‘The Ultimate Competitor’
David F. Stern—founding partner of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano, elite workers’ compensation attorney, former Division 1 athlete—takes his drive to excel into the courtroom
by Pete Croatto

A career in law was practically preordained for David F. Stern.

He was exposed to the legal profession at an early age, having taken frequent trips to the courtroom to watch his father take the bench as a federal judge. Young David watched and learned, both from his father and from the litigators who worked tirelessly, and often creatively, to fight for the rights of their clients.

The lessons learned by his father’s side extended far beyond the walls of the courtroom. If a contractor came to the family home to complete a job and the work wasn’t done correctly, Judge Stern not only illuminated the problem for the contractor but also explained, with unassailable logic, why the issue needed to be amended.

Judge Stern never pushed his son to pursue a career in law; he didn’t have to, as young David had developed a taste for it on his own. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Delaware, where he was a Division 1 athlete, Stern went on to earn his Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He began practicing law in 2000 and, by January 2008, at the age of 32, he had become partner at a prominent workers’ compensation firm in Philadelphia.

Stern never stopped learning, growing and building upon his skill set, ever seeking opportunities to improve his craft and better serve clients in need. He helped create one such opportunity in 2010, when, at the age of 34, he became a founding partner of the Philadelphia-based firm Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano.

He recalls the firm’s early years, when he and his colleagues would boast about the firm’s “boutique” feel, which was a natural product of its team of passionate, driven and service-minded attorneys. Now, although the passion and commitment to serve remain, the firm has grown to include multiple offices throughout Pennsylvania, as well as in New York City and Los Angeles.

In only six years, Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano has earned a reputation as one of the Greater Philadelphia Area’s leading firms in the area of workers’ compensation, with a practically inescapable media presence. “We think every injured worker in Pennsylvania should be represented by us,” says Stern, now 40.

Of course, like any good story, Stern’s has its share of stops and starts, of hits and near misses.

After graduating from law school, Stern figured he would take the Pennsylvania bar exam and then practice in Washington, D.C., which was close to his home in northern Virginia. Instead, he chose to root himself in Philadelphia, where he earned a position with a firm defending insurance companies and employers in workers’ compensation cases. He was happy to be a litigator, and he was good at it. The only problem: He didn’t particularly care for the work.

“I didn’t have a passion for it,” Stern says. “And there were cases where I was called upon to defend an employer, an insurance company, where I didn’t believe in what I was doing. I thought the injured worker was getting the short end of the stick. After not very long, I realized that I really needed to be on the other side. I haven’t looked back. It comes back to that word ‘passion’—I needed to be on this side for passion. And now I have it every day.”

Now known as one of the area’s elite workers’ compensation attorneys, Stern attributes his success in his field in part to another boyhood passion: baseball.

His talents on the pitcher’s mound led to a courtship from the University of Delaware, which had a nationally ranked baseball team. The first two years on campus in Newark, however, were less than ideal. Stern pitched infrequently, but he didn’t let the adversity derail him. He kept practicing and hitting the weight room, and his commitment ultimately paid handsome dividends. By his senior year, he was a starting pitcher.

His drive to excel persists to this day. He is guided by a desire to fight for the best interests of his injured clients, but he also hates to lose. He admits any loss—though rare—tends to sting for a long time. In other words, he takes each case personally and seriously, because he knows there’s so much at stake.

“I want to be better every day,” says Stern. “I’m never content with the status quo. Even if I’m one of the founding partners of the firm and one of the owners, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep up with the current state of the law. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to pick up the phone and call a client and ask someone else to do it for me. It’s about being better every day, and I still take that approach.”

He believes his time as a pitcher informed his approach as an attorney. A starting pitcher typically plays once every four or five days, meaning he must go “all out” with each appearance. Stern takes this attitude with him into the courtroom.

“When you’re the pitcher, all eyes are on you,” he says. “Pitching in front of crowds and being the center of attention—that has served me well in being able to stand up in front of a courtroom: having no trouble, no nervous energy, just being able to stand in front of a judge and argue my case. When I represent somebody, oftentimes that person is in a very tough spot. What they get from me is the ultimate competitor.”

Now, with each case he takes on, he invests himself in his client’s predicament. He has to, given the seriousness of most workers’ compensation cases.

“I’m not always giving legal advice; I’m giving life advice,” he says. “It’s more than just ‘This is the law in your case and what I think is going to happen.’ It’s also, ‘Let’s talk about the other things you have going on here in your life and [then go about] making decisions. What does your family need? Are the kids going to college?’ There’s so much that we talk about before we make big decisions in cases, that sometimes it kind of trickles over into just a coaching session.”

So when he wins a case for a client who is suffering as a result of another’s carelessness or wrongdoing, the result tends to be quite satisfying—even electrifying.

“The thing that I really enjoy about what I do is getting great results for my clients,” he says. “It’s an end game that makes a big difference in their lives, gets them back on their feet and takes care of some horrible debt. [It’s] just something that really floors them.”

Whether on the pitcher’s mound or in the courtroom, Stern has relied on an old standby to attain the best possible results: hard work. Hard work has also helped him and his fellow partners build a small boutique law firm into a booming enterprise with offices around the country. The expansion, in fact, continues; recently, Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano opened an office in Pittsburgh, while another is under construction in Bucks County.

“I’m quite certain of the fact that this is not the end of it,” he says. “Continued growth is inevitable.”

Stern’s words regarding the firm’s local expansion plans could very well apply to his own legal career. Based on the evidence so far, his argument seems unbeatable.

Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano
One Commerce Square
2005 Market Street, 18th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Photography by Jeff Anderson