Far from being the stereotypical ambulance chaser, personal injury attorney Helen Galanopoulos says her work involves much more than legal representation: she also takes on roles as a social worker as well as detective. Whether it’s a car accident or dog bite, Galanopoulos, 45, a partner in the Newton law firm Fraser & Galanopoulos, works to get compensation for people whose lives have been altered by the negligent or reckless acts of individuals or businesses.
“I consider myself a counselor, helping people to see conflict and how to best minimize it,” said Galanopoulos, who says the most fascinating part of her job is piecing together the puzzle of facts. She gives the example of a food poisoning case, when her client became violently ill, which needed to be traced back to a meal shared with a friend at a Quincy restaurant. “We had to go back and prove where it happened, and do a lot of testing to find the offending bacteria,” said Galanopoulos. “It was interesting to see how long it takes for these things to manifest themselves, and to prove where and how it happened.” The case was successfully resolved as well, with all parties satisfied with the outcome. “There is a huge need for attorneys who care and are compassionate and know their way around the system, and can help people. But there are notable exceptions,” said Galanopoulos.
Galanopoulos focuses on resolving cases without litigation, because few people are interested in the intrusion of a personal injury lawsuit. “Often when you have an injury, you want to move on with your life instead,” said Galanopoulos. Her days are spent preparing for insurance claims and negotiating with adjusters, putting the evidence in the best light and getting a reasonable offer of settlement. “There’s a lot of investigation that goes on, trying to get liability or causation established and talking to witnesses and physicians.”
Galanopoulos, a graduate of Boston University School of Law, wasn’t sure where her career would take her, when she says “by circumstance and luck, I happened to land on small firm nearby.” Rather than the glamour and hustle of downtown, she liked the lifestyle and camaraderie of a more intimate office, and found that the work suited her. “People end up where their strengths lie, and my strengths are working closely with people and listening to their concerns and figuring out the next course of action.”
Q: Can you give an example of a typical case you’ve taken on?
A: A woman was in the middle of a three-car accident and was blamed for hitting the car ahead of her. We had to reconstruct the physics of it to show that my client was hit before she collided with the car in front of her. She was a very strong and principled woman, and the accusation of being responsible for the collision and changed her life. In the end we showed it wasn’t her fault and that made all the difference to her. She didn’t recover a life-changing amount of money, but it wasn’t about that, but rather a vindication of responsibility.
Q: Is law school like the movie Paper Chase, where you have to memorize every case name and fact?
A: It depends on the professor; some are more traditional than others. I did have one professor who did use that approach. But it’s part of the schooling to have to go through that process at some level.
Q: What are the rewards and frustrations as an attorney?
A: As with any profession, there can be frustrations, such as a lot of bureaucracy. The system is bogged down, and you have to go through a lot of hoops to get basic information. There’s a lot of meaningless stuff in order to get to the meat of things.
Q: Your firm also handles other types of cases such as family, business, and real estate law. Have you worked on any high profile cases that have been in the news?
A: One case that comes to mind: in the early ‘90’s we were hired by Grateful Dead when they came to Boston and wanted to end the sale of unlicensed T-shirts. We weren’t successful in meeting them, just their hippy representative, but it was cool to be able to see the show.