For someone who never intended to become a lawyer, Greta Bassett-Seymour is making impressive strides in the profession.
At a time when many local law firms are dealing with dwindling staffs and empty office space, the Bassett Law Firm blossomed during the economic downturn and is planning further growth.
Bassett-Seymour, a 38-year-old Wisconsin native, started the firm in 2004, and she now manages 30 employees. The practice specializes in social security disability law and has a nationwide clientele. Although passionate about this field of law, her path there was anything but traditional.
Before going to the University of Missouri School of Law, Bassett-Seymour taught middle- and high-school students. She came to realize, however, that the teaching profession wasn’t for her.
“I was looking for a career that was more intellectually challenging for me personally, not so much in the realm of giving knowledge,” Bassett said. “Not that teachers don’t have a hard job — because they really do — but I enjoy working with adults more than I do with children.”
“When I finally decided to go to law school, my intent was not really to be a lawyer,” she said. “I had no intension of taking the bar exam. In fact, I didn’t take it with most of my classmates.”
She graduated in 2001, but only after her university job fizzled out did she decide to study for the bar’s second sitting.
“When I passed, at this point I figured, ‘Well, I better practice,’” she said. “‘I have all the pieces in place.’”
With no responsibilities tying her down, she casually took a job that involved lots of traveling: a position with a Jefferson City firm practicing Social Security law, which she “knew nothing about.”
But after her first hearing, she said: “I just fell in love with Social Security disability law. There was something about the nature of helping people and the clients being so grateful for the assistance that really struck a chord with me. I never really thought of myself as somebody who needed somebody to need them because I’m not motherly or anything like that. But it really felt good to be needed.”
In 2004, she decided to break out on her own and start her own practice. The owner and managing partner credits much of her firm’s success to hiring dedicated, forthright employees with very little turnover.
Bassett-Seymour said the dismal economic climate has actually stimulated business. As they’re laid off, many middle-aged citizens are filing for disability benefits earlier than expected. The newly unemployed need legal help navigating a social security system that Basset-Seymour calls sluggish.
“We’re kind of seeing a fast-forward motion of what would happen naturally over the course of time,” she said, “but it’s happening more quickly because of the economic downturn. It’s an unfortunate circumstance to take advantage of the recession, but my thought is, you have to eat while the food is being passed out.”
“This is our time,” she continued. “There might be a time in 10 or 20 years when social security can’t pay benefits anymore and we have to find a new way to make a living. That’s kind of where I am now. How do I make my business continue to grow over the long haul, not just off of social security?”
A good friend and co-worker, attorney Maren Mellem helped answer that question for Bassett-Seymour. A couple years ago, Mellem suggested the firm look into assisting veterans who want to claim their benefits.
Mellem, is a former prosecutor for domestic violence cases, a volunteer for a rape crisis hotline and a rescuer of abused dogs. Bassett-Seymour said she has a fervor for social justice.
“She’s always had a real heart for helping the underdog,” Bassett-Seymour said. “She saw a need while researching veterans because it was clear they were under-represented.”
Basset-Seymour said the “heart-wrenching” lack of adequate legal advice for veterans is a product of a system that is not only clogged but also broken.
“Social security is slow, but the VA is like molasses in January,” she said. “You do have to have the patience of Job for this kind of work.”
Bassett-Seymour said she’s seen many veterans return from military action and receive little to no decompression and counsel.
“The biggest problem with veterans claiming benefits is pride,” she said. “They don’t tend to go to doctors to be diagnosed, especially a psychiatrist, because for a lot of veterans that’s very embarrassing. They’ve been trained not to complain. Their problems perpetuate without treatment. And that’s when you see veterans committing suicide, losing their families or turning to alcohol and drugs.”
Getting veterans the timely treatment and benefits they deserve, Bassett-Seymour said, is the aim of the firm’s new venture.
In her personal life, Bassett-Seymour travels often with her husband of four years, and while he’s out in the woods hunting, she enjoys reading historical fiction on the couch and playing with her two Brittanies, Jack and Peach.
Just don’t ask her if it’s too hot to wear her knitted clothing.
Speaking with the Columbia Business Times via cell phone while riding shotgun with her sister en route to Wisconsin to spend Mother’s Day with their mom, Basset-Seymour playfully scoffed at the notion.
“Knitting is never out of season!” she said, demonstrating her zeal for a good argument, even outside the legal arena. “You just have to switch the weight of your yarn to something much lighter. You just can’t knit an afghan in the summertime. There is never a time when knitting is inappropriate.”