Mitigating Risk as a way of life for family, friends, and clients the Cassars are truly model citizens.
John: So tell us how did it all get started? When did you and Chris know you would be spending your lives together?
Colleen Cassar: We met in the summer of 1986. At that time, Chris was in the middle of his first and second year of law school. After a few months of dating, we fell in love and decided to take the necessary steps and sacrifices to eventually marry after his graduation. Chris studied every night and didn’t have time for gainful employment. So, I started working as much as I could to save money to plan our wedding. He graduated Hofstra Law School in 1988, passed the bar exam, and was admitted to practice law in New York in the spring of 1989 and then we were married in July of 1989.
John: So you were a team before the Cassar Law Firm was even started! Wow. When did you start the Cassar Law Firm? I believe you are the office manager? How do you like working together?
Colleen Cassar: During the first two years of our marriage, and the year and a half prior, Chris was employed with the Brooklyn Legal Aid Society where he obtained courtroom experience and learned trial advocacy in the practice area of criminal law. I was working in the accounting department of a private corporation where I was trained by the CEO of the company. By 1991, our first child Christopher was a year and a half old and the need for more income was evident. So, with the help of family, we signed an office lease, took a leap of faith and opened our law practice – just a lawyer and a secretary – Chris & Colleen.
Now, 30 years later, we have a small what we like to call boutique law firm with 4 lawyers, a law school graduate (our son Christopher) and a support staff of 6 people. Many of our staff have been with us over 20 years. During pandemic, the whole staff worked remotely from home. Now, only two of us still work from home – one being myself. For me, it’s really nice to be home and I plan to stay working from home from now on. Working such demanding hours, for so many years, at least one of us can enjoy the home we built. During the first 28 years of building the practice, Chris and I worked nights and weekends and were rarely home.
Working together, married to each other, parenting together is not easy. Basically, you never leave the office, no matter where you are – home, out to dinner, on vacation. A family business is a 24 hour a day position. For Chris and me, the way we lasted this long is that we started out with 2 very different important roles – he the legal minded genius, and me the support staff. My role always was, and still is, to support the boss in any way necessary. He worked in the courtroom, and I held down the fort.
John: Yes I know I have worked from home most of my life. But for you with the new addition to your family it must be even more special.
Colleen Cassar: Yes! Our daughter, Ashley gave birth to our first grandchild, Aria, in July of this year. Ashley and Aria both live with us so my working at home enables me to see our precious granddaughter’s firsts of everything, and it is such a blessing. Ashley was born in 1993 and came to the office with Chris and I every day until she entered pre-school. At that first office, we used one of the rooms so serve as a nursery for Ashley with a crib. I had to sit at my desk in the front to answer phones and greet clients so I couldn’t sit and feed her so I propped bottles on law books so she could feed herself!!! Sounds hilarious, but completely true! When our 2 children were growing up, I worked long hours and missed them so much. Now, God has blessed us with our granddaughter to watch and enjoy at an easier pace.
John: Where do you see life going from here? I mean Covid must have affected your practice with the courts being closed. How has that affected your life and your practice and what’s next for you and Cassar Law?
Well, when the courts were closed and the shutdown was in place, our business suffered just like everyone else’s did and our criminal practice (which is just one of the many areas we practice) slowed down. Crime was down and new arrests were substantially less. I guess because people had to stay home, it kept them out of trouble. But then the court system opened up – court staff, attorneys and clients all appeared remotely from their own homes. It was a new experience, and everyone cooperated navigating through I together. I enjoyed listening to Chris talk to the judges and other attorneys over Zoom and Teams. Besides covering the issues of the case, it sometimes became very friendly and personal – I’d hear them laugh when someone’s dog was barking too loud, or a baby was crying – and it lead to personal sidebar conversations where the judge and attorneys would talk about themselves – oh, how many dogs do you have? What kind are they? How many children do have? How are they doing with remote learning? These personal conversations wouldn’t happen in a normal courtroom setting where the climate can sometimes be very adversarial. That’s how I feel COVID humanized so many people – we were all in the same boat of fear – scared about the future of our health, scared about the future of our jobs and finances – I think as Americans it brought so many of us together.
My new normal will be to take life a little bit easier and enjoy my family and home. I will continue to do my best to ensure that Cassar Law is a safe and comfortable work environment for our employees and continue to take pride in providing our clients with exceptional personal service.
John: Colleen as always that is very endearing and a beautiful way to complete this Model Citizens Magazine Couple of the Year interview. You and Chris help so many people have better lives and support so many causes, and yes I know most are private. All the same congratulations again, and thank you for all you do for so many in need and so many who’s lives become less troublesome just because of 1 bad decision, or 1 mistake. Have a very Merry Christmas and A Very Happy New year and we will catch up again next year.
John: So Chris as the attorney in the practice, you deal with crisis day in and day out. A very good part of why you and Colleen have been nominated as couple of the year is because of your incredible personal story and how you work together but also because of how you and your firm help people in crisis.
Chris Cassar: Yes, it comes in all different kinds of settings. We deal with people that are at their worst, during crises. They may be getting arrested, getting divorced or need an order of protection from a spouse or loved one. Maybe they have been in a car accident, are injured and as a result they don’t have their income or medical coverage. Sometimes it’s not in a legal context, or in the courtroom, but sometimes it’s in terms of bad publicity in the public area. We try to bring all of our resources to help that individual get through a particular crisis. And of course we also run our corporate practice as well. But I am known as a very competent trial attorney.
John: I assume with COVID there are many more people in crisis mode to begin with.
Chris Cassar: Yes, they are in crisis mode. We found that divorces are increasing, a demand for orders of protections are increasing; people need those orders because of crisis, maybe they are being abused mentally or physically. With COVID, it has made things much more difficult to address.
John: You have a reputation of winning your cases and doing so in a way that puts your clients at ease as soon as they retain your services.
Chris Cassar: We try very hard. We put the long hours in for preparation. We try to work very hard to win for our clients. Sometimes winning, it’s not always getting an acquittal. Maybe it’s getting a conviction on a lesser charge. There is always a defense in a criminal context. We believe in working very hard for our clients; I like to treat them as part of our family. I consider myself a trial attorney and when I get in the courtroom, I try cases. I’m not afraid to try cases. Many people in my profession don’t try cases, they take the easy way out and just settle right away.
John: So I understand from Colleen that you two have been at this a very long time and that you are much different than other attorneys and law firms, how so?
Chris Cassar: Well we treat our clients with dignity and respect. We take pride in interpersonal relationships and go above and beyond the call of duty for our clients. I am a Leading trial lawyer also referred to at times as a “Super lawyer” (a Top 100 Trial Lawyer, and is recognized as a top Attorney in the New York Metro Area by peer recognition and attorney professional achievements. We provide reassurance to all that our clients on any legal matter that they and the issues they are facing will be handled with dignity, unparalleled knowledge and effort. Our firm as Colleen shared earlier is a family boutique law firm. Our clients do not get lost in the “crowd” of the mega firms, nor do we ever get intimidated by any attorney, judge, or adversary, no matter how powerful they think they are. Preparation, dedication, experience, and a team of big hearts and smart minds is what distinguishes us from them all.
John: Chris I have lived in the same community with you now for a few decades and I know you and Colleen are not only very hard working real people, but your hearts are as big as your brains. I have heard many stories of those you have defended, and stories of those who tried to “pull one over on your team” and while it may be a cliche you have a habit of winning with integrity and real ethics. Of all the couples I know, you and Colleen have both dedicated yourselves to your community more than anyone. Both in the good times, and in those trying times that people feel extreme anxiety and fear because their son, daughter, mother, or father made a mistake or used bad judgement just once. On a personal basis I am very proud that you mentored my son as an intern for your firm and that he learned from the best.
Chris & Colleen: Its been a true honor to have been nominated as model citizens this past year and even more of an honor now being nominated as Model Citizens Magazine Couple of the Year, but truly we are a big family here so on behalf of our entire team / Family we accept this award with great honor and feel humbled by our fellow Model Citizens who voted for us. Thank you and of course much congratulations to all of the fellow honorees on their nominations and awards, we are proud to be part of your Model Citizen Family.