In the last of our attorney Q&A blogs, Ramona Gau sits down and shares how she became the youngest law student in her class, her favorite pastimes with her kids, what she’s watching on Netflix, and more!
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
Growing up, I wanted to be in law enforcement. I really cared for people, respected cops and wanted to protect my community. When I was starting college, I talked to my college advisor and he asked why I wanted to be a cop. I had a typical teenager response, “fast cars, guns, etc.” He said I was smart [being only 17 and starting college] and asked if I had ever considered going to law school. At that point I had. My mom tells me that as a kid I was always saying I wanted to be a judge.
Around that same time, I had a run in with a police officer where I had gotten pulled over, and he was a complete jerk. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he didn’t like that I was out at 4 a.m. with my friends. He wrote me a ticket for going 35 over, when I actually had my cruise control set to the speed limit. He literally said “It’s your word against mine, I’ll see you in court.” I ended up having to pay a lot of money for that ticket.
That situation, paired with where I was and what I was doing in college, propelled me to go into law school.
How did you get through your education so fast [starting college at 17 and turning 21 your first week of law school]?
I grew up in a family where my parents didn’t have a lot of extra, so I took a lot of college classes in high school because they were cheap and affordable. I took as many college classes as I could in high school, so I actually started college as a second semester sophomore. So I naturally finished my undergrad in two and half years.
I had a semester off between college and law school. During that time I had a full-time job working for an attorney and a full-time job working at Walmart. I also substitute taught on the days when I could squeeze that in, too. I’ve always been a very goal-driven person. I learned from a young age you have to work hard for what you want.
I turned 21 my first week of law school, which was an interesting situation. Law school was awesome! I absolutely LOVED Columbia, MO.
When you started law school, did you know what area of law you wanted to practice?
I was definitely interested in criminal law because I wanted to be a cop in undergrad and I was a criminal justice major. However, I took this tax class and I just absolutely LOVED it. At one point in law school, I thought I wanted to be a tax attorney.
However, I also learned I’d have to go back to undergrad to be a CPA to be competitive in the field, and I didn’t want to step backwards. As soon as I got into practical classes, that’s when I knew I wanted to be in the courtroom. And as a young attorney, the fastest way to get into the courtroom is by either being a prosecutor or public defender. And that’s exactly what I did right out law law school.
Give us the “Spark Notes” of your career.
I worked in the public defender’s office in Hannibal, MO following law school. I also was an adjunct professor at the college in Hannibal teaching night classes. After that, I moved to St. Louis, where I worked in the public defender’s office. I then transitioned to a private civil family law firm and later a large general civil law firm. Then I went back to public work at the City Prosecutor’s office to join the City’s homicide team. After that, I came to Marler Law Partners!
What trends have you noticed the most in your area of practice?
I have seen within the criminal justice system the sentencing move from a focus on retribution or punishing the person to more of a rehabilitation mindset. How can we get this person in a better position, so they don’t repeat their mistakes?
Fifteen years ago, if someone was caught with someone else’s prescription – not even street drugs – they would be looking at prison time. Now, it’s almost unheard of that a first-time offender would serve time. They are getting drug court or probation or something that rehabilitates.
In family law, there were actually changes in the law. In Missouri, equal parenting time between mom and dad is now the presumption.
Was there a particular case or situation that had the most impact on your career?
When I was a baby public defender – a brand new attorney – I never appreciated that some people’s lives put them at such a disadvantage to where finishing high school is a big deal and should truly be celebrated.
One thing I learned that gave me better perspective and more empathy towards people and care to fight for them was this analogy:
“If you’re playing a game of Monopoly and start off with only $50 and no property and the person you’re playing against has $5,000 and half the properties owned, in that situation, who’s going to win?”
I was given that analogy early on and it helped me want to fight for some that may otherwise seem undeserving.
What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career in law?
You need to work in a law office, understand the environment, meet lawyers and get to know what it’s like – not just on TV, but in real life.
One thing I would share with anyone who is interested in law is that you need to plan on working 24/7. Even if you are not at work, it’s in your head and on your mind; it’s not just a job you can leave at work.
What helps you destress after a long day at work?
Before I had kids, I would go to the gym every day and that helped focus on the pain of working out and not worry about the stress at the office. Now that I have kids, I try to spend that down time with them. It helps me reconnect with why I do the work I do and recharge.
Right now, we’re reading books with the kids. There is an awesome children’s series “The School for Good and Evil” that we read together at night. We usually read a chapter a night, but last night, we read two because it was so exciting!
What are your favorite TV Shows?
I love cooking shows! Whatever is on Netflix. Chopped is my favorite. The kids like watching “Nailed It!” because Nicole is so funny.
So since you have a love for cooking (or watching cooking) what is your go-to meal you’d make for a dinner party?
Ribeye steak, au gratin potatoes and some sort of salad.
What are some of your favorite local businesses?
Mario’s Pizza in Farmington is great! In St. Louis, my favorite restaurant is Trattoria Marsala.
If you at Marler Law Partners were to compete in an Olympic sport, what would it be and why?
Curling! I would be one of the brusher people. Sara would be the one shooting it – and the rest of us are getting it where it needs to go.
Is there anything you’d like your clients to know about you outside of being an attorney?
Clients tell me I’m easy to talk to. I don’t appreciate when lawyers try to talk above people. I really try to meet people where they are at and talk to them. I grew up with my parents working at Walmart. I know the value of the dollar and what it’s like to work hard for everything you have. I’m really down to earth and practical. I can talk like a lawyer when I need to – but I don’t need to do that when I’m with my clients.
What is your favorite part of working at Marler Law Partners?
I love that we have a team environment – staff, lawyers and paralegals. I like the corny saying “Teamwork makes the Dreamwork.” I appreciate that we get along and really like each other.
What lawyer stereotypes to you find to be true and untrue?
The stereotype that lawyers are untrustworthy is untrue. There is a stereotype that lawyers are jerks. I would say that not all of them are, but yes lawyers can be jerks. The ego that comes along with the Bar Card is noticeable for some. But you get bad and good stereotypes in any profession.
If you could be a celebrity for a day, who would you want to be?
I would want to be a WNBA star. I played basketball all through high school and in college, back when the WNBA was starting.
Have you ever had a celebrity run-ins?
In high school, I worked at Home Depot and I ran into two celebrities. I ran into Todd Lyght, the Rams player right after the Rams won the Super Bowl in 2000.
I didn’t recognize him and was making him 10 copies of his new house key. I asked him “Why do you need 10 house keys? You have something going on?” And he told me who he was. I also ran into Ozzie Smith, who was also super nice and buying an original Weber grill. The West St. Louis County Home Depot is where the celebrity run-ins are at!
If you weren’t an attorney, what would you want to be?
I’d probably be a high school math teacher. When I was 17 and figuring out what I wanted to do in college, I considered a math major before I went with criminal justice.
In my mind at the time, I thought being a math teacher would lead to me having homework, whereas being a cop after my criminal justice major would mean I could leave the work at work. Joke is on me, because I became an attorney which is WAY more homework than a math teacher!
I think I speak for most of the Marler Law Partners’ staff when I say we are lucky that Ramona didn’t become a math teacher!
Have any other question for Ramona? Post a comment below and we’ll feature it on social media or our next blog with Ramona.