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Gerodias Suchianco Estrella

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In this season of Easter, GSE Law Firm’s managing partner and birthday celebrant, Atty. Raul Tito Maxelmo “Toby” A. Estrella, shares how he embarked on a new beginning through a discovery of renewed faith and hope.

Because he turned his ear to me,
  I will call on him as long as I live.

Toby Laughed and said, “You don’t have to write this but I was not the same person I am now…”

Toby’s early relationship with God was similar to most: “We were what you would call ‘nominal Catholics.’ We would go to mass, do the sacraments. But there was no deep personal relationship with God.” In college, Toby’s persona was, let’s just say, less refined. As with most men in their youth, his halcyon younger days were filled with periods of bravado interspersed with machismo, topped with bad decisions.

However, despite this, it was also in college when Toby’s life moved towards a deeper understanding of faith. As with most encounters with God, Toby’s paradigm shift came from an invitation. “I got invited to this group and I attended a retreat. In this retreat, I felt that there’s really a God. It was not an overnight thing but it called on me to change my ways.” Toby believes that his personal encounter with God during the retreat changed the trajectory of his whole life: he found a community, he found support and, most importantly, he found spiritual role models.

After college, Toby remained with the group for a year and honed his leadership style through conducting retreats and organizing conferences with thousands of participants. Coincidentally, he even met his wife, Tess, while speaking to a group. “I was leading the group then, she saw me, and was immediately in love with me.”

During law school, his reliance on his faith sustained him. Aside from, of course, praying to do well, he turned to his faith to find meaning and purpose with what he was doing. “I think that was the saving grace there. If not, I would be in politics now. I would be a different person.”

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
  in the presence of all his people.

“It was not an overnight thing. Even now, I still struggle with things.”

During college, law school, and especially as a lawyer, it’s always a struggle to do the right thing. In a profession where you attempt to determine what is just, the struggle to do right is ever-present. Toby’s faith feeds his decision-making on a daily basis: which clients to take, what advice to give, how to proceed with cases. All these he filters through the lens of his faith.

“Earn trust and build relationships with clients. It is important how we are able to provide guidance to clients. We will not glamorize our service because we are called upon to be truthful and accurate. I have lost cases but it is very rare for a client to leave the firm because of lost cases. Do it right, even if we lose, our client will remain loyal to us.”

What shall I return to the Lord
  for all his goodness to me?

“You don’t preach but you teach.”

Toby’s faith is not solely a “Sunday habit.” He lives his faith through every role in his life. “In the office, in my family, how I run my things, I do it in a subtle way. I use language like ‘blessing’ and phrases like ‘having the attitude for gratitude.’”

He explains further, “My faith is my beacon, my guide. In my roles as a lawyer, managing partner, father, husband, when I serve outside it plays a big influence in my life.”

Presently, Toby serves as a leader and member of the governing body in the religious community, “Ligaya ng Panginoon” where he is charged to take care of families, individuals, young men and women. He has transitioned from one who looks to role models, to one guiding others and being a role model himself.

He continues along his path, doing task after task, making decision after decision, affecting people through his example of action through faith. Toby’s belief that faith is your ability to entrust yourself to somebody (for him, God) paints his movements. “It’s beyond structure. It’s beyond mere prayers. I put more value on my faith. It is the belief in something higher than us, bigger than us, and being able to appreciate things in a different way.”

For Toby, his faith is more of an expression of his actions, it’s a desire to go beyond the visible. It’s an on-going struggle, but one he knows is worth the effort. He believes that with his whole heart. His faith allows him to. (Interview and write-up by: Zeus “Earl” Roy D. Custodio Jr.)