He is the owner and operator of the award-winning J. Gonzalez Law Firm
By Roberto Hugo González
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition July 2018
Three years ago, this publication’s editorial team selected Jesse Gonzalez as the featured Exclusive story for Texas Border Business, but it didn’t happen due to time constraints. Today, we have the opportunity to bring you his story for July 2018, just as we had intended.
Originally what got our attention was obvious. This market is a bull, and he has taken it by the horns. His particular style in marketing is an aggressive and straightforward approach. The message highlights the combination of legal services with the pride he feels being from the Valley.
Jesse has been the recipient of prestigious awards as head of the J. Gonzalez Injury Attorneys. However, he always says that it is a team effort and claims his staff as equal winners. His firm handles cases of personal injury caused by negligence, automotive accidents, commercial truck accidents, and wrongful deaths.
Jesse was born in McAllen and grew up as a migrant farm worker in the sugar beet fields of Minnesota. He is a man who credits his parents for everything he has. He and his siblings heard and did what their mother instilled in them, to get educated. Let’s dive into what made him a successful professional on his journey from the sugar beet fields to the field of law.
His father, Arturo Gonzalez, was born in Peñitas and his mother, Criselda Hinojosa, was born in Alice, Texas. The exciting part about his parents is that despite being U.S. citizens, they were raised in Mexico. His father grew up in Reynosa Díaz and his mother in Díaz Ordaz in the state of Tamaulipas; these were small towns about 20 miles apart. Jesse said, “My father would go cruising to Díaz Ordaz, and that’s how they met. When they got married, my dad at 29, and mom at 26, they decided to move to Alice, Texas; that’s where my oldest sister was born.” From Alice, the family moved to Mission.
Jesse tells the story as if it happened yesterday; his memories are filled with vivid details of where his family lived and grew up in the Valley. He said, “Our house is still there in Mission. It’s on Holland Avenue right off the expressway, a little area called Monterreyito near a neighborhood called La Cuchilla.” Jesse was born in downtown McAllen, delivered by a midwife, just a few blocks from where we had this interview at La Casa Del Taco.
His father was a carpenter and built the family home from the ground up, and it was where Jesse was raised. “So that’s where I grew up, I lived in a wood-framed house with no air conditioning; it was located about three blocks from Pearson Elementary School in Mission.”
As he describes his early years, he remembers walking every morning to school in the scorching hot weather of the Rio Grande Valley. “But then,” he says, “sometimes the temperatures could drop to 40 degrees, and for us, it was the same walk to school. It’s amazing to me how, back in the 70s, parents would allow their children to do that.”
Attending kindergarten, his mother would bundle him up he says, “I would grab my books and I would go to school. Whether it was drizzling, raining, hot or cold, they would insist we go to school; that’s what our parents would do.” He laughs saying, “Nowadays it’s like we don’t even let them walk around our house without supervision. It’s kind of crazy, the world that we lived in back then and amazing that we are still alive.”
Jesse has an older brother living in Agua Dulce close to Alice, Texas. He also has three sisters that live in the Valley; all are in the education field. They have been, in part, his inspiration because one of his sisters was a teacher in Pharr with PSJA ISD and the other two sisters in La Joya. “I sort of followed in their footsteps.”
His father, according to Jesse, dropped out of school in the fifth grade because he had to work. But, his mother was sent to Monterrey to a private school. He said, “She got an accounting degree.”
Jesse pointed out that in Mexico at that time, it was not very common for a woman to go to college. However, his maternal grandfather made sure all his kids got educated, both the men and women. He said, “My mom instilled that goal in all of us, making sure that we got degrees. That was driven mostly by my mom who had that kind of education.”
Jesse’s life is full of challenges, nothing has come to him for free. Tenacity, perseverance, and dedication have helped him to come a long way.
He remembers his father as an honest, hardworking man and a resourceful handyman with a natural dexterity for carpentry. “He did construction work.” Jesse said, “We would often drive up and down the Valley, and dad would say, “I built that, and I was part of the crew that built this highway, and that building, and this and that”.”
During summers, when the children were out of school, Jesse remembers the family traveling north to work in the fields of ‘betabel in Spanish’ (sugar beets) in the Fargo-Moorhead area in Minnesota. He added, “We lived on a farm (rancheria) about 15 miles from a little town called Glyndon, Minnesota.”
The migration of thousands of families was a ritual; school summer vacation was the period to leave the Valley. The children also worked; extra hands made the trip worth it and meant more income for the family. “So, three months out of every year, my parents and the five of us (children), lived in a small green mobile home on a farm.” He said, “The seven of us, all crammed in there.”
These could be hard times for anyone, but not for Jesse. A challenge was growing inside him. He had always thought of doing something more significant, soon enough, he met that challenge.
After graduating from Mission High School, he attended Pan-American University and obtained his bachelor’s degree. He went to work for La Joya ISD teaching fifth and sixth graders at Benavides Elementary School. Initially, he did that his first three years teaching and spent his last four years teaching British Literature to seniors at La Joya High School. During that time, he took on a challenge again, by going back to Pan-Am University to get his master’s in educational administration. Jesse dedicated seven years as a teacher, at which time he decided to take on another significant challenge – to study law.
He was accepted at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, starting law school in 1997. Shortly after he finished his first semester in law school, his father passed away. It was a sad time for Jesse and the family. He never forgets the date and time his father passed away. “It was on January 29, 1998, at 3:00 in the morning.” As painful as the loss of his father was, they were comforted knowing how proud their father said he felt about his children. Soon, Jesse became focused on finishing law school.
“At the beginning of this year, in 2018, my mom passed away on January 29 at 3:00 am in the morning,” he recalls with sadness. “The same date, same time, and twenty years apart from my dad’s passing.”
Going back to the year 2000, Jesse graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law and was given an opportunity to work in San Antonio or to come back to serve the Valley residents. “It was a no-brainer for me. Why stay in a big city away from the home where I grew up?” He continued, “To be with family and the people you love, ultimately, home is where your heart is.”
As a lawyer, he worked for two different law firms, first at a personal injury law firm and then at a corporate defense firm, representing big corporations like AIG and General Motors. When he had done those two ‘clerkships’, as he said, Jesse started his own practice.
Before he opened his law firm, he was making about $30,000 a year, that’s about $500 a week, not enough to start a law practice. It didn’t matter to him. He said, “I bought a little desk, and I used the computer that I had in college,” and with no money for advertising.
I was able to secure a small office in the back of an insurance company. He said, “You would think, why would a lawyer’s office be inside an insurance office. I mean, that is a sworn enemy of lawyers.” The insurance agent let him lease space at the end of the hallway, but they didn’t want him to have a sign in their lobby.
“I remember my first fight was, I need to let people know that there’s a law firm here!” Finally, he was given permission to have a small sign just off the side of the door, no bigger than a square foot. The owners later complained that people were getting confused and were not coming inside believing that it was only an attorney’s office.
In 2001, he called the Secretary of State to set up a corporation but was informed his firm’s name was already taken. “I told the state’s clerk over the phone, “you’ve literally killed me… That’s my name!’ ” What came next “devasted” him, the clerk said, “but there is ‘J. Gonzalez’ available”. He said, “You know my name is Jesse Gonzalez. People call me Jesse; those people who know me. Nobody had ever called me ‘J’ up until then.”
That was 17 years ago; he had no idea that the name suggested by the state’s clerk had the virtues to be branded in a market as large as the Rio Grande Valley. He even told the clerk that the name sounded awkward. “She didn’t give me a choice; ‘that’s what it’s going to be’!”
Finally, he incorporated as the J. Gonzalez Law Firm. Six months down the road, he heard his secretary answering the phone as Gonzalez Law Firm without the ‘J,’ and that was music to his ears; this went on for about four years. “I was okay with it because again that sounds better.” But after a while, he got used to the name J. Gonzalez as people began calling him ‘J’. “I guess they’re calling me ‘J’ because of my law firm, so I changed it. My staff began answering the phone as J. Gonzalez Law Firm.”
The change was a direct impact of the advertising he had been doing with billboards and radio at the time. Though his staff had problems adjusting to answering the phone with the corporation’s correct name, eventually they did. The new hires, no problem, they already knew the name, J. Gonzalez Law Firm.
He told Texas Border Business that at the beginning of his practice he was all over the spectrum of law. Handling cases on family law, criminal law, criminal defense, and some personal injury. As the firm grew, he focused more on what he enjoys the most, personal injury law.
When in law school, he loved classes that had to do with personal injury. He said, “It fascinated me because I wanted to be in a position to help people who were victims of someone else’s recklessness.” His practice is centered on personal injury law he said, “We’ve helped thousands of clients successfully win cases.”
In the beginning, he didn’t advertise because he had barely enough to manage. When he opted to use the Yellow Pages after almost one year of being in practice, the sales rep told him, “If you cannot spend $400 or more a month for a yellow page ad, I will not sell to you.” The bluntness of the lady made him realize that he needed to be gutsy. “At that time, I loved the Yellow Pages because that is when I started getting more Personal Injury cases.”
Yellow Pages to Television
When he became an attorney, Jesse wanted to stay involved with education, so, he vowed to be available to schools needing a lawyer to speak for career day or to speak about the value of education. Soon that day arrived. He was invited to La Joya ISD to participate in Career Day. Imagine, what an honor, in the past he had been a teacher there for seven years. Now he stood proudly as a lawyer in front of third graders with the intent to inspire them. So, the first question was: “Can you tell me what a lawyer is? and a little kid answered, ‘Brian Loncar’.” Needless to say, Jesse was blown away, the message was clear. He said, “These kids don’t know anything about me, but they know a lawyer they have seen on TV.” Not wasting any time, as soon as he finished his commitment, he called the sales departments of the three local TV stations to buy advertising; the rest is history.
In 2005, Jesse adopted aggressive campaigns, with TV spots that had a message branding the market with his law firm’s name. Now, in a way, he is the Bryan Loncar of today. People know that he is focused in one area of law, personal injury and that he is winning cases all the time.
“You know being a lifelong learner, I came out of there more educated and gained a benefit, the transformation of my business.” In his case, he said, “You hire me, and we’ve got to win your case before I collect my fees.”
What worries him about his field, are the case runners or ambulance chasers that continue to violate the law. Jesse educates people every chance he gets, “It’s illegal for a lawyer or someone working with a lawyer to solicit you at an accident, follow you, call you, or go to your house.” He said, “For Cameron County residents, for Hidalgo and Starr County residents, call your local police or district attorney. You can also file a grievance with the State Bar of Texas. There is a special unit; they investigate and will prosecute…”
“We don’t use these ambulance chasers; we deal directly with the client.” Jesse says his only obligation is to make his clients happy. The good work he is doing is reflected in Google’s fantastic reviews. The J. Gonzalez Law Firm has received numerous awards for providing exceptional service to their clients.
Three Best Rated®
Just recently, his law firm was selected by Three Best Rated®, a company that investigates a business’s reputation, history, complaints, ratings, nearness, satisfaction, trust, cost, and general excellence using a 50-point inspection. In a few words, the J. Gonzalez Law Firm is among the best in the field of personal injury law.
The Million Dollar Advocates Forum (MDAF) is a most prestigious group of trial lawyers in the United States whose membership is limited to attorneys who have won million and multimillion-dollar verdicts, awards, and settlements. The MDAF announced on June 11, 2018, the certification of attorney, Jesse Gonzalez of McAllen, Texas, as a member.
Additionally, the J. Gonzalez Law Firm is listed as a member in the attorney directory of Rue Ratings’ Best Attorneys of America®, one of the most celebrated and respected groups of attorneys in the country. They invite less than 1% of the attorneys in America. They carefully screen and select from the most qualified and accomplished attorneys in the United States.
What people see in J. Gonzalez Law Firm, is a local firm; it is homegrown. Jesse is proud to say, “On a daily basis, we compete with big law firms from out of town. We’re going toe to toe with them. We’re doing what we do best, serving South Texas in the best possible way – always winning.”