James Cook / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Louis Goodman / James Cook – Transcript

Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today, James Cook joins me. James is an attorney at the John Burris law firm, emphasizing police excessive force cases. He has extensive experience in pretrial civil litigation, trial prep, and jury trials. He’s interned at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. James is a member of the Earl Warren Inns of Court, the Charles Houston Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association amongst other professional organizations. He has numerous professional awards. But one cannot know James without recognizing that he’s a Golden Gloves boxing champion, and Thai kickboxing champion. James Cook, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.

James Cook 01:03
Hey. All right. Good to see you.

Louis Goodman 01:06
Where are you talking to us from right now?

James Cook 01:09
I’m in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which is my hometown.

Louis Goodman 01:13
And do spend time there and in California?

James Cook 01:17
I kind of straddle both states, California and Minnesota. So I go back and forth. I have kids here. So yeah, so I do go back and forth.

Louis Goodman 01:27
Are you licensed in Minnesota as well?

James Cook 01:29
No, not yet. But I’m working on it.

Louis Goodman 01:31
What kind of practice do you have?

James Cook 01:34
Like you said, I worked for John Burris in California, it’s Bay Area all over California, basically. And people might know, I mean, locally in California, they know it for the police cases, but we do it every day, a lot of different things including employment and amongst other things, but most people know Mr. Burris for the Rodney King case, in 1992, way before I was even thinking about becoming a lawyer, but he did the Rodney King case. And then more recently the Oscar Grant case and if you’re really local, the rioters were, there was a gang of cops in Oakland and got a negotiated settlement agreement. And so these days, so yeah, so we do a lot of those. Those high-profile cases are the ones that firm is actually known for. But we do a lot of other things besides that. And I like to say that we are more just civil litigators, Federal Court and do a lot of cases in Federal Court.

Louis Goodman 02:37
How long have you been with Burris firm?

James Cook 02:40
I mean, I’ve been with Burris for a long time. I mean, way before I even became a lawyer, before I even went to law school. Once I finished law school then I did a little stint with, like you said, with the San Francisco Public Defender’s, just real short, and then ended up at Burris.

Louis Goodman 02:58
Where are you from originally?

James Cook 03:00
From Minneapolis, Minnesota. That’s where I grew up.

Louis Goodman 03:04
Is that where you went to high school?

James Cook 03:06
I went to high school, I went to Southwest, shout out to southwest High School, lived and grew up in southwest Minneapolis, if you’re listening to this, and you know, so my family, I grew up near Lake Calhoun on the sort of Southwest end of Lake Calhoun.

Louis Goodman 03:22
What sort of things did you do in high school?

James Cook 03:25
I mean, I was to be honest, I just had a unique experience, like I guess at the time, because we were one of the few black families in that part of town, and at the time Minnesota was still pretty homogenous. I was a punk rock kid. So I was into punk rock speed metal, like that type of thing in skateboarder, big into sports. I wasn’t good at any sports, but I looked like I played soccer. I mean, I ended up in swim, like, I ended up swimming in college and try to be on the soccer team and that kind of thing. But the soccer team was so good. Everybody went to the Olympics and played the World Cup. So that was good for an American, but I was not on that level.

Louis Goodman 04:05
So where did you go to college after graduating from high school?

James Cook 04:09
I went to Howard University, it’s a historically black college, it’s where our current vice president went, so people made a big stink about that, but yeah, I went to Howard.

Louis Goodman 04:20
Well, that must have been a huge difference going from Minneapolis to Washington DC.

James Cook 04:28
Yeah, yeah. I mean, yeah, you’re asking the question because you know that most people don’t know because when they go to DC they go to the federal enclave but it is a primarily black city, run by black folks other than the federal enclave. So yeah, it’s a big culture shock like it was a good thing. I mean, I knew that when I was finishing high school that I was definitely going to go to historically black college right after having grown up and gone to school and kind of always felt like I was being judged more along racial lines and you know there was either going to go to Morehouse which is in Atlanta or Howard. But if you know about those colleges, Morehouse is an all-boys college with Spelman, the women’s college across the street, but I didn’t want that I wanted to. I wanted to go to Howard’s coed.

Louis Goodman 05:22
Yeah, you were looking for the coeducational experience.

James Cook 05:26
Yeah. Exactly. So yeah.

Louis Goodman 05:29
Well, when you graduated from Howard, where did you go to school after that?

James Cook 05:35
I took a circuitous route. Like I didn’t go to law school right away. I was prelaw, but I didn’t go right away. One thing that was, I ended up doing a sport that was kind of coming up, it was kickboxing, but it’s Muay Thai kickboxing, is where no pads, knees, elbows, that type of thing. And if you ever been to Thailand, and you’ve been in the stadiums, you know that this is the sport hunting. So I was pretty good. And ended up being really good at it. So I finished college and I turned pro, kind of shortly after that, but I had been coming up as an amateur and then right around the time was– they’re trying to put thing and trying to bring it into the Olympics at that point. And so I was on the US team that they attempted to do with for ’96. So I was like, yeah, I’m going to go to Atlanta and meet Michael Jordan, that type of thing. So I traveled around basically around the world, just competing and go to other countries. So like, most of my competitions, were overseas and like Europe. And then, shortly thereafter, I actually got sponsored by, I was a writer. And that was kind of how I supported myself and a tech guy and I turned pro, and that was at the time, it couldn’t make a lot of money, you could do pretty good. And then once I started getting on the marquees I could, but it’s not like you make a living not like now. And so I was a writer, I was writing for magazines, if you remember Vibe, and like Spin was a big magazine back then. And I even had wrote some for Rolling Stones and like, did some like, Village Voice on all the papers, like, for instance, the weeklies in Minnesota. And I wrote for them.

Louis Goodman 07:22
Were you writing about kickboxing or music?

James Cook 07:26
No, I was writing about music, I was actually writing a lot about music, like, black alternative music, like black rock and roll at the time, which was like Living Color, all of a sudden hit the scene and like, Fishbone, and like, sort of that, but also, I was a book reviewer. That was my thing is, I did a lot of book reviews. And I remember distinctly like for 96, 95, we were travelling all around. And so before I went, the editor gave me like a big huge bucket of books that I took with me in the plane, and I was reading, and filing like a report after as I read these books, but yeah, so that was where I really hit my stride as a book reviewer, in music somewhat music reviewer like alternative scene. And then I got into graduate school at Boulder. It was like a MFA type program, like a writing English program and then I got a scholarship for it. And I knew first day I started like, not something I wanted to do, but I’d finish it and then started to apply for law school.

Louis Goodman 08:37
So how long were you at Colorado University in the MFA program?

James Cook 08:42
It was MA program. Like it was like, I think they turned it into MFA. I don’t know if it was while I was there. So I don’t have an MFA. I have a masters. But it was two years, two and a half years. And honestly, most of the time that I was there, I was training, I was competing, probably like, it seemed like every other graduate student was like, on some high-level sports team, mostly skiing and like snowboard, you know what I mean? Snowboarding in all sports like that, like anything you can think of. So I wasn’t in class, like doing my assignments, but I was really competing, like a lot.

Louis Goodman 09:21
Well, that must have been a big culture shock to coming from Howard to Boulder. Yeah, I mean, that’s like pretty different type schools and pretty different demographics.

James Cook 09:34
Different demographics. Yeah, so Howard is, like I said, a historically black college and very academic based and like, not a lot of sports and that type of thing. And really, people are, like, very studious, and really about, like into education, went to Boulder and even though I was a graduate student and I actually lived in the graduate dorm for a bit. For the most part the school was a party school but I didn’t never seen something like that before because I didn’t go to a party school and it really literally was a– it was like a winter camp. I mean, you had a lot of people, of course, like, a lot of people, just a lot of skiing like recreational, of course you had the competitors, but really like most of it was, like, Hey, we’re here to party and I think at the time even, it was like, I remember there was a report in US News World Report that it was like the number one party school and like the CU Boulder football team, like that was a big deal. And it was just, it was party on. I mean, I didn’t really engage in it because I was there. I was competing, being drug tested, but it was definitely a party school.

Louis Goodman 10:47
After you got your masters, did you take some time off between getting the masters and going to law school or did you go directly to law school?

James Cook 10:55
No, no, I took a long time off like, I was 24, 25, I was competing. I was on the circuit, and I was fighting a lot like I was as couple years, I was fighting like every two weeks. If you know anything about Muay Thai is pretty brutal. But yeah, I was fighting a lot and that was what I was doing. I’d be on a plane every other week, like going to some place over the Atlantic or to Japan or China or something like that to go compete.

Louis Goodman 11:24
I imagine you met some rather interesting people in all that travel, training and fighting.

James Cook 11:30
I fought on a show that was on ESPN and I met a guy named Alex Gong. And he was the owner of Fairtex. And Fairtex is a big gear company in our little tiny universe of fighting in combat sports. So how to get sponsored by him and that they were located in San Francisco like right, on Fifth and Howard, they have a camp and he trained with your stable of fighters. So I ended up getting sponsored by them. And I went out there, but I was also a tech guy. And the first time I went out there and saw the camp, it’s kind of like, yeah, we fight, train and then the guys that don’t have fights are just partying like nonstop, I ended up getting a job, a tech job. And this is the first wave of tech. So I got this really high paying job in Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale, and I’d drive up there, I’d be training twice a day, like, I’d literally have to drive up to San Francisco 5am and train and come back, boom, and then work all day and then go back up there for the second training session. So there was a lot of that. I also trained in AKA, which became a big one. And then kind of towards the end of my career, like I would say, into the early 2000s, around 9/11 or so, a little bit after the big thing became cage fighting, if you ever seen the UFC or if you ever heard of it, and that became a bigger thing and where you can make more money now, I was still boxing, like I’d actually boxed, won some pro shows like Coliseum Shark Tank, like the big Oscar De La Hoya’s promotion, Golden Boy promotion, I fought on those a few times, like done the actual boxing, but really my sport was with Muay Thai but then when that came along, you could actually make a living as a fighter and unfortunately, I was on my way out. So I did cage fighting for a little bit when I was retired, which is a little bit easier, because if you ever watch it, there’s a lot of stalling and they fight on the ground and in that type of thing. And in San Francisco, the Bay Area started to produce like a lot of high level like very famous people. And then finally, it was like, I had a fight in Vegas and I got TKO’d, it was time for me to stop. And that’s when I finally got serious about law school, went to Golden Gate.

Louis Goodman 13:44
When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer? When did that occur to you that maybe somewhere along the line, I want to go to law school someday?

James Cook 13:57
When I was in college, going to college, I was pre-law in college, I specifically went to college to become a lawyer. It’s just it that I got sidetracked with the writing just because, I think I got the scholarship because, I mean look, I was token black, they really wanted a black guy and I think that the head of the department had seen some of my writing like, and like, I was writing about the culture at the time. Prince had just changed his name to a symbol. There’s a lot of crazy things happening in music. And of course, we in Minnesota thought that Minneapolis was the original place that grunge came from and produce the sound that ultimately became known as Soundgarden and Nirvana. We think that we’re the ones who started that and people might say that, but Seattle and Portland improved on it, right? And so there was a lot going on at that time with that type of rock and roll music like rock and even to a certain extent, like with hip hop and that type of thing. And I was writing about that. So, that’s how I got picked up in the program and got the scholarship. And I think they definitely wanted like some black folks in the program because they probably hadn’t, I don’t think they had any for a long time. So yeah.

Louis Goodman 15:11
So what then prompted you to actually apply to law school to really, like, say…?

James Cook 15:19
I didn’t want to be an academic, like once I started, I was like, wow, this is just it, I knew right away, like, this is not what I want to do as a career. You don’t make any money. The whole thing like everybody talking about, like, Oh, I got to get tenure like, because, in my program, like, we became the instructors, like, I had to actually teach classes and come up with a curriculum. And I remember my first day, like, I’m 23, 24, and I’m teaching in graduate school. And there are people that are older than me and I remember walking to the front of the class, like, the very first day, and it was like, people were like, wondering who the instructor is going to be. I remember the look on their face when I was like, Hey, everybody, I’m James Cook, I’m the instructor, of what? They’re looking at each other like for real?

Louis Goodman 16:08
So what did what did your friends and family say, when you finally decided, hey, I’m going to law school and you really went to Golden Gate, right?

James Cook 16:20
Yeah, my dad really didn’t want me to, he’s a business guy. He had a business and he kind of hated lawyers, my mom, she didn’t really understand the extent to which I was competing. I think she kind of had an idea, but not really, she never ever saw me fight, it wouldn’t have been good for her to see that. Because every fight like, there’s blood and it’s brutal. And you get hit with elbows. And I had my ribs broken a whole bunch of times stuff like that. But she didn’t like it that I was engaged in that activity other than something that’s an academic pursuit.

Louis Goodman 16:57
Do you think that the fighting experience has helped you in terms of being a litigator?

James Cook 17:04
What I’ll say this, when you’re doing combat sports, and really any sport, like, I think that kids should play it, because there’s a couple things that happen, one, you get used to competition, right. And you get used to preparing for competitions. And like, it’s just the way I see it, right, my own personal thing. So you get used to that, you know, like, in most of the time you’re failing, right. And a lot of people don’t go through that experience where they– it’s like skateboarding, you see kids like practicing skateboard, they rarely make the trick. They got to fail and fail and fail and fail until you finally make it and then you learn how to and then you make it once, and then you fail a whole bunch more times. And then you start making it multiple times, and you become consistent. They all became professionals, and they always say, Yeah, our training, nothing will ever be as hard as our training. And then there’s that, just prepare for a competition, like they go into trial or a hearing that’s high stakes or something like that. You know how to deal with it, right? Stay calm and don’t freak out.

Louis Goodman 18:06
So you’ve done a lot of things. I mean, you’ve been a professional athlete, you’ve been a college level teacher, you’ve been a writer, you’ve had all kinds of opportunities, yet you decided to go to law school, you became a lawyer, you are a lawyer, you’ve litigated a lot of things, you work for a very good firm. What is it about being a lawyer that you like, and that keeps you practicing?

James Cook 18:33
I definitely liked the competitive aspect. I got to say, I mean, it fits in with my personality. I think not everybody should or not everybody wants to when they go to law school and become a litigator, and be subject to deadlines, and in extemporaneous speaking and at hearings, and you probably feel like, like, just you get overwhelmed. And especially if you’ve got a lot of cases.

Louis Goodman 18:58
What would you say to a young person who was thinking about law as a career choice?

James Cook 19:03
I think you got to intern and see what it’s really like, because a lot of people’s perception, including mine, is based on Law and Order. And I think that that critical thinking aspect, is really important and I like that. But let’s see, that’s what I would say to the young lawyer, that’s what you’re going to get out of law school, but the practice of law school is not like TV. And it’s not like you probably think it is.

Louis Goodman 19:29
What about the business of practicing law? You know what I mean? You work in a competitive industry, and you’re not working for the government, you’re not working for a nonprofit, you work in a business, and there’s certainly a social justice component to it. But I’m wondering how that business has worked out for you and what your observation about that is.

James Cook 19:57
First thing Mr. Burris ever said is to me when I interviewed with him and it was hard to get a hold of him at the time and how I got it versus sports betting you on a baseball team at one time, but I was fighting at the Coliseum and I tried like a bunch of times to get a hold of him and then finally called the office and said, Hey, I’m fighting at the Coliseum, I’ll give Mr. Burris, I’ll leave a couple tickets at the desk. And then I got a call right away. So sportsman. So about the business I mean, then when I interviewed with him, he’s like, it’s really strange to have a guy who’s in, like a prizefighter wanting to go to law school, like do you even have brain cells? Like that. He’s asked me, but he was serious about it. And finally was just kind of like, well, look, this is a business. Yeah, we try to do good, but really, this a business and that’s how you got to think of it. It’s important to network, and be out there in the public.

Louis Goodman 20:51
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you started practicing law?

James Cook 20:56
The whole thing about the writing and the critical thinking and also, like, it’s more than just practicing. Like it’s a lot of social work. You are a social worker, and just how to like, really, client management, I think, especially for us, because people have such high expectations, because they’re thinking they’re Rodney King, everyone thinks, hey, there aren’t my cases, Rodney King, or Oscar Grant. So managing clients expectations, I tend to be more really super blunt and to the point, which sometimes works, but not always. I spent a lot of time really managing clients, like I do a whole thing called client education.

Louis Goodman 21:37
What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

James Cook 21:41
That like what Mr. Burris said, like you’re in business. Like, you’re more of a business guy. And I think that they should have like the business for lawyers, like just practical stuff for people, because I think there’s a lot of lawyers. Yeah, in law school. Yes. I think a lot of lawyers, they sell themselves short. And there’s people out there who do it, do it well, but it doesn’t come naturally. In also just some, like, I liked this whole thing of wellness and just telling lawyers like, you don’t have to always try to develop some type of conflict with the other side to get it done. In fact, it doesn’t always work.

Louis Goodman 22:16
Do you think the legal system is fair?

James Cook 22:19
No, no, I don’t. I mean, we have to tell our clients all the time. It’s not fair. When you when you have, you have to tell people, while your case is really good, you’re black, most of people in the jury are going to be white, and older. And even especially for the Eastern District, they don’t see life the same way that you do.

Louis Goodman 22:38
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?

James Cook 22:41
Not explaining those things to their client in the very beginning and setting their expectations like that, at least in terms of what we do. That’s a huge mistake, because it’s a domino effect that causes a lot of problems down the line in not explaining to them like the nuance like that all lawyers think about things, the least in terms of litigation, like what would a jury say? What is the make of the jury? And how do we like the nuance of the law? Like you can’t and I think that’s a mistake that a lot of lawyers make, not articulating that to explain that to people as they bring them along through the process.

Louis Goodman 23:21
What sort of things keep you up at night?

James Cook 23:23
Deadlines. Possibly missing deadlines. My daughters are growing up fast, faster than I thought.

Louis Goodman 23:34
Let’s say you came into some real money, let’s say three or four billion dollars, what if anything, would you do differently in your life?

James Cook 23:43
I actually like what I do, I don’t even see it as work. To me, it’s not. I’d continue doing it. I mean, I know billions of dollars. I don’t even know. Like I’d probably buy a lot of property, like I got a farm in northern Wisconsin, and in a ski house up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I probably buy more acreage, do a lot more farming, like be able to buy more equipment. I mean, I have some but you know what I mean? Like I’d probably do some developments.

Louis Goodman 24:14
Let’s say someone gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, a Super Bowl ad, what would you want to put out there to that huge national audience?

James Cook 24:26
You got to somehow make the jury system appealing to people and you got to serve on juries. I mean, that is one way to sort of make policy. We need marginalized minorities to feel like they are part of the process and you got to vote, be on the jury. Try to own your homes like take ownership stake in your in your neighborhood, like Oakland and Oakland San Fran, the Bay Area, Milwaukee, like where there’s this large pockets of marginalized people. I mean, and it is not just black and brown people, but just generally like for everyone so that there’s just a different way like to help with the drug addiction and the mental health like all of those things so that we didn’t have such crazy like blight and like we have now.

Louis Goodman 25:18
Like step up up and be a citizen.

James Cook 25:20
Step up and be a citizen and know that there’s just a different way now. I mean we can’t really solve all the issues but mental health funding and all that all that kind of stuff has to do with it.

Louis Goodman 25:34
If someone wants to get in touch with you, ask you a question, consider retaining your firm, retaining you. What is the best way for somebody to get in touch with James Cook?

James Cook 25:49
bncllaw.com or Law Offices of John Burris. So J-O-H-N-B-U-R-R-I-S-L-A-W.com.

Louis Goodman 25:59
So if we do a Google search for John Burris law office, we’ll come up with a website and we can find James Cook there?

James Cook 26:08
You can also do a Google search for James Cook, E S Q, if you have a YouTube page with a bunch of interviews that I did, and some TV stuff that I did a while ago, so yeah, you can find me there as well. James Cook ESQ on YouTube.

Louis Goodman 26:26
All right, James, is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we have discussed that we haven’t touched on?

James Cook 26:32
No, I mean, unless you have other questions. I think we touched on a lot. I hope, I don’t know, gave some people some insight in terms of how I be my circuitous route to becoming a lawyer.

Louis Goodman 26:43
Well, I think all of us have a route to becoming a lawyer and different people get there different ways. Certainly, your route was very interesting. And I do hope people will take a look at some of your YouTube presentations because I’ve seen them and it’s very, very interesting stuff. So thank you for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

James Cook 27:08
Hey, thanks a lot.

Louis Goodman 27:10
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.

Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.

James Cook 27:48
Like we would get knocked out, you drop your hands, it’d be like one of those Minnesota like 99 degrees like 90% humidity. You can’t even stay warm in the air and we’re going hard and literally getting jaws broken, that type of thing.

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