Bad jokes, outrageous advertisements and implausible television characters can come to mind when people think of lawyers – until they need a lawyer.
“The practice of law is a noble profession,” says John M. Mussetto. “Lawyers get bad press. Interestingly, when something bad happens to someone, the first thing people do is call a lawyer.
Mussetto practices criminal, family, divorce and DUI law through his own firm in Greenville.
A native of Greenville, Mussetto became interested in politics and law by watching the news every night with his father, who explained that many politicians are also lawyers.
Politics gave way to law when Mussetto accepted the opportunity to be a courier at a law firm while a student at Furman University.
“It was my first experience with a law firm,” he says. “I started at the bottom, running papers to and from the courthouse.”
After Furman and Mississippi College Law School, Mussetto served as clerk to Judge D. Garrison Hill, then joined the firm of Mooneyham, Berry, and Karow in Greenville.
In 2011, he founded his own firm, The Law Offices of John M. Mussetto, LLC.
“A lot of other lawyers are just pushing papers all day,” he says. “I enjoy being in courtrooms, advocating for clients, helping them through difficult times.”
Mussetto says he enjoys the independence of running his own business. “You get a certain level of freedom, but you also have more responsibility. You can’t just leave work and not think about it until you come back the next day.
In 2020, he purchased the striking white building at Pettigru and Toy streets. Built in 1910, it once housed the Bannister law firm.
The customers Mussetto sees there almost always face serious problems.
“It’s a difficult area. When my phone rings, it’s when people are going through very difficult situations – whether it’s an arrest, a divorce or custody. So a lot of what I do is crisis control,” he says.
“Our office is keen on helping people. We reassure them: “You may not see the light in the tunnel now, but I promise you it is there. Your case will come to an end. There will be resolution, though sometimes you have to make it worse before you make it better. I consider it a service to the community.
Mussetto prides itself on its customer relationships.
“Once I build that trust, my clients know that I will only have their best interests in mind. I will advocate for them. I will give them clear answers. Once that rapport is established, it is easier to manage customer expectations. Some of the best relationships are the ones that took me a long time to build,” he says.
These clients come back to him if they encounter other problems, and also refer their friends and family members.
“Now if there’s a legal issue, they call me, we have a conversation, and they know that I’m always going to speak up and be honest with them,” he says.
“Many bonds have been forged with clients and client families over the years. I am their “family lawyer”. It’s a compliment to me and my practice, getting repeat clients and word of mouth referrals.
Mussetto is happy to answer difficult questions about his profession.
“I’m often asked, ‘How do you reconcile the moral dilemma of representing someone who has been accused of a crime?’ I love this question.
Mussetto’s answer is twofold.
“First, it’s in our constitution: innocent until proven guilty. The law states that a person, if convicted of a crime, must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If a jury deliberates and hesitates to convict someone, it means the state has failed to meet its burden of proof, he says.
“Most intelligent and educated people would say that even if a person commits a crime, but there is not enough evidence to prove that he has committed a crime, then that person should not be convicted. This is what separates us from North Korea and Russia, he says.
“My job is to make sure the state can meet its burden, that it has enough evidence against my client to convict him.”
Another part of Mussetto’s job is to make sure that if someone is found guilty or pleads guilty, the sentence matches the crime.
“I look at all the evidence. I negotiate with the prosecutors and make sure they get a fair prison sentence, or a fair probation, or a fair fine. That’s justice. »
He views family law cases the same way. “Family law is clear about the division of property and debts and alimony,” he says. He gathers evidence and facts to get the best results for his client – “whether my client is on high moral ground or not. It’s a balancing act…push and pull…and that’s how our system was designed.
If a couple disputes custody, the judge will appoint a guardian ad litem (a lay person or a lawyer) to represent the interests of the child.
In South Carolina, couples and their attorneys must go through mediation if they cannot reach an agreement over assets or custody. If mediation fails, the case goes to court. (Mussetto says 90% of his cases, family and criminal, are resolved without a trial.) If the dispute isn’t an emergency, a divorce could take nine to 14 months.
Despite the crises that bring clients to his doorstep, Mussetto is happy and proud to work in the field he discovered so long ago.
“I’ve had the opportunity to grow the business, but I’m purposely keeping it small. I’m proud of that small law firm feeling. I come to work, and I see my office, and I see the clients I serve, and I get pleasure from it. … It’s work, but it’s not. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. »