSipio, a firm based in Philadelphia.  I work out of the Rochester and New York City offices. I have a practice which focuses largely on strategy, team coordination and settlement negotiations in the mass tort space. I also have devoted a great deal of time to mentoring young lawyers. Kelly Odorisi and I wrote a CLE program, Candid Talk Women, to encourage women to “opt-in” to the practice of law.

From whom or what do you draw inspiration as a leader?

I like to read things written by or about lawyers who became world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi (I have a compilation of his writings at my bedside table), Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln. I also get inspiration from other notables that are not readily recognized as lawyers: Washington Irving, Francis Scott Key, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kadinsky, Andrea Bocelli. I am mindful that I am privileged to be a member of this “exclusive club” and I try to let that fact inspire my practice.

What do you think are the most important leadership qualities in today’s world?

I think the best leaders are those who do so by example. You cannot ask for honesty and integrity without being honest or having integrity yourself. It is that simple. And when we fall down or fall short, we have to be willing to own that too.

Would you care to share your greatest failure – and what you learned?

I lost a jury verdict in Niagara Falls, New York. I was devastated because our case went in picture perfect. After a post trial motion, an appeal to the Fourth Department, a motion for leave to appeal followed by an appeal to the Court of Appeals, which collectively spanned 3 ½ years, the loss became a win. The successful outcome was secondary, however.  More than anything, that loss taught me I was a fighter, that I was tireless and that justice can prevail.

What has been your most satisfying success as a leader?

Watching the younger lawyers that I have led, coached or mentored succeed. I revel in each victory they achieve, big and small.

What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?

Make sure you are not doing it for the potentially high salary. You will always grow into your income and when you do, it will no longer incent you. To have a satisfying career you have to enjoy the process of what you do – not just the results.

Do you think the leadership in law is ready for change?

Ready or not, here it comes! And for the better. Increased diversity is leading to changes in leadership perspective, which will ultimately change the industry. Those who are not ready need to get ready.

Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?

As the world changes, leadership has to adapt in order to meet the needs of those we serve.

How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?

We cannot separate or insulate our industry from the technology that has so greatly impacted our world. Nor should we want to. Just as technology has improved our personal lives, it can improve the service we provide our clients and that should always be the goal.

Do you think professional ethics are challenged by so much change in the legal industry?

They shouldn’t be. The same rules apply: the client’s needs and the over-arching principles of our profession, i.e. truth seeking and justice, should remain primary and intact.