Annie Beles – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. She was born and raised in Oakland, California. She grew up in a family of lawyers. She is a state certified criminal specialist since 2007. She has tried over 50 cases to jury verdict, including serious felonies and homicides. And she rescues pitfalls. Annie Beles. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Annie Beles: Thank you, Louis. Thank you for having me. It’s a real honor to chat with you and I’m looking forward to it.
Louis Goodman: Where’s your office located?
Annie Beles: We are in the Ordway building right down near the Lake in Oakland, adjacent to the actual corner of Lake Merritt with a view from the 23rd floor.
Louis Goodman: Sounds good. What kind of practice do you [00:01:00] have there?
Annie Beles: So we have actually, I do almost only active criminal cases. Some appellate, we have two appellate specialists in our office that do post-conviction relief. And then we also have two immigration lawyers because we started because of the dovetail between helping people that are in need or in a little bit of trouble. And so we went into immigration probably right around 2007, 2008.
Louis Goodman: How many attorneys are in the firm altogether.
Annie Beles: At the moment we have six. It’s vacillated between 5 and 10 throughout my career. And we’ve got a good crew going and six wonderful staff members. And so we try to get the job done even during COVID-19.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Annie Beles: I am a proud graduate of Holy Names High School in Oakland. That is an all-girls Catholic school. It was instead of Oakland High at the time. And both my sisters graduated from there as well.
Louis Goodman: What was that [00:02:00] experience like for you?
Annie Beles: Well, I think Holy Names offered each young woman a different benefit.
I mean, I think that one of the benefits was for me, was that it was an absolutely fabulous education. A good group of girls.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to college?
Annie Beles: I went to UC Santa Cruz, primarily because it was close and I could come home. Periodically, even on the Greyhound bus over the hill. I was already working in the office and I remember coming home during summers and sometimes when my dad was in trial during the year to continue to help out in the office.
Louis Goodman: So you’ve been working in the legal field for really, quite some time.
Annie Beles: Yeah. I started when I was 15, I’m 48 now and I did everything. I answered the phones. I did the filing. I did the courier work. And it became greater responsibility as I got older, but I think it was really important to know what the [00:03:00] nuts and bolts of how an office works and what a lawyer needs. And so that I could put that into my practice when I became a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: Do you feel it was kind of a natural progression to go into the practice of law in your dad’s office?
Annie Beles: No, surprisingly not. I mean, I had a wonderful group of, I would call them aunts and uncles when my dad was in the PDs office and he left in 1980 when I was eight.
I didn’t want to be a lawyer when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. And it was kind of funny how I ended up going into law school. When I came home, I was in England, my junior year went to the University of Exeter for junior year abroad and I came home for Christmas and I was sitting there watching football with my dad. And my dad said, “So Annie, what’s the plan here? You know, what are you doing when you graduate?” This is the middle of junior year. I said, “Well dad, I think I might teach, you know what, I’m going to write. And dad in his,[00:04:00] being an attorney many years, turned to me and said, “well, what are you going to write about?”
And I thought, Oh, Blank. What am I going to write about? I’m only 20 years old. Let me try this law school thing. And law school was not wonderful. I didn’t think, but becoming a lawyer was the best thing that I, best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Where did you go to law school?
Annie Beles: I went to USF and I went directly from college, graduated in June from college and started in August at USF.
I’ve lived at home for the first year. Worked. Probably far too much throughout my time in law school. And I really looked at it as a way to get my ticket so I could practice law. The intellectual pursuits were interesting, but I knew in my heart that corporations were only going to be a course I needed for the bar.
Louis Goodman: So going to law school for you was kind of a means to an end because you really were already practicing law.
Annie Beles: Yes, I was already in the groove. I was already preparing cases for my dad [00:05:00] doing filings, doing motion writing, and I really just wanted the ticket. An I mean, I remember my first court appearance, like it was yesterday and that’s what I wanted to do was be in the courtroom and help my clients, help people when they are in sometimes the worst trouble of their lives.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I really remember my first court appearance as well. When you actually started practicing, as an attorney, as opposed to just, you know, being someone who was working in the office, how did that change for you?
Annie Beles: Well, the responsibility changes because I think lawyers, defense lawyers do this for different reasons.
And one of the reasons I found throughout the years is that I really want to take care of people. And so the responsibility of being the actual lawyer is total responsibility. Not saying, okay, I’ll get you this filing, or I’ll do this, this partial [00:06:00] job it’s taking on the client and their families in its entirety.
And that responsibility is an awesome honor and that’s really how it changed from being a staff member to being a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: You are now trying some very serious felony cases on a regular basis. How did you get from being a brand-new lawyer to the point of lawyer who handles really serious cases?
Annie Beles: Well, the office has always had a lot of cases and needless to say my dad thankfully threw me in the deep end of the pool. I had been prepping up the homicide cases. One I remember very clearly was when I was a freshman was a potential death penalty case for my dad. So I knew the organizational skills.
And so my dad gave me big cases. My first felony trial was actually a [00:07:00] life exposure. It was the first Prop 21 minor charged as an adult directly, which is, you know, the law has since changed. Thankfully. But that, you know, you go in the deep end of the pool and you learn to swim. And then I decided, I think it was in 2009.
And to also take on some court appointed cases, because I think that’s important for our community. And I just took the big ones. I’ve had a lot of very serious felonies. I think I’ve only tried five misdemeanors. Although I enjoy trying the misdemeanors just as much as I enjoy trying the felonies, they’re just not four months long.
Louis Goodman: What is it you really like about practicing law?
Annie Beles: I like the mental engagement with the law. You know, for instance, just this morning, I’m looking at warrants that are based upon new technology and trying to figure out how to attack them or [00:08:00] sale them. If I can, I also really like the personal relationships that we have with our clients, with their families. I really want to know who my clients are and I want to be able to help them and their unique position. So that there’s a social aspect as well. I like being in court. I like speaking with other lawyers about their experiences. It’s one of the last human.
Louis Goodman: If someone, a young person were thinking about a career choice, would you recommend becoming a lawyer?
Annie Beles: Oh, that is a very interesting question. I have an 18-year-old niece who has asked me this and I think I would. But I would also caution people that it is not for the faint of heart. Yeah. Criminal defense, especially when you’re dealing with the heavy, violent cases of accusations [00:09:00] you know, heinous crimes.
And you take that on and you see things that you didn’t really saw, you know, you didn’t really think was lawyering. And one of my favorite things about, and I knew this, but I was talking to my niece. My niece said, do you know, do you go out to lunch with other lawyers? And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in trial, out of town, you know, kind of eating a power bar on my knee, in the front seat of my car, with the air conditioning on and the yellow pad on the other knee, trying to get my cross examination going.
It’s a tough job, but I do recommend it because of the satisfaction that you get from helping people. But I also warn people that it is not, you know, it is not the easiest job in the world.
Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the legal system works?
Annie Beles: Well I would change a lot of things I think that we’re moving in the right direction.
I think that, for instance, there’s a Senate bill about dealing with peremptory [00:10:00] challenges. That’s near and dear to my heart. I would very much give discretion to judges. That’s also been changing with some of the gun use enhancements, one hopes that it would change with some of these.
Mandatory sentences regarding sexual offenses. And I would try to really inject, without being too much of a hippy about it, inject the idea of compassion from all perspectives, from the deputy in the courtroom who calls my client a body instead of an inmate or a client, try to humanize this whole situation from both perspectives. From the Prosecution’s perspective and humanizing their victims and, or their victims’ families, but really inject compassion into the whole system so that we are operating with critical thinking skills and in a compassionate manner when we are in crisis.
[00:11:00] Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair and that it dispenses justice?
No, not all. No. I think that there are problems that are in society that I don’t come that manifest within the legal system. I mean, we have systemic racism. We have mass incarceration issues. We have prosecutorial discretion issues. We have the variants of County to County. I mean, you know, a simple DUI here in Alameda County is going to be treated very differently, let alone more serious crimes.
And I don’t think that it is entirely fair. Does it dispense justice? Sometimes. And one time somebody asked me where are the scales of justice, even? Where are they actually, even the way that they’re supposed to be. And [00:12:00] my joke, I guess I should just confess this is that they are flat and even, and straight in the tattoo that I have on my back of the scales of justice. But other than that, they’re tipped very often against the people of lower socioeconomic status, people of color. We really have problems. I know a lot of people are trying, but no, I don’t think that I can say that it’s fair and it dispenses justice over.
That’s why we have defense attorneys standing up against the government.
Louis Goodman: What made you decide to get that tattoo?
Annie Beles: I got it in law school and I thought about it for about two years. Again, I’m telling young people that I think that you should have a waiting period before you get a tattoo. And I realized at that point in law school, that this was what I was going to do. And when I write, I will be probably writing about my experiences, the stories that I’ve heard, but [00:13:00] this justice thing is my calling and has been for the last 21 years.
Louis Goodman: Now you’ve mentioned your dad several times already in this interview and your dad, Bob Belles is a very well-known and well-respected attorney in his own right. And I’m sure he is one of your great mentors. Okay. I’m wondering if there are any other people who have been mentors to you along the way?
Annie Beles: Well, I think of mentoring, there have been so many, I mean, there have been so many, like the first that comes to mind are the aunts and uncles from the public defender’s office.
Just seeing Arlene West, just seeing CC Blackwell as female attorneys was inspiration and that made it okay. Penny Cooper, because our gate is that right. [00:14:00] Okay. To be a woman lawyer. And then the uncles that were around made it okay to talk about law, you know, that parties, et cetera. I also on a more personal level, I think that Kim Kupfer who kind of, she and I worked a couple potential death penalty cases together a couple of years back. And she’s just been an incredible inspiration throughout the years, but my dad and my mom are the initial mentors. I would also say that we get mentoring or I have gotten mentoring, not we, I have gotten mentoring throughout my times in the courts. Bill Linehan, I just went to his Memorial, sadly. And he used to whisper wisdom to me when we would sit in the jury box just about a certain issue. Take more of the time DA’s office taught me more about sentencing. When I watched him do D&S as in department [00:15:00] 11, then I think any book or any other lawyer could have.
So I tried to go on, I tried to glom onto it. I tried to imbibe all of the mentoring and information I could from those that whispered wisdom you hear in the courtroom when somebody is talking about their case. So I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had a lot of people influenced me and lift me up in terms of knowledge and experience.
So I’ve been very, very lucky.
Louis Goodman: And just to let you know, I’ve had people tell me how they’ve looked up to you and consider you a great mentor to them in their careers.
Annie Beles: Well, Louis, that makes me extremely happy. Really, I believe in this community and I think that we are better lawyers when we talk to one another. I am a better lawyer when I talk to someone who’s been a lawyer for six months or someone who’s been a lawyer for 52 years. And that means a lot to me that people would think of me as a mentor. I [00:16:00] take on that role as, as much as I can.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. And I also just want to personally thank you. And I think I speak for a lot of us when people will post to that Alameda Defenders email group with a question, you know, you’re always right there, you have information, you have good information and you’re just very generous with your time and your knowledge when you post there. And I see it all the time.
Annie Beles: Well, thank you. I try to be responsive. And I think that, I think it’s just important. It’s there are people that are sitting in their home offices before COVID and during COVID and, and they’re by themselves, and that we can’t go into the courts during Covid and say, how do I get this on the calendar?
What do I do to file a motion? And [00:17:00] the individuality of being a lawyer, right. Is never going to suffer by sharing experience and knowledge with other people. It’s just not. We’re better. I mean, I think that lawyers, especially defense attorneys, should stick together. And that would, that will raise up our representation of our clients.
So I try to be responsive when I can, and I do my weekly inspiration.
Louis Goodman: I know you do your weekly inspiration, and I was just getting to that. Because as a matter of fact, today, you posted something by someone named Earl Nightingale. Let me just read it. It says we are at our very best, and we are happiest when we are fully engaged in work. We enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life. So wonderful, so worthwhile, and I think that’s true.
[00:18:00] Annie Beles: It did speak to me and I actually don’t know who Mr. Nightingale is. When I do my work, the best I can, then I do feel like I left it all on the field and that I can go back to the locker room knowing I did my best.
And I think inspiration, well, it may be a softer assistance than, you know, how to file a motion. Or do you have a case on this issue? I think we all need to be buoyed up and lifted up when we’re practicing this kind of law.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your family life.
Annie Beles: So I met my wonderful husband when I was 14 playing football on Lake Shore and eating donuts at Colonial Donuts.
And then we dated for a while and then remet when I was 32 and have been together ever since. So almost 16 years now, we got married in 2012 and we have no children, [00:19:00] but we have two rescue pit bulls. Matt and I live in an area where we find dogs, unfortunately that have been fought or hurt or abandoned.
And one of our dogs we got from death row at the shelter that’s Bodie and he had an execution date and we kind of kidnapped him essentially. And we had to do an interview. I do have to tell the story. We had an interview to find out whether or not we would be good parents. And Matt had been a dog owner his whole life almost, but I had not. And the woman took me aside and said, do you understand, you know, the pit bulls are not well liked. And I said, well, yes. and I understand that. Are you ready to be a pit bull owner? I said, yes, I am. And then she said, do you understand that people are going to hate you if you walk down the street with a pit bull? It took everything in my power, not to say people hate me because I represent people accused of [00:20:00] crime on a regular basis. I’m kind of used to that idea. And the other one we found literally on a trail and just couldn’t give her up. And so we kept her and we live in Oakland.
My husband is also from Oakland and both his dad is from Oakland and he was from Piedmont. So we enjoy our time here and travel when we can.
Louis Goodman: Well I suppose most of your travel was taken place in the before times. Any places that you’ve really enjoyed going to?
Annie Beles: Yes. we try to go to Kauai where I have family, and Ireland where actually Matt’s mother, Matt is my husband, my husband’s mother lives there when we got together the second time around.
And so we, those are the two places that we’ve been the most. Oh, we used to travel to the Southwest for, to visit our aunt, my in-laws as well. But Kauai, Ireland and Arizona were the big ones.
Louis Goodman: What sort of recreational pursuits do you have when you’re not actually practicing law?
Annie Beles: Oh, am I supposed to have those.
[00:21:00] Louis Goodman: Well, I don’t know. I mean, some people have a little work/ life balance, maybe you don’t and that probably makes you a better lawyer.
Annie Beles: No, I’m joking. I don’t have, you know, like an absolute hobby, but I have my, I read a lot that has always been my thing is reading. I read nonfiction and fiction.
I walk the dogs. I love to garden. And, you know, I have my funny little things that I try to think are going to be my next hobby. I started knitting and I realized that after a long day’s work. And knitting was not the most relaxing at first. It took a while to learn how to do it, but I knit here and there and I, you know, when I cook. So, but I don’t think that I would be the example of the greatest work life balance.
Louis Goodman: If you couldn’t be a lawyer, is there some other profession that you could think of doing?
Annie Beles: I would like to be a teacher. [00:22:00] A teacher and a writer that was the goal back before the famous football conversation with my dad when I was 20.
So that’s probably what I would do.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars fell into your lap. What, if anything, would you do differently?
Annie Beles: I would take a couple months off. Thank you very much. No, I would take a couple months off and I would somehow try to get the Oakland Public Schools funded appropriately across all districts.
That would be a huge goal for me. I would probably want to buy a home in both Kauai on Kauai and on in Ireland. Yeah. And then I would probably come back and try a couple of cases a year. Not as many as I do now, not at the pace that I do, but I said that the clients before, uh, or potential clients, and I said, you know, if I won the lottery, sorry, I probably would [00:23:00] still try these cases.
Cause I think that’s part of who I am. But I would take time to write, but I don’t think that I would stop practicing law entirely and schools fund the schools.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, I think that you’re happiest when you’re fully engaged in your work.
Annie Beles: I am.
Louis Goodman: What if you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise.
What would that be? What would the one thing, if you could change it be?
Annie Beles: I think I’d go back to, I guess it’s two things, giving humanity, all people critical thinking skills and compassion. The world would be a better place if we use our critical thinking skills and compassion. In every way in every profession and every interaction at the grocery store, everything, if we have critically thought [00:24:00] and we’re compassionate with one another, the world would be a different place.
Is there any one case that you can think about that comes to mind that you think went really well? Where you feel like, wow, this was like really what being a lawyer is about.
Annie Beles: Yeah. I can think of one where I got an acquittal and the man has a very successful career and made sure to send me, you know, a photograph of his wedding, a couple of years later. He sends me a Christmas card every year. That one stands out. Another one where the client walks back into my office, which I’ve had a number of. And that’s I say that because most of my clients with the serious cases are in custody when I’m representing them. Many of them are, I shouldn’t say most and many of them are facing enormous amounts of time in custody.
So to be able to walk into my office after I’ve represented them, [00:25:00] is a real pleasure.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. That is a good feeling. Isn’t it?
Annie Beles: It really is. And to know that they’re successful in that the starfish that I threw back in the sea through my work, hopefully, or whatever I contributed to, it was able to thrive and come back into society.
And that’s been a real pleasure.
Louis Goodman: Annie. I understand you’ve got a poster on the wall, in your office of a starfish. Can you tell us about that?
Annie Beles: Yeah, the story that I read and I don’t know who it’s attributed to. Is in it the poster that I have has the starfish and the story. And the story is that young child, a young girl was walking down a beach and there were thousands and thousands of starfish on that beach, out of the water and ailing and dying.
And she was picking one up at a time and threw it in the water. And an older man came by and said, Oh, young woman, what are you doing? And she said, I’m [00:26:00] saving the starfish. And he said, and she picked one up and she threw it back in the water. And he said, well, I’m okay, but why are you doing that?
And she picked one up and put it in the water. And she said, because it will live and then pick what up, put it in the water. And he said, well, how there’s thousands of them down this beach, how could you help? And she picked one up and she threw it in the water and she said, I helped that one. And I think that’s what I try to do with my clients.
I try to help them that one, the one that’s in front of me, the one that is on calendar this afternoon, the person that’s on the phone at four o’clock. I try to help each person and value them and their families like they were my family. Like I would pick them up and put them back in the ocean.
That’s what that poster is about.
Louis Goodman: Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. [00:27:00] It’s a real privilege to talk to someone who is as respected in the community as you are, who works so hard. And who does so much for the criminal justice community in Alameda County. Thanks for being here. Pleasure talking to you.
Annie Beles: Thank you, Louis. It was a real pleasure to talk with you.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Phil Vaughns – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect
Louis Goodman: He is a former Federal Prosecutor and a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney. He has experience prosecuting and defending state and federal criminal cases, as well as federal immigration cases.
He has tried numerous cases to verdict and zealously represents his clients. Phil Vaughns welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Phil Vaughns: Thank you for inviting me. I appreciate it.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s great to have you. I’m really honored that you’ve joined us. You know, the first time that I remember battling with you was when you were a Federal Prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney. We had a case that [00:01:00] ultimately my client had to get Johnny Cochran involved in order to finally get the result that we needed.
Phil Vaughns: I’m sure I folded my cards when he arrived.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. But not when I was there. Where are you from originally?
Phil Vaughns: I was born in Oakland and interestingly enough, even though I was born in Oakland, I played football for Skyline High School and a lot of the guys that I played with went to Cal State Hayward. And so like a dummy, I followed them to Cal State Hayward. And when I got to the DA’s office, the first case I was assigned was a guy who exposed himself at Cal State Hayward. And I thought, shucks, I’ll never leave the Bay area. It didn’t turn out that way.
But that’s what I thought.
Louis Goodman: You really completed the circle. Well let’s just start there at the high school. Was it Skyline? You said yes, sir. And you played ball there at Skyline and then. How was that experience of going to school at Skyline High School?
Phil Vaughns: Well interesting, because I live next to Oakland Tech and I got bussed [00:02:00] kind of, so it was a time when I first saw falling snow on the bus going to Skyline.
And first I guess, saw how life was lived on the other side of the Hill. So it was instructive. I liked it, but it was certainly an eye opener in many respects.
Louis Goodman: That’s interesting. The busing thing. Was that something that you and your parents applied for was to be able to go to Skyline? Or was that something that the district just assigned you?
Phil Vaughns: That’s a good question. I don’t remember for certain, I don’t think there was anything affirmative, so to speak that my family did. I think it may have just been a policy too, say, integrate, but certainly diversify the schools. But I don’t think it’s anything that we opted for it. I knew I just got up and got on the 15 bus and ended up in a whole different world.
Louis Goodman: What did you do when you graduated from Skyline. You said you went to Cal State Hayward?
Phil Vaughns: Yes. I wouldn’t say it’s a decision I regret, but it’s certainly one that I didn’t think about. I mean, I played football, they [00:03:00] played football, they went there and I followed them. In retrospect, I guess I should have probably thought about my long-term career goals and maybe pick someplace it might’ve been more appropriate, but it is what it is. And that’s where I went.
Louis Goodman: Your office is in Hayward. Now.
Phil Vaughns: It is at further completing that circle you talked about, right?
Louis Goodman: Right. Well, how did you like being in Hayward for college?
Phil Vaughns: I loved it. It was 19 minutes from my home in Oakland to Hayward. And so to that extent, always being an efficient person, we have a, Hey, this isn’t that bad rather than going to Stanford across the Bay or some other place in another state I’m in and out in 19 minutes.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about going to law school?
Phil Vaughns: My mother threatened to kill me. She told me, look, you got to be professional something and it’s not going to a professional fishermen. And so I thought, Oh, well, how long is med school? How long has law school was the shortest amount of time to get her off my back?
So when was that? I was told this is what you’re going to be, are going to be professionals. And I chose law somewhere around then only because it was the, [00:04:00] the shortest path to getting my freedom.
Louis Goodman: So that was while you were in college?
Phil Vaughns: Yes. Surely leaving high school and going to college. It was, it was pretty much impressed upon me.
If I wanted to live past 25, I needed to be a professional something. And so I would say then is when I started by being a lawyer. Sorry to think about it. Right.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to law school right after college?
Phil Vaughns: I don’t think I would have been able to survive law school. Had I had a break from studying.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Phil Vaughns: McGeorge in Sacramento and in large part only because they had the highest bar passage rate the year I was applying. And I thought, if I’m going to do this, I want to get something out of it. And then when I could think of getting was not just a degree, but a license to give me a lot by my mom and my grandmother, something to hang on their walls, where I then became a fisherman.
Louis Goodman: How did you like being in law school? How was McGeorge, what was that experience like?
Phil Vaughns: It was interesting, man. I mean, I don’t know how many other. [00:05:00] Law students/ lawyers every remember back when somebody says, as a teacher look to the left, look to the right, one of those folks is not going to be here by the time we’re done.
They told us that. And I took that as a challenge. And whereas it did not sit that I, I might not have graduated yet. I thought, you know, this is just not me. I’m not being true to what I really want to do screw this. But once it became a challenge, Oh, no, it’s not to beat me. It’s this kid on my right cat on my left may be getting out of here, but I’m here for the long haul.
So I’m kind of glad they said that at the time it was a relatively new school. So all the facilities were brand spanking new. They had a courtroom where the future was really. Inspiring too, to go there. It was in the middle of, it’s still in the middle of Oak Park in Sacramento, where you got squirrels and homeless folks all the time, which was always entertaining to me at lunch, but it was definitely a matter of going to a school where it was like this Island of technology and innovation and across the street was a park.
That was more my speed. So I fit in quite well up there. I liked being up there. I think they [00:06:00] had great teachers and I formed good relationships. So I enjoyed it.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job out of school?
Phil Vaughns: Interesting. My first legal job out of school was one I got through Mc George’s LLM program.
They had an LLM program that had several facets. One was taxation, which I couldn’t even spell. And the other was international trade and finance. I said, well, screw it. I don’t have a job lined up, like most of my colleagues. So that LLM program placed you in a firm. As I said, I’ll try that. And where they placed me was a firm in Vienna, Austria, which at the time was the largest law firm in the Austrian and headlight for lawyers.
So that was my first legal job.
Louis Goodman: How long did you live there?
Phil Vaughns: I was there this program for six months and then the firm invited me to stay for another year and a half or so. So I was there two years.
Louis Goodman: Did you learn to speak some German?
Phil Vaughns: I took German in school earlier because my mother, the Saint that she had told me, look, if you like animals, you need to [00:07:00] learn German.
I have no idea where she got that from, but I had some German classes based on that belief that she gave me. So it wasn’t completely foreign to me. I never, I was never fluent enough to go out and do much other than the order of McDonald’s. Big Mac or something, as they call it. But I was, I’m not totally unfamiliar with the language.
Louis Goodman: How did it feel being an American in Austria at the time? And you know, more specifically an African American young man in a place where there’s not a lot of Americans, not a lot of African Americans.
Phil Vaughns: Good question. First thing, I had to learn how to cut my own hair because there weren’t a whole lot of brothers over there to do that.
So I had to learn to cut my own hair with a mirror and a shaver. And secondly, I became friends with some itinerant workers there. One guy was from Pakistan, another guy was from Sudan and they were like newspaper [00:08:00] sellers. And so, because we were so rare minorities. We kind of bonded. So every day I’d go to a gym and I’d take the train.
And it’s top of the station where my, my brothers were so to speak. And we’d talk about various things and it did several things. To me, it made me recognize that there are minorities who are linked in ways that sometimes they don’t understand fascinating.
Louis Goodman: And I guess that was certainly a lot different than being in Oakland
Phil Vaughns: miles apart.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. So after you left Vienna, where did you go?
Phil Vaughns: I worked for a civil firm in San Francisco called Copp DeFranco. Quintin Copp was, I think it was a, certainly a lawyer obviously, but I think he ended up becoming a Judge in San Mateo County and Tom to Franklin was his partner real cool guy from Nevada.
So I did civil work there for a while, but I ended up finding myself, reading all the advance sheets, you know, and for the purpose of staying up on civil law, but finding myself drawn to [00:09:00] the facts of most of the criminal cases.
Louis Goodman: When did you go over into the criminal justice world?
Phil Vaughns: 1990, I had gotten a job at the DA’s office in large part because I had been advised that in order to keep doing international trade and finance, I needed to go to a firm that did that kind of work. And those kinds of firms, big, law firms didn’t hire from McGeorge. Although they may hire a person with litigation experience. So I thought, okay, how do I get litigation experience? Unless it goes to the DA’s office and what the hell is the DA’s knowledge of what the heck the DA’s office was. But I got advice from some important, well, I think special people, Marty Jenkins and Judge Gloria Rhynes took me to dinner one time and said, you know, you should really think about being a DA, because if you want litigation experience, trust me, you’ll get it there. And you’ll also be doing some good. And I thought, okay, well, once I figured out what the DA’s office does, I’ll put my name in.
So I came to it, not because he was a calling, but because it was a means to an end, so to speak.
Louis Goodman: So you joined the Alameda County DA’s office in [00:10:00] 1990. What did you start doing there?
Phil Vaughns: Well, like I said, my first case was a guy who had exposed himself at Cal State Hayward. And rather than run out of the office, screaming at that point, I said, Hey, you know what?
You can run, but you can’t hide apparently. So I was doing misdemeanor trials initially.
Louis Goodman: How did you like that?
Phil Vaughns: It was learning on the fly. I mean, I liked the aspect of closing argument. I liked summarizing things, I guess that’s a personality trait of mine. So I liked that aspect of trying cases.
Getting through the mundane and getting to the flourish. But you know, you learn that you don’t get a good flourish unless you deal with the mundane stuff first. So, I mean, it was kind of a reverse engineering situation for me, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. I enjoyed for the first time since playing football, being part of a team.
Louis Goodman: Do you have any particular mentors in the DA’s office?
Phil Vaughns: Ken Burr. Burr, as they [00:11:00] say, literally could convict the ham sandwich and then I love watching him do this thing. I can’t overstate how important it was to have seen somebody like him do his work. And I will give you one example of how he affected me.
I watched him try some case and I went through the sentencing. Of course he won everything I ever watched him try. Anyway, that sentencing, he told the judge, look judge, And I forget what his judging was. He said that this case was worth X in pretrial, just cause we’ve gone to trial. I think it’s still worth X.
He didn’t give the guy trout tax kind of thing. And I remember one of my federal trials, I told the judge the same thing. I said, one of my mentors once took the position that there should not be a trial tax and I like him, but this case was worth exit, pretrial, whatever. And I still think is that That’s how much the man, in fact, many years later, I repeated a line that he had used.
So I really found him to be a great mentor. I found people who were very, very close to me in that office. [00:12:00] and some other folks who have stayed with me from that point forward. So I deeply value that experience, not just from the professional, but also from the personal as well.
Louis Goodman: After the DA’s office, where did you go?
Phil Vaughns: U.S. Attorney’s Office in large part?
Because I had done the kind of a circuit in the DA’s office where you do misdemeanor trials, you do the preliminary examinations, you do felony trials and you start over again. And at that point I was kind of at the point of starting over again, which I didn’t really. Didn’t look forward to it because I had only come there as I mentioned for a steppingstone, it was going to go somewhere else. It’s something I was never going to be my landing point, but it tended to become that over time. And so around the same time that I was going to start repeating of the cycle, there was an opening in the United States Attorney’s Office, the local attorney’s office.
I’m distinguishing it between San Francisco. I would never go into San Francisco, but there was an opening in the Oakland U.S. Attorney’s Office. And I thought that’s interesting. It’s not international trade [00:13:00] and finance, but it is another step maybe towards that direction. It’s federal, it may be some trial work, so it sounded interesting.
And so I went for it.
Louis Goodman: How did you enjoy that experience?
Phil Vaughns: Not as much. There’s a lot of politics involved. There are a lot of decisions that are made that were made for reasons that I didn’t always agree with, there was not the same level of a camaraderie there that I would have become used to in the DA’s office.
It was interesting. I met a lot different people that I would probably have never met in any other contexts. So in that sense, I have to look at it as valuable, but I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as the DA’s office.
Louis Goodman: Now how long were you at the U.S. attorney?
Phil Vaughns: Another five years. So like 2000.
Louis Goodman: And what did you do then?
I opened my own shingle in large part because the U.S. Attorney who had hired me, Mike Yamaguchi had left and actually Bob Mueller, the U.S. Attorney at the [00:14:00] time. And after that became FBI head. And after that became most recently a figurehead on TV, the Mueller report and all that. He came into the office and had a policy where all those folks who were in San Francisco had to at some point go to Oakland.
And those in Oakland had to go to San Francisco. And I was not going to go to San Francisco and after I hate San Francisco, but I don’t. I don’t like San Francisco. And so I was not going to go there.
Louis Goodman: You’re from Oakland.
Phil Vaughns: I mean, there is a thing over here, so I did not want to do that.
So I thought, okay, maybe this is like the tumbleweed that I am a time to shift, focus and go a different directions. So I hung up my own shingle and that’s kind of where I’ve been ever since.
Louis Goodman: What sort of work do you primarily do now?
Phil Vaughns: I would say that it varies, but currently it’s probably like 60% immigration and 40% criminal other times has been more 90 10, 75, 25, but it varies.
[00:15:00] But those are the two main disciplines, I guess, that I engage in.
Louis Goodman: What do you like about practicing law? Because it sounds like you’re someone who has had some interesting jobs and you’ve been practicing for quite a while on your own. So obviously there must be something you like about it.
Phil Vaughns: You know, I like helping people. It sounds trite, but I like people coming back and say, Hey, thanks for whatever. Whatever you just did made whatever existed before better. And that’s pretty much. I wouldn’t say it’s all the things I need. And I mean, I’d like to get paid of course, like everybody else, but I actually am a poor businessman and I value helping people.
And I guess on some level being acknowledged for that too, as being what I like about it, I don’t like losing anything. So I am like, Loss as a concept, which, you know, in immigration, you lose a lot. So there’s any criminal defense too, I guess, for most of us, not stars like you, of course, but the rest of us, we lose a lot part of it.
But I do [00:16:00] like the occasional time when somebody says, hey man, thank you for that. And I, that will keep me on cloud nine for a long time.
Louis Goodman: If a young person were just graduating from Skyline High School or college would you recommend to a young person these days about thinking about a career in law?
Phil Vaughns: Yes. I hesitate a moment because I think the only proviso I would say is, I hope they give it more thought than I did, but yeah, I think it’s definitely a great choice.
Louis Goodman: Have you had a case that really went well.
Phil Vaughns: There’s a couple of things that I think went well and I don’t want to name the names, but in immigration court I had four cases at one point and at different times I should say, and they were two brothers and two sisters.
And surprisingly, I should say one, all four of those cases, I look back and say, there’s two families out there. They had to, children who basically won in immigration [00:17:00] court when the grant rate in immigration court is at best 25%. I mean, and asylum cases, it can be down to like 9%. So that’s 91% of your cases.
You’re going to lose in immigration court if you’re calling for an asylum defense. So I look back and say, I was really satisfied to look at two families where the two kids, it was one case, two brothers, another the case, two sisters. We were able to keep them all here in the country. I look back at that and be an adult and say that’s satisfying to me. I like that. I guess on another level, there was a guy I prosecuted in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He went to prison and came out, got into a car wreck and called me and said, Hey, man, I heard you’re in private practice. I thought I must have been doing at least a good job when his case, where he had to respect, I guess, or the, um, Admiration for whatever I had done for him to call me up to the first have known that I left the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then to have sought me out to represent him on a car wreck.
I was, I look back on that steel and [00:18:00] think I like that, that cheers me when there are times when I’m at all in that cheerful,
Louis Goodman: How is the practice of law? How has that either met or differed from your original expectations about it when you were going into it?
Phil Vaughns: I guess I would say it has exceeded my expectations in terms of the satisfaction I expected to have as a lawyer. I mean, when people tell me this worked out well for them or that some judge says you’re not getting life in prison, you’re getting this. Or you’re getting four years instead of 12. I mean, the satisfaction of being on a team of two, me and the client and winning something, at least from the standpoint of a lesser sitting.
So whatever would be a favorable outcome, the value that I underestimated. And I certainly. Cherish that as part of the practice of law that exceeded my expectations.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system is fair?
Phil Vaughns: No, [00:19:00] I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair, even though I think it’s the best system.
There can be human beings are not fair. I mean, it’s just, that’s just the nature of who we are as individuals. I remember we went to speaking of Vienna long time ago, the partner I worked for and I’ve stayed in contact. Even the best of people have bad days. And so when they have a bad day, they make a bad decision.
Somebody suffers for that. So it’s not fair, but I think it’s the best areas
Louis Goodman: . Let’s put it that if you could change something about the legal system, what would you change?
Phil Vaughns: Put robots in? Sorry, I don’t know how you can change it. I think it’s the best it can be. I mean, I was smarter folks than I have thought about that and have come to the conclusion that this is the best there is.
And I’m willing to accept that. I mean, Life is not fair. So the system is not fair.
Louis Goodman: Outside of practicing law. I know that you have some other things that you’re interested in. You’ve mentioned fishing several times already in this interview. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your fishing?
Phil Vaughns: You know, [00:20:00] I was taken fishing when I was probably a baby.
So I’ve always liked to fish and I’ve always liked catching a bigger fish in a bigger fish and a bigger fish and going places to catch bigger fish. And it’s interesting. Cause when I was a kid I’d like to catch fish and you put them on a string and take a picture. Then when I look what I caught now, it’s more of a catch and release situation where I can in my memory, look back on things and say, Hey, you know, I caught this right.
Caught that. I mean, especially like Marlin fishing, big game fishing.
Louis Goodman: Where have you gone to do that kind of fishing.
Phil Vaughns: New Zealand, Panama, a lot, Mexico, Costa Rico, lot of places. I mean, I’ve gone to some places where you had to take a boat, a plane, a helicopter, and a dugout canoe to get to go fishing at times.
So it’s definitely an obsession, but it’s, it’s kind of morphed into more of a memory-based [00:21:00] as opposed to a killing fish sort of thing, which I was into when I was a kid, I shucked I would hold a lot of fish up, but as you get older and maybe we’d be more regretful focus on the memories when you, I had a fish and I don’t like, you know, fighting fish from a chair.
It’s just like, it’s just not sporty to me. Four or 500 comrades and standing up, stand up gear and get it to the side of the boat, tag it and release it. That’s satisfying. I like that aspect of say, you know, this day I was better. My notch we’re good. My line was good, but it was good. I was good. The official loss, but we both walk away.
You do it up again tomorrow or the next day or whatever. That is much more satisfying to me nowadays than anything else. Okay.
Louis Goodman: What venue have you gone to that you really thought was a great place to fish?
Phil Vaughns: Panama. I love that place. I mean, it’s, it’s, I wouldn’t call it home. I don’t live in a jungle, but I really feel at peace.
There’s this place called Tropic Star in the middle of [00:22:00] the jungle in Panama’s. Right. Not too far from the Colombian border. And it is just an Oasis to me. I mean, you go there and you feel relaxed, which you also feel as relaxed as you can, as a fighter, get ready to go into a 12 round heavyweight championship fight the next day.
It’s like you feel comfortable, you feel ready to do battle. Very interesting field. I just enjoy being there. I enjoy the process of getting there. It’s just a very, I would call it Holy, but it’s a very meaningful place to me.
Louis Goodman: You also do some snowboarding isn’t that right?
Phil Vaughns: Once or twice? One of my good friends, I’m happy to say was a loyal enough friend to invite me to his home up there in the Alpine Village. So it was a lot of fun doing that. And I’m not as coordinated as I used to be when I was playing. I try not to fall as much as I used to snowboarding. I’m not jumping around. Like I used to cause I broke my back doing that one, but I do enjoy that.
I haven’t gone [00:23:00] as much as I have wanted, but I definitely liked that as well.
Louis Goodman: If you weren’t a lawyer, is there some other job or profession that would interest you?
Phil Vaughns: That’s a good question. I mean, I don’t think I could make a living being a deck hand on the fishing boat, but that would be the first thing that would come to mind.
It’s funny, you mentioned that because I signed up to be a lawyer’s in the library, volunteer at the open senior center a couple of years ago. And if it was before COVID every Thursday, I have to take it back to the second Thursday of every month. And I actually look forward to that. It’s a bunch of old folks who just really want to be heard.
So you sit there in your shirt and your tie and your laptop and you listen to folks go on and on about what their lives are like and how you can help them. And normally it’s a matter of me saying here, can we look this up or here’s a number call. These people are here. Here’s a form you should fill out.
And they’re so happy to have this interaction with people, sign up, you know, all the time I get my [00:24:00] regulars there and they just want to come in and talk about it. They phrase it in terms of the legal problem. And it really, I know they just want to talk.
Louis Goodman: Have you ever had a near death experience, really dangerous thing?
Phil Vaughns: Some stuff from childhood. I probably don’t want to talk about, but there was a time when I was coming back from the Farallon Islands in a small boat. I had a 21-foot Grady White at one point, it’s a good boat, but I had come back from fishing out there and that time of day I was following some other party, but some party boats, right.
I have a little boat, they were party boats, commercial fishing boats, and we’re all going back the same direction. Of course, one point they all turned left as opposed to continuing straight through the golden gate. And at the time I was, this was like in the nineties. So I was not as experienced. It was fishing from my own boat around here as I am now.
I didn’t know why they turned left. I said, well, screw it. They must be headed somewhere up North. I’m going back to the dock. So I kept straight and then I quit. Well I realized why they had turned because there’s [00:25:00] a spot called potato patch out there where the wind and the waves and the current tend to be almost opposite forces to one another.
And here you go. I looked around and I saw the cliffs right there by a point we needed and thought, you know what? I’m never going to be on dry land again. I’m going to be swamped out here because I can’t keep up with the waves. You got to speed up to catch the front of one wave and then slow down to get from being pitched over on the backside of the same way.
And I realized I was not going to be able to keep up with that. I mean, I was doing okay at one point, but it was a constant throttling up throttling back, turning the face this way, trying to face that way. But I kept thinking, you know, at one time I’m going to miscalculate and I’m going to go down inside of land.
And I’ll never see those cliffs again. I consider that a near death experience and I’m talking to you now. It didn’t kill me obviously, but I felt that, you know, my time was up and I thought, you know what? If I’ve got to go, this is the way to go. I don’t know why they’re doing what I like to do. I’m alone, always going with me.
And if I got to go, Hey, it’s spending patterns. You [00:26:00] get out of it. Good question. I don’t know what, I just kept up with the waves until I got closer into the shore with God, a little bit less turbulent, but I was continually thinking the next wave is going to take me. Okay. I got past that, the next one going to get me.
Okay. Then the next it’s good to be. I just kept taking the ways one-on-one believing that I was at one point going to miscalculate. I didn’t, I don’t know who was looking over me that day, but I made it
Louis Goodman: what keeps you up at night ?
Phil Vaughns: Missing deadlines, which I don’t, but I am in constant fear that I do.
I wake up three o’clock and say, Oh no, it’s next week or next month. I mean, especially in immigration court where you’ve got such far out deadlines, I mean, you have cases that were sick today. Your next date is 2025. While you got Carla dates were before that 20, 25 hearing, do you have to file certain documents in advance of the hearing, which itself is going to be three years [00:27:00] away.
And so you got to really be good scheduler, so to speak. And I’m not a bad scheduler, but I know that I’m not, I know I’m human. And so there are times when I think, Oh, that’s what about so and so. Oh, no, no relax, go to sleep. You know, that’s next year criminal where, you know, you can even, without writing things down, you can know when things are apt to be, do that when you do the being in court.
Cause they’re not that far out, but in immigration court, there is so many years it can pass between your having said X, Y, Z, and in court day one. And your next day being years out in the future with intervening deadlines is easy to put them on your back burner. Cause they’re so far out. But every now and then you realize, well, that back burner is kind of closer than I thought now, because a year has passed and I got two more years, but I should start doing work on it. I haven’t yet, but I’ve been close.
Louis Goodman: What if you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars, three, $4 billion [00:28:00] fell into your lap. What, if anything, would you change in your life?
Phil Vaughns: I’d probably spend all my time doing what I do with the old folks, or just talking to the old timers every Thursday, every other Thursday, I would do something like that and just not have to work, but do something in the line of work that I could do with, with more freedom, but sometimes I have to cancel my Thursdays whenever they start up again, I’ll have to say, well, you know, I got court on Thursday. I can’t do it. Well, let’s put it on Friday. I can say no problem. Whenever you have enough people, sign them up. I’ll come in and sit there and talk.
If I didn’t have to work, I would probably do that. And with the rest of the money I would have after not having to pay after having paid bills and everything else. You know, I probably try to do something for some terrible the organization to say, not just give them money, but to say, what do you need?
You need a building, I’ll buy you a building rather than trust that the money you give them to a charitable organization, it’s going to actually be spent. [00:29:00] Doing something concrete as opposed to things that are not often seen, I’d rather see what I’m going to be donating to. So if you need a football field, let’s build it.
If you need this, let’s do it. If you need water in Africa, here is I’m a build a pipeline. I would like to do something concrete, not to put my name on it, like, like some people, but just to say, Hey, this is something that, that, that money that fell in my lap has transformed itself into something concrete money is transitory comes and goes.
But if you build something, hopefully it’s going to be much more stable and much longer lasting than money, which can come and go.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Phil Vaughns: Wow, that’s a good question. It sounds trite, but I would probably say that like Ellen DeGeneres, she said be kind to one another.
I would say that I don’t care what you believe and you can be a Democrat or Republican. You can be whatever you want to be. In your head, but if you’re kind to people, I really don’t care what you are or what the hell you think.
[00:30:00] Louis Goodman: Phil Vaughns . Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been really interesting talking to you.
I’ve certainly found out some new things about you, and I’m very happy to know those things. And I hope to see you soon. Once some of this craziness is all over.
Phil Vaughns: It says, Love Thy Lawyer. And even after listening to what I have to say,
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show.
Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey.
I’m Louis Goodman.
Kim Burgess – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice of law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Kim has had experiences, both as a deputy district attorney and an assistant public defender. She has handled thousands of criminal cases and is one of the leading attorneys in the area of DUI defense in the Tri Valley Area of Alameda, Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties.
She is a member of the Alameda County Bar Association, the Eastern Alameda County Bar Association, and has been practicing law for over 30, yours, Kim Burgess. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Kim Burgess: Good morning, Louis. Thank you so much for inviting me here today.
Louis Goodman: Well, thanks for being here. You’re someone who I like talking to, not just on the podcast, but whenever I would see you in court. Where is your office located now?
Kim Burgess: I’m located in Dublin, which is in Alameda County.
Louis Goodman: And what is your practice? What kind of practice do you have?
Kim Burgess: Well, I have generally a misdemeanor criminal defense practice. And through the past few years, I have developed a traffic ticket defense practice as well. There seemed to be kind of a vacancy in that area.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been practicing law?
Kim Burgess: Since 1984. So going on 36 years, I’ve lost track of time and my math is terrible.
Louis Goodman: Something like that. Yeah. It’s about 36 years, I think. Where are you from originally?
Kim Burgess: I grew up initially in San Francisco and then due to my mother remarrying, moved to Stockton for high school.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s delve into that a little bit. Where did you go to high school?
Kim Burgess: I went to Lincoln High School in Stockton, California.
Louis Goodman: And what was that experience like for you?
Kim Burgess: It was shocking then in San Francisco until this was 1970s. At that time, I had been going to an all-girls private school. My friends were down the block.
I had my social life, my religious life and everything. I knew family and It’s included. We’re all in San Francisco. And when my mother remarried, she remarried an attorney, who had a practice in Stockton. So we moved up there and it was it was a culture shock. It was just, I wasn’t ready for, and of course at that stage in your life when you’re just entering high school, which I was, you know, there’s so many emotional things and developmental things going on. So it was very difficult for me.
From there, I went to Cal where I spent four wonderful years having a lot of fun in Berkeley. We lived in a sorority, had lots of friends at a lot of good times.
Louis Goodman: When did you decide to go to law school?
Kim Burgess: After I graduated from Cal, I actually went into Bank of America’s Management Training Program.
After about a year in that program I realized I wasn’t interested in banking. And since I have a lot of family in law, I decided to go to law. So that was when I decided to go.
Louis Goodman: How long did you work at the bank?
Kim Burgess: Oh, I think it was a little bit over a year.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that taking a little time between college and law school and getting some work in the corporate and business environment was helpful once you got to law school.
Kim Burgess: I think that it helped me mature.
I started college at 17. I went to Hastings in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: Oh, I went to Hastings too. How did you like Hastings?
Kim Burgess: I really liked it? I was ready to focus at that point in my life. And so I was really into organizing and, you know, getting down to my studies. I must have known when I went into law school that I was going to be a criminal attorney, whether defense or prosecution, because that was my, you know, almost my focus from the beginning in terms of moot court and the elective classes I took and the internships that I volunteered for.
Louis Goodman: What did your friends and family think when you told them, Hey, I’m going to go to law school and now I want to be a criminal lawyer.
Kim Burgess: Well, I think my father actually told me that he thought that I should be a court reporter. I don’t know why he said that because I am a terrible speller and I’m sure that would have been a disaster, but I think all of my nobody was really surprised. My stepfather was a lawyer in San Joaquin County and Stockton did a lot of corporate and tax work.
My father at the time I entered law school was on the San Francisco Municipal Court Bench. My grandfather died. At the time I was applying to law school, he had been a Federal District Court Judge. I had cousins and people all over the, you know, throughout my life, I’ve been lawyers. So nobody was surprised.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Kim Burgess: Well, if we count volunteer work while I was at Cal, I volunteered at Berkeley Legal Aid down on Fourth Street, but my first paid job was with the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office. And then my first post law school job was with the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office.
Louis Goodman: Well, let’s start with the Berkeley job. What was that like?
Kim Burgess: It was really interesting. I was helping a lot of, well, they were all indigent clients with getting social security benefits, getting their AFTC. I would attend as their representative at administrative hearings. It was a real eye opening and good experience for me at that stage in my life.
Louis Goodman: Then you went to the, the first job was with the Public Defender?
Kim Burgess: Yeah. I had an internship up in Sacramento with the Public Defender’s Office.
(Dog barking in background.)
Louis Goodman: What’s your dog’s name?
Kim Burgess: His name is Huckleberry and he is at the back door and I’m going to walk over and let him out because he’s found something he wants to go bark at.
Louis Goodman: All right. Okay. So after Berkeley legal aid, you went to the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office. Is that correct?
Kim Burgess: Sacramento Public Defender’s Office was actually, probably by that point, it was probably three years later. Before as I said, legal aid was while I was at Cal undergraduate.
And I did that for several volunteered there several years. And then after I graduated, as I said, I was, I went to Bank of America and then I went to law school. While in law school I had some other internships, Federal Public Defenders, San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. And then I had the first paid job was with the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office.
One of those summer internship programs.
Louis Goodman: What did you do there?
Kim Burgess: Misdemeanor defense.
Louis Goodman: How long were you at the Public Defender’s Office?
Kim Burgess: That was just a summer internship. So that would have been two and a half months. And then I returned to Cal, excuse me. I returned to Hastings for my last year.
Louis Goodman: And after Hastings, where’d you go?
Kim Burgess: Sacramento District Attorney.
Louis Goodman: What did you think about the difference in terms of being a prosecutor versus working in a public defender’s office?
Kim Burgess: You know, that’s a really good question, but at the time, the real differences that I noticed were not so much between the Public Defender and the District Attorney’s Office, but between San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office, where I had been volunteering.
For quite some time while I was at Hastings versus the attitudes in the Sacramento. Sacramento seems so much more conservative.
Louis Goodman: How long did you stay in the DA’s office?
Kim Burgess: I think it was a little bit more than a year. And then I actually left for Civil Defense. And I went to work with Farmers Insurance House council.
Louis Goodman: What was that like?
Kim Burgess: It was amazing. A lot of ways, I got some good trial experience. I got to have a good understanding of personal injury cases. A lot of evidence that I don’t think I had really experienced, in introducing evidence in court, in civil, in criminal cases, because at least my experience still to this day, criminal tends to be a lot less formal.
Civil cases: It was much more formal.
Louis Goodman: Did you actually go to trial?
Kim Burgess: Yes.
Louis Goodman: Well, no, it’s, you know, it’s hard to get civil trial experience. Not that many people have really spent much time in trial as civil attorney.
Kim Burgess: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: Especially young lawyers.
Kim Burgess: Yeah. Well, I was with Farmers for about five years. At that point, I had two young children and we decided, my husband decided, that his parents were getting old and shouldn’t be watching the boys all the time.
So he applied with Caltrans and was relocated to the Bay area. So that’s when we moved from where we were, we were up in Elk Grove at that time. And then we moved down to Dublin and at that point started my own practice.
Louis Goodman: Did you take any time off in order to be a mother or did you just work that into your law practice schedule?
Kim Burgess: I worked it into my law practice schedule. My children were there when they were young. So they saw the inside of as many courtrooms, as I probably did those years. I would sit them in the back row of the courtroom and hand them, you know, whether it’s a coloring book or a game boy or whatever, you know, the Tamikashi, that they had at the time.
And they would sit there, and I occasionally would have other people watch them, but you know, most of the stuff that I was doing when I first moved down to the Bay area was appearance work.
Louis Goodman: Speaking of your girls, you have two girls? Is that two sons and a daughter?
Kim Burgess: Two sons and a daughter.
Louis Goodman: Two sons and a daughter.
Yeah. Okay. Cause I, I remember the first time that I ever met you was in the Fremont Court and somehow or other, you were telling me about your work with the Girl Scouts.
Kim Burgess: Right. My daughter, my husband, both of my boys were in Boy Scouts and my daughter was in Girl Scouts. And where my son would be the Den Leader with Boy Scouts.
I became the Girl Scout Troop Leader. So I was very active, I guess, until my daughter even graduated from high school, not only as the Troop Leader, but I would run a session of Girl Scout Day Camp, which was held at Twin Canyons in Lafayette. And then I also volunteered. It was a family volunteer staff, residential camp up at Lake Kirkwood that we did for I think it was maybe half a dozen years. So I was very involved through my daughter’s high school, through all her education. I was very active in Girl Scouts with her.
Louis Goodman: Is there anything that you really like about practicing law?
Kim Burgess: You know, I have to say I like the variety of people that I meet as I’m sure you feel this way.
There have been plenty of clients that I wouldn’t mind sitting down and having a cup of coffee with. meet and occasionally go for a walk or to get together for lunch. I really like talking to people and getting to know their stories and it’s always made me feel good to help people, even for the smallest of cases, because particularly in the small cases, it means so much to them to have somebody listen to their stories and to be there for them.
Louis Goodman: Yes, there is sort of an unending stream of stories that is interesting in terms of practicing law. My dad practiced law for a long time and he always used to say, there’s always something new. There’s always something different.
Kim Burgess: He was so right.
Louis Goodman: If someone were just graduating from college and was thinking about law as a career, would you recommend that or not recommend it?
Kim Burgess: I wouldn’t discourage it. I would certainly recommend that they have a little bit of life experience. And they could have accomplished that while they were in college or before college. But I would recommend it before going into law school because I think it’s so demanding and it consumes so much of your life and particularly the competition, as I understand it now is so great that if you’ve made that decision and then you realize it’s not for you, it can be, you know, a very sad thing. But I also think the more experience a person has before going into law school makes them a better student. And I think that it’s important to kind of know what you’re looking at before you get into it. So you can help focus yourself.
Louis Goodman: Has actually practicing law, met or differed from your expectations of it?
Kim Burgess: No, I think that I don’t really think I had any expectations when I started. I just knew what I like doing and it just came into, it just fell into place for me. And I guess I’m lucky to say it’s worked out.
Louis Goodman: The business of practicing law. You know, you go to law school and no one ever really talks to you about being a businessperson and yet being a businessperson, if you’re in your own practice is a big part of it.
Kim Burgess: It really is. And you know, I learned early on with this practice that I was not a good businessperson. And so I was fortunate, when I first opened my office to have a good friend who was willing to take accounting classes. I met a young attorney who actually did wills and estates, and he’s the one that kind of gave me the advice, just in a casual lunch conversation.
That led me to the way I market my practice, which is very low key. I don’t spend a lot on it, but I think the, you know, rewards that I get from my expenditure are worth it. I don’t pay per click. I have a couple of web pages and that’s pretty much it.
Louis Goodman: So what do you do to market yourself?
Kim Burgess: I have two web pages, obviously I have a presence on Yelp. I think we all do. A lot of my cases now come from word of mouth.
Louis Goodman: Well, that’s good. That’s the best kind of advertising you can get is from word of mouth, from people who’ve used your services and have been happy with it.
Kim Burgess: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: You mentioned that there’s a wills and trusts attorney who kind of helps you with some of the accounting things and bookkeeping things. Any other mentors that you’ve had? Any attorneys who you’ve had that kind of relationship?
Kim Burgess: Well my first mentor was with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, and she really influenced me through law school and through my couple of jobs.
Louis Goodman: What else do you like to do? What about some recreational pursuits?
Kim Burgess: Well, my husband and I are birders, so, uh, we have done a lot of traveling to find birds. We’ve gone to Costa Rica, Australia, let’s see the Netherlands, New Zealand. We were going to go to the Canary Islands, notwithstanding the COVID just messed us up or that’s where we’d actually be right now.
Louis Goodman: I think it’s gotten in the way of a lot of people’s plans.
Kim Burgess: That’s it. I like to work, I do glass fusing as well, so I have a kiln in my garage. And when I’m not particularly now, when I’m not otherwise occupied, I’m out in my garage playing with glass. Yeah. Making different pieces of art or jewelry or, you know, bowls and things of that nature.
Louis Goodman: Well, if you could not be a lawyer, what would you choose to do?
Kim Burgess: I used to tell everybody I go to work at See’s Candy. That was my dream job to be one of those ladies behind the counter, in the little white uniforms.
Louis Goodman: What kinds of things keep you up at night?
Kim Burgess: There’s too many to list.
If I’m in the middle of a case, a case can keep me up at night. I do worry about, you know, the state of our world and sit there trying to come up with solutions, which you know, I know I’m never going to come up with. And also, I have this dog who keeps barking that does manage to keep me up at night because he insists on sleeping on the bed.
Louis Goodman: Well, if you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, the legal world, or otherwise, what would you think that would be?
Kim Burgess: Well, I think right now it would be to totally eradicate this Corona Virus. It’s just messed up so many people in so many lives.
Louis Goodman: So Kim, if you came into some real money, $3, $4 billion.
What, if anything in your life, would you change?
Kim Burgess: I’d change few things in my life generally, I’m pretty happy with what I have and where I am right now. So I think I do use the real money to hopefully make a difference in the community. That’s what I would, I think I’d use more of it to fund education for children that don’t have opportunities that I had. And, and then hopefully I’ve given my kids, so that maybe we get a better world in the long run from it.
Louis Goodman: Kim Burgess. Thank you so much for joining me on Love Thy Lawyer today. It’s been a very interesting conversation. I’ve known you for a long time, but I’m glad to have found out a few new things too.
So thanks so much for being
Kim Burgess: You’re welcome, Lou. Thank you so much for having me. I wish I could say I’d see you in court, but I don’t know when that’s going to happen.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible.
Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Greg O’Connell – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. We’re joined on the pod by Greg O’Connell.
He’s a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney. He spent several years at the Dolan Law Firm and he’s now with Rains Lucia Stern St. Phallae & Silver. Greg. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Thank you very much for joining me today. It’s a real privilege to have you on, I know a little bit about your practice. And I know about your history in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
And in general, it’s a really a stellar career. But tell me about a case that you had that really went off the rails.
Greg O’Connell: Lou. Well, thank you for having me and yeah, just one case that goes off the rails there. There’s probably a few that come to mind. You know, the first one I’ll share with you, it involves the locomotive, like completely fell off the bridge in addition to just sort of popping off the rail.
Louis Goodman: Well yeah, that’s the, those are the best ones.
Greg O’Connell: I was in the district attorney’s office at the time I was prosecuting a case out of the Fremont courthouse, the individual who I was prosecuting, his name escapes me, but he was charged with assault with a firearm, and he had brandished a firearm on the freeway during the aftermath of a road rage incident.
Eventually witnesses saw this and tracked down the license plate number, apprehended, the suspect. And then, you know, of course found the firearm. He was shaking during cross examination. He became really upset, very uncomfortable started speaking in his native tongue, the deputies took him down to the ground, called for backup. Multiple deputies rushed into the courtroom that handcuffed him.
And at this point he starts having what I think was a seizure, his eyes roll back into his head and he’s foaming at the mouth kind of drooling. And this is all in front of the jury, lo and behold, they convicted him, not much longer after that. However though, I think he did have the last laugh because he was successful in, in his appeal.
So, yeah, I would say that’s pretty much off the rails and off the track.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Yeah, I guess so where, where are you from originally?
Greg O’Connell: So I grew up in the city of Alameda.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to a high school there?
Greg O’Connell: No, I did grade school through, K through eight in Alameda. And for high school, I went to Bishop O’Dowd.
Louis Goodman: But you were still living in Alameda?
Greg O’Connell: Yes. So living at my parents’ house in Alameda, in fact, they’re, they’re still there.
Louis Goodman: What did you think about O’Dowd? Did you have a good time there?
Greg O’Connell: I loved O’Dowd. I had a great time, a good education, you know, a lot of committed young students. and it was a good place to learn and kind of go through that.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of O’Dowd, where’d you go to college?
Greg O’Connell: After O’Dowd I went to UCLA down in wonderful Westwood and that was an excellent time of my life. Los Angeles was a lot of fun. UCLA campus is beautiful.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, it really is. Yeah. And were there any specific activities or anything besides going to the beach that you enjoyed down in Los Angeles?
Greg O’Connell: Well, as you know, that’s a tough question. There are so many positive areas about that school, the student body, student life, the classes where the classes were good. A lot of, you know, kind of high profile instructors who do lectures and write books, wonderful guest speakers.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about becoming a lawyer?
Greg O’Connell: The thought initially crossed my mind when I was a senior in high school. And part of it came about when I began applying to colleges, I had to figure out what I was ultimately going to major in, you know, kind of the short answer is I wasn’t really sure. Law school seemed like a good fit for me, as I always enjoy debate and argument, I did debate in high school and I also did debate when I was at UCLA. So arguing and presenting was always, always something that came second nature to me. And, you know, on the advice of my parents, if I was going to make a career out of something, it should be, you know, something that you’re, you’re pretty good at, or at least something that comes somewhat effortlessly.
Louis Goodman: After you got out of UCLA what did you do then?
Greg O’Connell: Right out of college, I began law school. I went to Golden Gate School of Law. I started in the fall of 2005 and was there for three years.
Louis Goodman: And during law school, was it a conscious decision to come back to the Bay area?
Greg O’Connell: It was, it was during, during my summers, at UCLA, I would be at home and living at my parents’ house in Alameda, and I began volunteering at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in between my sophomore and junior year of college. So it would have been the summer of 2002, I volunteered there. I was interested in becoming a DA and volunteered there for the three subsequent summers, 2002 three in 2004.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about some of your early experiences in the DA’s office.
Greg O’Connell: So during that first summer, I primarily volunteered at the Alameda Courthouse.
So the one that’s there on, I think it’s Shoreline Drive. Right now, now I think they only do civil matters out of there. but years ago they had a single courtroom devoted to criminal. And I worked under the tutelage of John Jay and Eileen McAndrew.
Louis Goodman: You tried ultimately serious felony cases.
Is that correct?
Greg O’Connell: I did.
Louis Goodman: Yes. And then you also, after that, you went on to deal with the Department of Insurance Division of the District Attorney’s Office.
Greg O’Connell: That’s correct. After I did a felony, I was on the felony jury trial team for two years. After that, I transitioned into our Consumer Fraud, Environmental Protection Division where I worked in the Insurance Fraud Unit. So it was prosecuting different types of insurance fraud, whether homeowners, automobile insurance fraud, and even doing some workers’ compensation fraud. You know, the type of stuff where the guy wears a boot all day until he gets to the gym and then takes it off and goes and plays basketball claiming he has a bad foot.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Those cases are interesting. The other cases that I like are the crash and buy cases.
Greg O’Connell: You know you would think that would be easier to pull off if you just simply planned, you know, set down a timeline and stuck with it,
Louis Goodman: Explain crash and buy cases. Cause it’s a term that you and I know, but maybe some people don’t know.
Greg O’Connell: Sure. So, typically this occurs, we’ll say on a Monday morning at 8:00 AM and somebody is involved in an auto accident, that person then calls the police. Makes a police report at approximately eight 30 gives all their information, says they were involved auto accident. And then probably about 10:30 in the morning, maybe 11 in the morning they get the pride idea, oh shoot, I don’t have car insurance. Maybe I should go buy it. So then hours after the accident, they go buy their insurance policy. And, you know, I just don’t understand how people can
Louis Goodman: make a claim on it.
Greg O’Connell: Oh yeah, of course. And then, you know, in the, they never have the patience to wait more than a day, you know, sometimes they’ll just call right back 20 minutes later and make the claim.
Louis Goodman: Of course that doesn’t raise any right flags over at the insurance company.
Greg O’Connell: Not enough red flags could go up on that book.
Louis Goodman: What are you doing now? What sort of work are you doing now, Greg?
Greg O’Connell: So in 2017, I made a, a tough decision deliberated it for quite a bit to leave the DA’s office. And I wanted to explore, civil litigation.
The opportunity that was given to me right out of the DA’s office was working at Chris Dolan’s Law Firm. Dolan is kind of a master of personal injury cases. He does a lot of civil lit, mostly with personal injury, some medical malpractice. So I made the transition into civil litigation.
Louis Goodman: How was that transition for you coming out of the DA’s office then going into a civil firm?
Greg O’Connell: You know, I think there’s an old saying that it, you know, it’s tough for old dogs to learn new tricks, and for the first time in my life, I actually felt like it dog trying to learn a new trick.
I was in the DA’s office eight years, some of the procedure and the rules, you just come second nature. You don’t realize how much you’ve actually learned. And remember it without having to think about it, when all that goes out the window and you’re dealing with a new set of rules, a new procedure, it’s, you know, there’s a learning curve and it, it was difficult for the first couple of months.
Louis Goodman: What did you do to get over that curve?
Greg O’Connell: The only way I think to really get over that curve is to just put in extra time, read the code. Try not to fall asleep while you’re reading it. Make notes, flashcards, test yourself. Think about it. you know, I, I would download YouTube podcasts and discussions on procedure and listen to it during my commute.
Just anything to kind of get my brain thinking about it and committing it to memory. So it becomes second nature.
Louis Goodman: What kind of cases did you handle at the Dolan firm?
Greg O’Connell: When I was at Dolan, it was all personal injury. I guess not all. I did do one jury trial while I was there at the firm, that was a breach of contract case, but most of the cases were personal injury.
Louis Goodman: What did you think of that work?
Greg O’Connell: I enjoy it. A personal injury case is very client centric. So if you have a, you know, a very sympathetic client who’s been injured dramatically and his or her life has just been altered permanently, it is very easy to get behind the client.
Get to know the client. Cause not only are you working to get a big settlement, which of course is going to help you personally, you’re doing this because the client actually needs it. And a lot of times, you know, he or she is not going to be able to work. They’re not going to be able to earn a living and they’re going to have future medical care, which is very expensive, especially nowadays.
Louis Goodman: In 2018, you left Dolan and went to your current assignment. Is that right?
Greg O’Connell: That’s right. I had left, Chris Dolan’s firm and I accepted a position at Rains Lucia Stern St. Phallae & Silver. You know, they have five people on the credenza. They do have a civil litigation division that does personal injury and medical malpractice.
As well as employment law, labor law, Michael Rains though, was, you know, kind of the, the heavyweight there who really gave Rains Lucia Stern its name, and of course that is done in the defense of police officers. That defense comes in either criminal proceedings, civil proceedings, but most often administrative proceedings.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Officers sometimes get in trouble too. Don’t they.
Greg O’Connell: They definitely do. Police officer is really just like anybody else and they can have lapses in judgment. They can find themselves in difficult situations needing to make immediate decisions. And sometimes that’s just a recipe for trouble to happen, and I think that goes for anybody, not, not necessarily only police officers.
Louis Goodman: So you’ve been there. What about two years now?
Greg O’Connell: About two and a half. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: And what sort of work have you been doing there?
Greg O’Connell: I’m in the civil litigation division? There is still some personal injury. There’s also, I’ve been working on something called A Shareholder Derivative suit, something called a Key Tam suit, which is a whistleblower retribution type case. I also do, contract law as well as, employment law. and then of course, personal injury, pretty much anything. Where litigation is required. We also take over a lot of cases for other firms or smaller practices when it’s actually time to go to court.
Louis Goodman: Now that you’ve had more experience with the civil stuff, and I assume that you now have much greater familiarity with civil procedure than you did when you first left the DA’s office. have you found that your experience as a Deputy DA and your work in the courtroom has now really been able to transition into helping you out in civil litigation?
Greg O’Connell: Yes, it has. It mostly, pays off when you’re kind of close to the finish line, in civil. Typically there’s not a lot of hours logged in court, up until an actual trial. So I, you know, anytime I’ve got into the trial department, that’s when it starts to pay off. all of the time.
And usually it can be sometimes two years, three years before a case gets to trial. It’s a different beast in the civil world. Attorney’s behavior differently. There’s different types of tactics and strategy, and a lot of that has to do with the simple fact. It’s usually I’m representing I’m on the Plaintiff side, so I’m representing a single person.
And I’m going after a larger insurance company. Nobody’s in custody, you know, nobody’s losing any rights, unlike criminal, where the consequences of a verdict are much more severe. So there are different tactics that play out that simply did not exist in the DA’s office.
Louis Goodman: Now, in addition to practicing law, I know that you have some outside interests.
What sort of things do you like to do recreationally?
Greg O’Connell: Traveling is ultimately at the top of my list. I know right now that’s difficult to accomplish. maybe even impossible. I was fortunate enough to go to Italy, in February, with my girlfriend. We went for about two weeks.
We were glad to get that in. but now, you know, traveling is difficult and it’s just, you can’t really do it. so, you know, exercising, believe it or not coordinate, Lu I undertook the task of remodeling my backyard during this pandemic. And it’s been difficult and it’s taken up a lot of time, but it’s nice work.
It’s simple work and it’s different, completely different than law. So it’s nice to engage in that just to take my mind off of things.
Louis Goodman: What are you growing?
Greg O’Connell: So I have a lemon tree. I have a peach tree, a cherry tree, and I’ve also, I’m trying to grow chili peppers on my deck, but, that hasn’t been working out. The lemons are coming in great though.
Louis Goodman: Let me get back to the, the court system for a minute. Do you think that the court system is basically fair?
Greg O’Connell: Yeah. Yeah. I think it is basically fair, you know, it’s obviously a very subjective question. And I think people’s answers differ based on kind of how things work out for them personally, you know, so a lot of criticisms of the court system I think can be fickle and sometimes I’m informed. But you know I’m not a complete defender of the court system because I think it’s archaic in many ways and it is too slow.
Louis Goodman: Besides being a lawyer, is there some job that you think you’d like to have?
Greg O’Connell: I’ve jokingly said, you know, I would love to own the San Francisco 49ers.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, that’d be good job.
Greg O’Connell: That would be my favorite job. But you know, now if I didn’t go to law school I probably would have gone to medical school,
Louis Goodman: If a young person who was in college and thinking about a career, asked you about whether being a lawyer was a good idea or not. What, advice would you have?
Greg O’Connell: Okay. You know, I would probably tell them no, do not become an attorney.
Louis Goodman: Why?
Greg O’Connell: The cost of law school is very high. Running a law school, the idea of running a law school has become more of a business and less of a sanction for learning in an academic institution.
It really no longer that anymore. It’s a business.
Louis Goodman: Say you came into some real money, you know, real money, a couple of billion dollars, billion with a B, what, if anything, about your life, would you change?
Greg O’Connell: You know, I would probably start working less. That would be the first thing I would change. After that, I’ve learned to live a under my means I become better and better at saving. So in all honesty, you know, I would not need that much money. And so I would probably donate some certainly not all of it. I guess the first thing I would change is probably pay my mortgage and get rid of it. So I’d have a little more freedom.
Louis Goodman: Well, Greg you had talked to us about a criminal case that went off the rails. Can you tell us about a civil case that perhaps ended up with a better result?
Greg O’Connell: It involved a, a young man in his mid to late thirties. He was 37 at the time. He was driving his car on the side street down in San Jose, near a construction site.
The construction site was active. There was a large forklift that picked up a huge, what they call steel trench plate. It’s something that covers the ditches in the road at night, so people can drive over it. And then in the daytime that construction workers cordoned off the street, open up the plate and can access the ditch without cars having to drive in and meet their while they were lifting up one of these large plates.
The it fell off the forklift and crashed onto the guy’s car, crushing his head. He ultimately, I should say they ultimately, but at the scene, what was, was fine, miraculously, it wasn’t until about three or four months later, he began right. Losing his vision and yeah, over a period of about a year, he completely lost his vision.
And he was diagnosed with a very rare brain disorder, as his actual eyeballs were perfectly fine and healthy, but his brain was unable to process the images and then kind of transmit, what was being perceived into what was actually happening. So his brain was injured even though his speech was fine.
His mannerisms were fine, his coordination was fine. It was a very difficult case because it had an extremely late diagnosis. Usually if somebody goes blind, it happens immediately. It’s an explosion. So that goes in your eye. you know, it’s very obvious. This was a tough case and, you know, I’ve worked on it for two years, and it’s settled well into seven figures, ultimately changing this young man’s life. I wouldn’t say for the better cause, you know, he would rather have his sight rather than all the money, but we set him up in a very good position where he’ll have the adequate care. And be able to afford the treatment that he needs, to begin his life as a blind person now.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, it really feels good. When as an attorney, you can help somebody out in what for them is a really terrible situation and you never make anybody whole but you can sometimes make things a little bit better.
Greg O’Connell: Yeah. And that’s exactly what happened and yeah, that feels good,
Louis Goodman: Greg, thank you so much for joining us today on Love Thy Lawyer.
I appreciate your time. I appreciate your stories and I appreciate your insight. Thanks so much for being here. And it’s good to talk to you.
Greg O’Connell: Lou. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it. I appreciate it.
Louis Goodman: Thanks for joining us today on Love thy Lawyer.
Eric Swalwell – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. He is the United States Congressmen for California’s 15th Congressional District. He serves on the house, permanent select committee on intelligence.
Before that he served as a member of the Dublin City Council. And I got to know him during his seven years as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, Eric Swalwell, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Eric Swalwell: Lou, thank you so much for having me on. I miss being in court with you, but still enjoy staying in touch.
Louis Goodman: Well, I remember that just before you went off to Washington to take your seat in Congress, we were sitting in the old department 501 in Hayward and [00:01:00] dealing a couple of deuces.
And I just think of that sometimes. Just think about where you are now and I’m proud of you.
Eric Swalwell: I did work all the way up until the day I was sworn in and because no, it probably wasn’t appropriate to be a candidate for Congress, and in a jury trial, I had to give up, you know, in the office what I love the most, doing jury trials, but I was still able to, you know, work in the misdemeanor calendar department and to the best days were when friends, like you came in and while we were on the other side of these cases, you know, we brought, I think, collegiality to the process and always tried to make sure that, you know, justice was done at the end.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, absolutely. Where are you from originally Eric?
Eric Swalwell: I grew up in Iowa. My dad was a chief of police in a town called Algona, Iowa, and he and my mom both had moved from the Bay area to [00:02:00] Iowa. And so spent about six years there and then made our way out West and ultimately settled in Dublin. So I called Dublin, California home, and went to Dublin High School and then returned back to Dublin after law school.
Louis Goodman: How was going to high school in Dublin?
Eric Swalwell: You know, growing up in Dublin, I played soccer competitively and Dublin did not have a competitive team. So I had to wear another city’s Jersey. And so you got a sense of what other kids thought of Dublin? Cause I love Dublin. We’d moved around so often when we moved to Dublin and I thought we had finally made it, but then you’re hanging around with kids from wealthy places like San Ramon and Danville and Pleasanton.
And so that was in part why I came back to Dublin to work on the planning commission, the arts commission and the city council to make it a great city that it is today.
Louis Goodman: You went to college on a soccer scholarship. Is that right?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah. So as much as I [00:03:00] love Dublin, just like any 18 year old, when you’re looking at school, there’s the urge to get the hell out. I picked a place that would pay for my college because we definitely needed that. That would allow me to play division one because I was competitive, probably still am and was impatient and did not want to sit on the bench as a freshman. I wanted to play as a freshmen. So the one school in America that fit that those requirements was Campbell University in rural North Carolina.
So I went there and played soccer for two years, got injured and transferred to University of Maryland.
Louis Goodman: How was playing division one soccer?
Eric Swalwell: Lou, I loved it. And I think I was a better student because I played meaning it’s like that. Adage, if you want something done, ask a busy person. I felt like I was able to get things done academically because I was busy with sports.
And so one kind of reinforced the other. And so also just the [00:04:00] teamwork skills that you learn playing at that level.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about being a lawyer?
Eric Swalwell: Middle school. Believe it or not. I had taken a while class. It was part of like an elective course and we had a mock trial in middle school and I loved it.
I loved just the adversarial process. I loved thinking about how I present my cases. And then, when I went to high school, there was also a mock trial team. So, you know, there, I continue to participate in mock trial. And my father who was a police officer, did not have the luxury of going to college and his dream for his first born son, was that he would work hard enough so that I could go to college and law school and be a prosecutor because he really respected as a police officer, the work prosecutors played in our criminal justice system. And so that was always kind of seated in me, but you know, doing mock trial, even in college, I did it in college as [00:05:00] a college athlete, you know, really had me hooked.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to law school?
Eric Swalwell: I went to Maryland and the campus was not in the same location as the undergraduate campus was in the city of Baltimore. A city very much like Oakland, you know, a great diverse city. It’s a sports city port city. It really is. I think, great city in our country that I learned a lot about my first year I taught street justice to high schoolers in West.
Baltimore is part of a program I participated in and really got to know the city. And I worked in the public defender’s clinic. My third year for the City of Baltimore and enjoyed, you know, being on the front lines of the criminal justice system there. And then after law school took my first real job as a Deputy DA.
Louis Goodman: Was that your first job, in Alameda County DA’s office?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, that was my first job. Absolutely And it was a great job to have.
Louis Goodman: What did you [00:06:00] like about being the DA’s office here?
Eric Swalwell: The history of the office, you know, Earl Warren is, you know, having come from the office, having reformed the office during that corrupt time in the County. And some of the, I would say ethics that were instilled in every prosecutor who’s ever served in that office.
And I always believe, and it was told them me that we don’t seek wins. We seek justice and that unlike other prosecutor, offices, where there’s a lot of pressure to go to trial and to win in our office, you know, we’re really looking for the right results. And if you took a case out and you ultimately dismissed it because you didn’t think you had the evidence. You weren’t, it wasn’t frowned upon in the office because getting it right was more important than getting a win.
Louis Goodman: While you were in the Alameda County DA’s office, you got interested in politics in Dublin
Eric Swalwell: You know, Lou, I had a father who served on the Dublin School Board [00:07:00] and. Yeah, that was as far as he went and politics, but he really took a lot of pride in the work that he had done.
And I came home and wanted to be involved. And so started out with the Dublin it’s commission and I really enjoyed learning, you know about art in the city and how we used it to, you know, especially make public spaces more appealing. And then two years after that went to the planning commission and saw it, the city that was economically booming and then was a part of developing the city.
And then in 2010, ran for city council spot, you know, figuring that that would be a great place to play an important role, especially for young families that were moving to Dublin to have a young person on the council. Like I thought that was important.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about running for Congress?
Eric Swalwell: You know, it was when Californians in 2010 passed two good government measures, one that allowed independent redistricting. So no longer would political lines be drawn by[00:08:00] politicians protecting themselves and their friends, but it would stick to geography and math, God forbid. And then also, the top two primary system that said any voter from any party can vote for any candidate.
And I thought, well, this is an opportunity, you know, to really be a voice for everyone in the district, run a consensus campaign, especially on issues of the next generation. But I also thought there were so many generational issues that did not have an audience, and I really wanted to be a voice on those issues.
And so that motivated me to step up and run.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I remember that. I, I remember talking to about that and you kind of laying out your path that you thought might be a path to victory and thinking that, yeah this was something that you had really thought about and have really come up with a plan that could work, and it did.
Eric Swalwell: It always felt a little bit impossible, a little bit in [00:09:00] probable, but you, and so many of my friends in the defense bar community went out with me on weekends and knocked on doors and introduced me to people that you knew and allowed me to make my case. And all I wanted was my day in court, so to speak, to make my case.
And I felt like we put in the work to do that. And ultimately it paid off.
Louis Goodman: Well, you certainly made your case and you certainly did the work. What do you like about being in Congress?
Eric Swalwell: It is still, I believe the greatest country in the world, a country that was imperfect tension between an executive branch and the legislative branch, but still to have the opportunity to advance issues, especially generational issues, gun violence, student loan debt, climate issues that are important to our constituents.
Louis Goodman: What do you find frustrating and difficult being in Congress?
Eric Swalwell: It moves slower than the issues of the day and the needs of people. [00:10:00] And yeah, by design, when I walk from my office to the Capitol, you walk through this tunnel that has it’s about a quarter mile long tunnel.
And on the walls, in the tunnel hang pieces of art from every congressional district in the country, each member of Congress gets to pick one high school student’s art piece. And when you walked that route to the Capitol and you look at the different pieces of art that come from the different States and districts, you see, you know, this tapestry of diversity in our country.
And it makes me realize why it’s so hard to get things done because. You know, what we value in California is not necessarily what is valued in other States. And so finding that common thread, that connective tissue is challenging and then it’s why we move so slow.
Louis Goodman: So if a person was coming out of college, would you [00:11:00] recommend a career of law with an eye toward Politics?
Eric Swalwell: Yes. Yes. I still believe, you know, this country’s worth redeeming and building better. And that the best way to do that as public service. I’m asked a lot by interns. How do I get to Congress? I tell them don’t focus as much on a particular seat, focus on issues, and you’ll find the seat. If you focus on the seat, you may not get the seat that you want, and that may demoralize you so much that you don’t run for office, which I would hate to see. And so it would really be better to focus on issues and just trust that the issues will direct you in the best seat to serve.
Louis Goodman: How has actually being in Congress differed or met your expectations about what it might be like?
Eric Swalwell: Again, I, in the criminal justice system, Lou, you know, we would go to court and typically go, if you and I were in a trial, most likely the case would be at [00:12:00] least six months, sometimes up to three years old. And so what always felt like justice and moved slowly, never as quickly as we wanted because of the volume of cases and just lack of resources to adjudicate them, but I got to Congress and, you know, to just see, how slow things move in Congress. You know, that I wish we could, as I said, show more agility. I remember early on when I first had gotten elected. Meeting the Dean of the House, John Dingell, who is the longest serving person, longest the person who served the longest ever in Congress, passed away last year.
But he asked me who I was and what I had done before Congress. And I told him, I said, Mr. Dingell, I was a prosecutor. And I loved that job. And he said, okay, what do you love about it? And I told him how swiftly the cases would get resolved compared to what I’m seeing here in Congress. And he looked at me and he said, You know what I, [00:13:00] introduced a bill 50 years ago to have universal healthcare and I’m still working on it.
You know, this is not a place for speedy checkout. Like it’s, it’s not the express line at the supermarket, but again, I think that was the wisdom of our founders.
Louis Goodman: You know, we always hear about how difficult it is to be fundraising and how much time and effort people in elected office work on that. I’m wondering what that has been like for you.
And if, sort of just comment on that whole process.
Eric Swalwell: Lou, for every person that has believed in me and contributed to my work. And when I ran against Pete Stark, I was out fundraised two to one and we still won. But I would like to see in our lifetime a system where we have publicly financed campaigns or at least matching funds with lower contributions that can be matched.
Louis Goodman: If there was sort of one thing in government that you could change, [00:14:00] what do you think that would be?
Eric Swalwell: I really struggle right now with the post office being sabotaged. So I guess I’ll say something functionally and then, policy is we struggle with the mail being sabotaged by the president and what that means for access to the ballots.
I really believe we should have a Manhattan project to have online voting, secure auditable, online voting. And if not, at least we tried that. We tried to secure the vote that way, but when you think about the amount of things we do in our lives, through our devices that are of great import from managing our 401ks to filing our taxes, to getting an alert from our doctor or a result or a diagnosis from the doctor, I just happen to believe that we should at least try to have online voting
Louis Goodman: Mentors, have you [00:15:00] had any in Congress,
Eric Swalwell: You know, the two that I’m really fortunate to have worked under an still call friends and mentors are a speaker Pelosi and Adam Schiff. Speaker Pelosi asked me early on to lead young people, and to create a group that would,, go across the country, listen to and learn from young people and then give feedback to our more senior colleagues as to legislation we could write.
And I did that. I called the group future forum and I went to over 50 cities and passed legislation in that realm. And she is, I mean, just a remarkable generational leader. And I’ve learned so much about leadership from her. Chairman Schiff. He’s just a very special public servant. Somebody who is at the highest principle and integrity, a towering figure in the Congress, but leading the intelligence committee, also a coach that knows how to use everyone on the [00:16:00] team and didn’t want to do it all himself. The captain of the team, but knew the strengths and weaknesses of others on the team.
Louis Goodman: I think just kind of given how polarized the country is right now that there’s some chance that if we do have a change of government, That there’s the possibility of working across the aisle and having a little more consensus on some issues that are just fundamentally important to every American, regardless of political Stripe.
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, we have to, and my hope is that President Biden will have a blended cabinet of Republicans and Democrats that we will spend a lot of the first months of the new administration working on reforming what Donald Trump has exposed as far as the vulnerabilities in our democracy. And that we will find Republicans who will want to do that.
There’s certainly the never Trump or crowd. That we’ll need a home. I mean, [00:17:00] they’re so alienated now from the Trump base. And I think starting off by working with them is going to be important.
Louis Goodman: You have a young family. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about it.
Eric Swalwell: I have a daughter and a son.
Yeah, it, you know, a little bit, it’s a challenge, certainly to go East and West every week. But in many senses, the reason we do this is for our kids and my wife reminds me all the time is I have to make hard decisions about, you know, events I can’t go to because of, you know, family obligations coming first, she tells me, you know, you’re a better public servant because you have a family because you understand issues around childcare, you understand issues around, paid family leave, you understand, you know, mothers health issues. So I do think it’s made me a better rounded, well-rounded leader on these issues because they are my issues. They are my family’s issues.
Louis Goodman: What sort of [00:18:00] things do you and your family enjoy doing when you’re not being a Congressman?
Eric Swalwell: Just like most families, every night after dinner, we have a trolls’ dance party. You know, the movie Trolls, which our kids love and the music is great. And so we call up the soundtrack on the Amazon, on Alexa, and dance around to that. We love that there’s a local park that, you know, we love to take the kids to it and they love the water and I’ve enjoyed watching them learn how to swim.
Louis Goodman: Have you ever had a near death experience?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, right before I started my clerkship in the DA’s office. It was the last week of May. And as you know, the clerkship and the DA’s office is the first Tuesday after Memorial is the Tuesday after Memorial Day. And I had been moving to the city that weekend to live in the city, San Francisco, before [00:19:00] the clerkship started.
And the Sunday before Memorial Day, I was driving back, a buddy was driving. I was in the right front passenger seat. And so we were driving. Right as you go from Oakland to San Leandro on 580 going East. And as we approached the Dutton exit off ramp, we were pulling a trailer and then the weight of the trailer started pushing on the SUV.
And the SUV started swerving, lost control, and we rolled off the freeway, down that slope off the freeway and ended up upside down. And my instinct was that the car was going to probably be on fire soon and I panicked, and, you know, I’d forgotten that I had my seatbelt on. And thankfully my buddy was conscious also and he undid my seatbelt and we both escaped.
And within 60 seconds, the car was engulfed in flames and we were transported to Eden hospital in Castro Valley. And we just had stiff necks, but I mean, the [00:20:00] car was torched, flipped, you know, two and a half times and pretty lucky to be alive. No one would look at the picture of that accident and think that anyone walked away from it.
And I remember thinking Lou as that car was rolling, God damn it. I’m not going to get this clerkship worked. So it was the first one that came to mind. I remember I lived in, remember as we started to roll, I’m due at the office on Tuesday. I worked so hard for this. I put everything into this interview and it was just, I thought, like I had made it because I got this offer and I just thought this is gonna stop that.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Eric Swalwell: You know, the fear that as a country, we’ve lost unity around common principles, like truth in the rule of law and American exceptionalism and knowing who [00:21:00] the good guys are in the world and distinguishing that from the bad guys and that we’ve been so divided and we’ve become so tribal about these issues that it’s like Stanford versus Cal, that if you’re going to the big game, It doesn’t matter what your team does.
Like if anyone on your team cheats or does whatever, like you’re wearing the Cal Jersey, you’re rooting for Cal, no matter what. That’s great for sports. That’s not how it should be in politics.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you came into some real money, few billion dollars fell into your lap, and I know you’d pay off your student loans, but after you paid off your student loans, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Eric Swalwell: I wouldn’t. I took a job that didn’t pay much money, you know, as a prosecutor, I think I would be what I would like to invest in. If I ever went to the private sector and had a, you know, a [00:22:00] nonpublic paycheck, I would like to invest in first in their family, kids that go to college. That’s that was the biggest struggle for me was I didn’t have any institutional support around me. I didn’t know enough people that had gone to college and, you know, it always felt like you were just in the middle of the sea without a life vest, not a lot of people around you to tell you like what you’re supposed to do. And so, you know, that is something I want to make sure that there are still over half of Americans don’t have a college degree.
There’s so many who will need that set of skills to compete in this new economy. And so really focusing on the kids where it’s not institutional in supporting causes like that. I think that’s where I hope to be more impactful, you know, with charitable giving.
Louis Goodman: Let’s say you could change one thing in the world.
You had a wish could change one thing in the political world, the government world or [00:23:00] anything. What do you think that would be?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, for me, I really want to focus on, using technology to allow us to be healthier and live longer in legislation I’ve worked on in that realm. Again, gun violence is a passion because of being a prosecutor.
But investing in technologies that would allow us to essentially find cures in our lifetime, you know, especially with a family member right now who just finished chemo surgery, radiation, and knowing that so many families are going through that as well. I think putting that technology in a way that it can do more good and be more active.
Louis Goodman: Eric Swalwell. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. You are in Washington DC these days, but we have a very soft spot in our heart for you here in the Alameda County legal community. So, well, thanks again for being here.
Eric Swalwell: We’re doing a podcast and a lot of [00:24:00] my friends from the office told me they’re fans of the podcast and I’m excited to be a small part.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for tactical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Jared Winter Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
Jared Winter, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Very happy to have you. It’s always been interesting and fun to talk to you.
Jared Winter: Louis. I’m very happy to be here.
Louis Goodman: I have a few questions for you since you’re a lawyer, but before we get to that, I’d like to ask you about your drone flying. Can you tell me what you do when you fly drones?
Jared Winter: Really more of what I did, that hobby is sort of languished over the last couple of years, but yeah.
I tend to find little hobbies that interest me and some of them stick some of them don’t. But for about a year there, I was learning how to build little racing drones. These drones are about the size of a dinner plate. And they zip around real fast. They’re actually pretty difficult to fly. Well, I didn’t have a lot of success and keeping them in the air for much longer than a minute, but the ultimate goal was to attach a video camera to it so that I could see from a drone, like first person perspective, what it was seeing is it flew around in the air.
It was a fun hobby, but it actually got to be pretty expensive cause I kept crashing the thing so much.
Louis Goodman: Well, maybe it’s a good thing. You’re a lawyer.
Where is your office located now?
Jared Winter: So now my office is out in Pleasanton.
Louis Goodman: What kind of practice do you have and who are you with?
Jared Winter: So I’m with the esteemed firm of Bonjour, Thorman, Burns & Dahm.
And I started working here back in April of 2019, and our practice is split basically 50/ 50 between criminal defense and plaintiff side personal injury cases.
Louis Goodman: How long have you been practicing?
Jared Winter: [Since] 2007.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from? Where are you from originally?
Jared Winter: I was born in St. Anthony Idaho. My parents went to a little college in St.
Anthony, Idaho back then. And I was primarily raised in Arizona in the West Valley. So Phoenix area, not Phoenix itself, though. We call it the West Valley. The town that I’m from is called Lichfield Park.
Louis Goodman: What’s the closest city there to Litchfield.
Jared Winter: The closest one would be Phoenix.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school?
Jared Winter: Yeah, I was going to say a lot of times, I actually just tell people I’m from Phoenix. Cause that’s the one they know, but I went to a small high school.
Louis Goodman: What was the name of it?
Jared Winter: Agua Fria.
Louis Goodman: So, what did you do in high school? You know, like extracurricular activities? I mean, I assume you took, you know, algebra two and that sort of stuff.
Jared Winter: I went to class, I took tests, I did homework, but extracurricular wise, I did swim team. I swam. All four years of high school on the varsity team.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from Litchfield Park at Agua Fria? You went to Arizona state?
Jared Winter: I did.
Louis Goodman: And what was that experience like?
Jared Winter: You know, Arizona state. I love that school, actually. A lot of fun memories of it. I didn’t actually have the typical undergraduate experience in the sense that I lived at home, I was a commuter student, even though Arizona state has the reputation for being a massive party school.
I really was not involved in that part of the lifestyle very much. It was mostly just an academic pursuit, but I loved the campus. I loved the faculty. I had a lot of friends at Arizona state, a lot of fond memories.
Louis Goodman: What did you major in there?
Jared Winter: I started off actually thinking that I wanted to go into medicine.
And so I was a microbiology major. I shifted course about two years into being an undergrad and ultimately graduated with a degree in economics from the business college.
Louis Goodman: Did you immediately go to law school thereafter?
Jared Winter: No, I didn’t.
Louis Goodman: What did you do in the interim
Jared Winter: I was working at a bank doing finance and I didn’t quite know what to do, but I knew that that’s not what I wanted to do.
And so I think between graduation and my application to law school, that was maybe a one or two year interim period where there, I was just working in sort of just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And just by fate, I got a jury summons. And so this was in Arizona. Mind you, but I went to jury duty.
It was my first time being called to jury duty. I was. I think I was maybe 21, 22 years old, and I got selected to be on the jury. Yeah.
Louis Goodman: What kind of case was it?
Jared Winter: It was a civil case. So I won’t bore you with all the facts because it actually was boring to most people on the jury. It was a development company had built a housing development and it was upstream from this big golf course. And by law, they had to build water retention because it rains pretty hard in Arizona during the summer months. And the ground is so hard that flooding becomes something that happens really rapidly just in a matter of minutes. So they they’re required to build these water retention pits and their developments and they didn’t.
And this golf course that was downstream kept flooding and they’d have to shut down and they were losing all of this money. And you’re probably bored with the story already as were most.
Louis Goodman: Falling asleep.
Jared Winter: Exactly. You know, the other jurors were also just bored to tears, but I was riveted really. I loved it.
I loved everything about it. I loved watching. I loved watching the lawyers and comparing their strengths and their weaknesses and their approaches to different witnesses. I loved expert witness testimony, kind of getting a little education about water science. I just thought the whole process was really, really fun to be involved in. I think it lasted about two or three weeks. And by the end of it, I was seriously considering putting in an application to law school and the rest is history.
Louis Goodman: So how long did it take you to put in an application to law school after the jury trial?.
Jared Winter: I had my mind made up by the end of the trial.
Louis Goodman: Where did you end up going to law school
Jared Winter: Cal Western school of law, which is a kind of a smaller private law school in San Diego.
Louis Goodman: I almost went there. I’m very familiar with it.
Jared Winter: Yep. And Diego was a huge part of the draw and deciding to go there. And I’m sure you, as a beachy kind of person, I could see why it would be appealing to you as well.
But yeah, I packed my bags and I went to law school and in San Diego, I really didn’t know a soul when I got there. And overall, you know, I really enjoyed law school. I don’t miss it. I know other lawyers that loved it so much that they wish they could go back to law school.
That’s not me at all, but the academic and intellectual challenge of law school, although stressful, I really found to be kind of invigorating.
Louis Goodman: What did your family and friends think when you said, Hey, I decided I wanted to go to law school, what did people think about that.
Jared Winter: My family was very supportive.
I think the idea of having a lawyer in the family, you know, nobody else has gone to law school in my family. So I was kind of a pioneer on that. I think that was really exciting for them. I remember some of my friends when they, conversation where I really hadn’t revealed that that was what my plan my idea that I had plans to go to law school. And I remember one of my very best friends saying, you know, one thing I could never do is be some douchebag attorney. That’s a job I’ll never,
Louis Goodman: You’re not, well, you’re a good guy attorney because it is a difference.
Jared Winter: Yeah. Well, it really highlights kind of that negative public idea that a lot of people in the public have about lawyers and what we’re like.
Louis Goodman: I know that’s why I’m doing this podcast so that people can listen to it.
They can find out what we’re really like.
Jared Winter: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I love it. I think it’s a great idea.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. When you were in law school, what sort of things interested you in law school?
Jared Winter: So I really went into law school, quite ignorant to what I was getting myself into. And that’s both in terms of what law school itself would be like and what life as a lawyer would be like. Like I said earlier, I didn’t really grow up around other lawyers that I knew very well.
So I didn’t have kind of a firsthand knowledge from somebody about what the day to day life of a lawyer is like.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from law school, what was your first legal job?
Jared Winter: Well, I should say over the course of my legal education, I didn’t really know what type of area I wanted to practice. I had a lot of different interests, but by the third year, the final year of law school, I had really come to the conclusion that I wanted to practice criminal law.
Louis Goodman: Why was that?
Jared Winter: Well, as far as I could tell, it was the most human area of law that you, when you practice criminal law, ugly criminal defense, you’re representing an individual person and you’re fighting for their constitutional rights and their freedom is at stake. I really liked the idea of representing a human being instead of a corporation.
Louis Goodman: So what was your first job?
Jared Winter: I worked for a firm in San Francisco called Morgan Lewis. I was a contract attorney. They’re a big firm. They do big law type cases. The case that I worked on, ironically, maybe appropriately was actually a white-collar criminal case. It was an antitrust case where criminal charges have been brought against our clients.
I had met a public defender and he was second in command in Kern County. I had met him about two years prior at this point. So way back when I was still in law school and I’d met him for about 15 minutes, I met him on campus.
They came down for a recruiting thing and he was a nice guy and I had a nice conversation with him, but I never really took it that seriously because he was in Kern County and that’s just not where I wanted to be. But things were starting to get a little desperate. And so I fired off an email to him, said, Hey, Tony, you probably don’t remember me. I met you a couple of years ago, but I graduated from law school and I passed the bar and I’m looking for work as a public defender. And my phone started ringing about three minutes after I sent that email.
Louis Goodman: Well, maybe he did remember you.
Jared Winter: He absolutely remembered me. And he said, can you come down for an interview?
Absolutely. So I was down there and I had that job. In about two weeks after sending the email.
Louis Goodman: Wow that’s great. So what sort of work did you do? At the Kern County public defenders?
Jared Winter: You know, for somebody who wanted to go into criminal defense, it was really a perfect place to get started because the District Attorney’s Office there is aggressive.
They do a lot of trials and public defender’s office at the time they did offer training, but there was also sort of a trial by the fire aspect to it. There was kind of a, here’s a stack of cases and I mean, a stack of cases, misdemeanors. Go for it. And there was almost a bit of a sink or swim to it. So I dove right in.
I did very well that first year that I was on the misdemeanor team. I tried a lot of cases. In fact, I don’t think I lasted a full year on misdemeanors. I got moved up to do felonies pretty quickly.
Louis Goodman: So how long did you spend at Kern County?
Jared Winter: Well, that started in 2007 and then as we all know, the economy bottomed out in 2008.
So my plan had been to stay there for a year until I got some felony trials and then I was going to leave and either go out on my own or go to a different public defender’s office. And I ended up staying for four years instead of one. And that most mostly had to do with the fact that the economy was so bad, it just gave me cold feet.
It didn’t seem like it was a smart thing to quit. A good paying job that I was at no risk of losing to just kind of take it, take a big chance, a big risk like that. Right.
Louis Goodman: But ultimately you did take it away.
Jared Winter: I did. And as fate would have it, my hand was almost forced. My wife and I were renting a house in Bakersfield again, because we really did not want to tie ourselves down there.
We wanted to somehow make our way back up to the Bay Area and the man that we were renting the house from lost it. And so we had to move and we just kind of thought if we’re going to have to move now is the time to make the big move, which is to just. Go up and make this happen. We’re going to move to the Bay Area.
I’m going to hang up a shingle and cross my fingers and work really hard and make this happen.
Louis Goodman: So when did you do that?
Jared Winter: That was 2011.
Louis Goodman: And have you been in the Bay area ever since?
Jared Winter: Yeah. I’ve worked up here steadily ever since when I first got up here. I just opened a solo practice. I knew very few people up here. So I was, I was doing a lot of just figuring things out on my own and I remained a solo attorney just all by myself for six years and then some opportunities arose. I had already kind of had some experience with being a solo, so that kind of turned me off to it in some way. And so now I work with a firm. And I strongly prefer that kind of a working environment as to being a solo. Well there’s actually a lot of reasons, but one comes to mind is just the brain trust. So if you work in an office with some really top-notch lawyers, you can easily put your heads together on a regular basis to come up with strategies on cases.
There’s just really no substitute for that.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law? I mean, it strikes me that you’re someone who does like practicing law. What do you like?
Jared Winter: I do like practicing law and there’s kind of two things behind that. I like helping people. I know that sounds so generic and kind of cheesy, but yeah.
I do like that aspect of our job. I like helping people who are in dire straits, for whatever reason, even if it’s their own fault that they’re in dire straits. I like finding the humanity in my client and advocating for that. It’s something that’s very gratifying time and time again. That has been a driving force for me in practicing law.
Louis Goodman: The other thing sometimes practicing criminal defense to me, seems like some sort of combination of being a relief pitcher and an emergency room doctor.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, somebody else has really screwed up and now, okay, here you go. You fix it.
Jared Winter: Yeah. I mean, on the criminal side, our clients kind of fall into two buckets.
We either have people that are truly innocent. They’re just flat out. They’ve been falsely accused and obviously you want to help anybody that’s in that situation. And it’s a pleasure to do so. A lot of our clients fall into the bucket of, I made a big mistake and it’s my job to put that in perspective.
And to the extent possible, just kind of do damage control and make sure that they are treated fairly, that they’re given their constitutional rights, not trampled on. That’s also a big motivating factor and something that I believe in very strongly.
Louis Goodman: If someone were, let’s say, graduating from Arizona state, any other college at this point, and they asked you about whether or not they should go to law school. Would you recommend it as a career choice?
Jared Winter: I would recommend it for almost anybody with a big caveat. I look at the study of law as kind of training your brain to look at the world and issues that you encounter in your life in a different framework. And I find that to be incredibly useful. And I think that that would be useful to anyone, whether they actually ended up being a practicing attorney or not.
Louis Goodman: So having some sense of that legal framework, way of looking at things
Jared Winter: 100%, I find that to be incredibly valuable, even outside my work as a lawyer
Louis Goodman: In reference to the legal system do you think that it’s fair? Do you think that it dispenses justice?
Jared Winter: Oh, wow. That’s a big conversation. Is it fair? Is it just? I think the answer that I would give to both those questions is not a very satisfying answer. The answer would be sometimes, you know, law is a human endeavor and it’s prone to all of the fallacies and problems that we humans have.
Louis Goodman: Have you had any mentors in your career, in the system? Tell me about one or two of those people? Why you felt they were mentors?
Jared Winter: I had one mentor. I’ve had several, but I’ve had one official mentor. A good friend of yours, Michael Thorman.
Louis Goodman: Oh, okay.
Jared Winter: Yeah. When I got appointed on a murder case, you know, I was new to the area.
I was new to the County and really wanted somebody who had been through this type of a battle on a local level who had a lot of experience. And Michael and I did know each other before I asked him to mentor me through the case, but not terribly well. We were co-counsel on some, I think it was a marijuana grow case down in Fremont and we just kind of got to know each other that way.
And then I got this murder case and I just asked Michael, will you help me through this?
Louis Goodman: Anybody else?
Jared Winter: Yeah. So Annie Beles is a prominent local defense attorney and she’s a good close friend of mine. And Annie has also always been more than willing to talk through any kind of case with me and offer her advice.
And I’ve gotten to be very good friends with her over the years. And so, without a doubt, Annie is also one of my mentors.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your family life and how practicing law has affected it, if at all
Jared Winter: My wife and I have been married for 15 years. We have two little kids. So we were married quite a while before we actually started having kids.
I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son named Michael and I have a one-year old daughter named Ellie. So I have very little young kids. There’s a lot of challenges with raising kids that age. My wife is extremely supportive of my career, the commitments that I have to that career and the obligations that I have to my clients, I don’t think my kids really understand what I do for a living yet, but that’s good.
Jared Winter: Well, I mean, I think there’ll be one day once they understand it, but you know, right now I think the extent that the understanding is that I put on nice clothes and I leave the house in the morning and then I come home.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. Well, my dad was a lawyer and that was sort of my take on it as well. When I was a kid growing up outside of the law.
And besides drone flying, any other recreational pursuits that you like? I mean, I know you like the outdoors. I know you like to go outside.
Jared Winter: Yeah. So a lot of outdoors, a lot of hiking and the shelter in place during the pandemic has actually made that even more frequent.
Louis Goodman: If there was one thing that you had the power to change in the world, anything in the legal system or otherwise, what do you think that would be?
Jared Winter: Get rid of the Corona virus.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. That would be good for everybody. Wouldn’t it?
Jared Winter: Yeah. That’s an easy one.
Louis Goodman: So Jared, you’ve had a number of different experiences in your legal career, and right now you’re working with a really stellar group of people. I’m wondering if you could just tell us a little bit about that?
Jared Winter: The attorneys that I work with here are a Jules Bon Jour, Megan Burns, Emily Dahm, and Maggie Gahn.
Maggie does some of our misdemeanor cases in the firm and Megan is full time working on our PI cases, the personal injury cases. So for the kind of heavier criminal cases, those really fall on the shoulders of Megan, Emily, Jules, and I. I didn’t know, Maggie and Megan so much, but I knew Jules and Emily.
Before I joined the firm, their reputation, really, it was a big draw for me wanting to join with them. I got to say that I learned something from each one of them on a daily basis. And it’s such a good team of lawyers. It’s really an honor to be a part of. And I really enjoy when we all put our heads together and solve the really serious problems that our clients are facing.
And some of the solutions that we come up together as a team, I just don’t think any one of us would really be able to come up with on our own.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Jared Winter: I’m a worrier Louis. So a lot of things do. And some of them shouldn’t, you know, I worry about my clients because I care about them.
Louis Goodman: Jared Winter, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. I really appreciate your insights. It’s been fun and interesting talking to you.
Jared Winter: Well, thank you for inviting me Louis. It was really a pleasure on my end as well, and I hope you keep doing these podcasts because I really enjoyed listening.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible.
Steve Rubenstein – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Today, we’re doing something a little different on love by lawyer. We’re going to talk to someone who’s not a lawyer. I’m going to be talking to someone who was a reporter for the San Francisco product. I hope they’ll find it.
Steve Rubenstein: Interesting.
Louis Goodman: He’s worked at the San Francisco Chronicle as a reporter and columnist since 1976.
Before that you worked with the Los Angeles Herald examiner. He covered the Patty Hearst trial and he’s written his bicycle from coast to coast. Steve Rubinstein. Welcome to love by lawyer.
Steve Rubenstein: It’s an honor to be with you. I, I do love lawyers, especially when they don’t send me a bill. When I talk to them, which I assume is the case today.
Louis Goodman: No bill for today, but just today only
Steve Rubenstein: where
Louis Goodman: do you work right now?
Steve Rubenstein: I’m on the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle working out of my bedroom right
Louis Goodman: now. You’ve been there for.
[00:01:00] Steve Rubenstein: Yes. I’ve been there since 1976.
Louis Goodman: It seems everybody’s working out of their bedroom these days,
Steve Rubenstein: closer to the coffee machine. Can you
Louis Goodman: tell us what kind of reporting that there is?
That there are different types of reporting?
Steve Rubenstein: Well, I’m what they call a general assignment reporter,
Louis Goodman: which means features there’s columnists. There’s news.
Steve Rubenstein: I’m what they call a general assignment reporter, which right now, which means I am a generalist and I wait for assignments. Uh, there are reporters that cover specific the beats, such as such as education, such as, uh, schools, uh, uh, but, uh, I’m, uh, waiting.
I wait for assignments on a breaking news and I like it better. That way. I don’t really know in the morning when I’m going to be doing on a particular
Louis Goodman: day. How does that editorial assignment process work
Steve Rubenstein: well, an editor digs up something that they think might be in your wheelhouse and passes it on to you and you go out and [00:02:00] try and find stuff out.
It’s just a process of trying to find stuff out and asking questions. Lawyers ask questions that they know the answers to and reporters ask questions that they don’t know the answers to. That’s the primary difference between your racket and my racket, Louie.
Louis Goodman: Speaking of rackets. You’ve also been involved in the teaching ranks.
Steve Rubenstein: I did, I took a few years off from, uh, the San Francisco Chronicle to teach kindergarten. And I found that, uh, sitting on the floor with 20 kindergarten students was very much like sitting in the middle of a newsroom with a hundred reporters. The ambiance was, it was about the same and the level of concentration was about the same.
Louis Goodman: When you taught kindergarten, did you ever bring your kids?
Steve Rubenstein: I did. I subjected, uh, kindergarten students to much the same stuff as I subject readers. So the Chronicle of tube, that’s supposed to end a [00:03:00] sentence with a preposition, Louie. I, which I okay.
Louis Goodman: And that you’re subjecting those of us who are listening to this podcast.
Steve Rubenstein: Oh, I am. I did. I did. I think musical music helps anything. Uh,
Louis Goodman: You’ve also taught at the college level
Steve Rubenstein: a what they call an adjunct at San Francisco state university adjunct means you don’t get very much money for
Louis Goodman: doing
Steve Rubenstein: what, uh, an adjunct means. You don’t get very much money for doing what you ought to get more money for doing, doing for, I ended in another sentence with a preposition Louie.
Louis Goodman: What did you teach?
Steve Rubenstein: I taught introductory journalism and feature writing. I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed giving back to students. I remembered the college classes that I took in journalism and I enjoyed giving back and completing the circle as much as I could. Of course, I, I took classes from professors who knew what they were doing, as opposed to [00:04:00] the classes that my, the professor that my students were taking classes from.
Prom, there’s another preposition.
Louis Goodman: What exactly is feature writing
Steve Rubenstein: while you have a little bit more flexibility in how you tell a story in a traditional news story, you want to get the who, what, where, when, why and how in the first sentence. And, uh, they’re generally shorter, more succinct than a feature story, which has you have a little bit more flexibility in the.
In the telling you still observe the same conventions of the journalism conventions. And in other words, you can’t make stuff up. That’s the main convention. You can’t make stuff up, but within, within the journalism, within the, a feature rate feature story format, you have, you can start a feature a little bit more, slowly, more, more engagingly, more, uh, uh, You have a [00:05:00] little bit more flexibility with your choice of language?
I suppose, I don’t really know. I’ve never made a, a study of what it is that I do. I have a hard enough time doing what it is
Louis Goodman: that I do. And I’m
Steve Rubenstein: not a very, I like reading great journalism stories of the past and trying to make my stories. They inspire me to try to try and be as good myself. I work at the Chronicle, which is a great history.
Of award-winning brilliant Pulitzer prize, winning, uh, reporters. I have worked alongside some of the greatest names in journalism, uh, and I’ve been honored to be friends with them. I. Some names that we’ll have that may have skipped your listeners memory. But, uh, her, when I started at the paper, the legendary columnist herb Kane was very much, uh, I saw him every day names like art, hoppy, and John Wasserman and Charles McCabe and Stan, Della [00:06:00] plain, and, uh, uh, Jerry Nachman, some of the great, great names of Barry journalism.
We’re all wrapped up in the same rubber band with me. And hitting the doorstep at the same moment or this rain puddle at the same moment every morning. And it was a great honor then, and it continues to be great honor to have my stuff up here in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Louis Goodman: Steve, I’ve known you for about 25 years, but well, before I ever met you, I started reading your columns in.
The San Francisco Chronicle with a great deal of amusement. And I’m wondering, uh, if you could talk a little bit about your experience as a column. Well,
Steve Rubenstein: column writing is a little bit different than straight news reporting. Uh, in most daily column, I wrote a column that appeared, uh, four days a week for most of the time that I wrote it.
And it was, uh, I’ve often said that it’s like taking a final exam or every morning in a subject that you [00:07:00] had not studied. And it broke some of the convention reporting, which was, do not write in the first person. Often a column is written in the first person. You still try to keep the focus on the subject matter.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally? Steve?
Steve Rubenstein: I grew up, well, what growing up I did, I did in Los Angeles. Uh, and I went to, I attended college.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school,
Steve Rubenstein: went to Hamilton high school in West Los Angeles. Uh, the same, uh, It’s cool that Karen Bass graduated from and I went to a university of California at Berkeley and got it.
Louis Goodman: What’s the name of the high school you went
Steve Rubenstein: to start there
Louis Goodman: and then you went to college at
Steve Rubenstein: UC Berkeley
Louis Goodman: at Cal Berkeley. Is that right? Is that where you studied journalism,
Steve Rubenstein: journalism among a zillion other things? For a while? I was a premed student, I thought. [00:08:00] And then, but I enjoyed working for the college paper at the same time that I was cutting up rats in the zoology lab.
And I thought that I would be better in a newspaper. I was intrigued by the idea of being a doctor, but I thought I would be a pretty lousy medical student. Um, and I was in joining the. The newspaper. I worked on the college paper and I said, well, let’s just give this a try.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from UC Berkeley, what was your first news job?
Steve Rubenstein: Well, I freelanced for some magazines and then I got a job. I got hired by the Los Angeles Herald examiner, which was the afternoon newspaper in Los Angeles at the time of the number two newspaper after the Los Angeles times, at least number two in circulation. And, uh, I was, I think the youngest guy on staff when they hired me in 1974,
[00:09:00] Louis Goodman: is that when you covered the patio,
Steve Rubenstein: they sent me to San Francisco to cover the bank robbery file of, uh, Patty Patricia Hearst, who was the course of the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, the great publisher and Hearst castle builder.
And, uh, I was in San Francisco for better part of two months while that trial was taking place at the federal building in downtown San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: What was that like? Can you describe what you saw and heard while you were covering the
Steve Rubenstein: pattern? That’s pretty much my first, uh, trial at, I sort of like getting thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool without any swimming lessons.
I was fascinated. I followed it.
I followed every word I was, of course, watching some of the most celebrated, uh, lawyers at the time in action. Uh, ms. Harris was represented by [00:10:00] a fellow named athlete, Bailey who, uh, was, uh, was fairly selled. Well, I’m not going to try and describe the career of mr. Bailey, but it was fascinating to watch him.
Cross examine witnesses. I wrote my stories on a manual typewriter with a ribbon with carbon paper. And this was of course in the pre-computer days. And the newspaper decided that the most economical way for me to get my stories from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles. Was not by reading them over the phone to somebody taking down dictation in the Los Angeles office, which was the most efficient way of doing it.
But which would of course involve the long distance pricey, long distance phone call at the time, there were such things as pricing going just with the phone call. So instead of doing this over the telephone, but Los Angeles Herald examiner instructed me to type the [00:11:00] story out, go down to the Greyhound bus station on Friday night, which was the overnight.
Of an overnight bus to Los Angeles, putting my story in an envelope handed to the bus driver or the baggage guy. And it would be delivered in Saturday morning to the Greyhound bus station, which was a couple of blocks away from the Herald examiner office. This saved the Herald examiner, a couple of bucks on the price of the phone call.
So I was covering the Patty Hearst trial on a manual typewriter with carbon paper. On on newsprint news paper that was handed to a bus driver that was driven to Los Angeles in the middle of the night. I don’t think they do that anymore. In our record,
Louis Goodman: I guess a lot’s changed since then. I mean, it’s really amazing how
Steve Rubenstein: much has changed it, hasn’t changed the who, what, where, when, why and how that hasn’t changed.
Technology has paint profoundly, uh, my manual typewriter, which I, I use. [00:12:00] All the time to write letters to friends, uh, out of a sense of nostalgia, of course, is a nostalgic item, but the, the act of news gathering the act of trying to find out today what you didn’t know yesterday, or the act of trying to find out this minute, what you didn’t know a couple of minutes ago that has not changed and won’t change.
And as the reason I enjoy the work.
Louis Goodman: If a young person was thinking about a career choice, would you recommend journalism to that individual
Steve Rubenstein: at this time it has changed profoundly and the economics of the job has changed profoundly of course, the great, huge staffs of the great, huge metropolitan newspapers have dwindled.
And the number of newspapers have swindled and the huge advertising revenue brought in by print advertising, which was a great moneymaker for the newspapers of the United States. That’s practically disappeared. Some of your listeners may remember the huge [00:13:00] classified advertising sections that paid a lot of the bills around newspapers.
Those are went away almost overnight. Thanks to an outfield outfit called Craigslist. Nobody takes out a classified advertisement anymore to sell a car or a bicycle or a guitar. Uh, A lot of the revenue streams for newspapers went away. And as a result of paper, Paperman salaries, that’s
Louis Goodman: doing the actual work of being a journalist met or different from your
Steve Rubenstein: expectations.
Well, you try not to have too many preconceived notions in, in this business. It’s I have enjoyed, I’ve enjoyed it every day. And I think one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed it every day is by not expecting. Anything other than what I get that particular day, uh, my notion of trying to find things out and enjoying putting words together, those have been met.
[00:14:00] Louis Goodman: What, if anything, would you change about the way the news system works?
Steve Rubenstein: Who would I change or what would I change about the, uh, I don’t think I would change anything. I enjoy. My colleagues, I enjoy the people that are calling the shots. I try to understand them, uh, even when I have a disagreement with them. Um, I don’t know what I would change.
Louis Goodman: Do you think it’s fair and accurate?
Steve Rubenstein: Yes. I think that newspapers and journalism I’ve always been the traditional whipping boys of people that have been in power. Nobody’s ever liked us. I started at my, in journalism, a Hunter, the presidency of Richard Nixon, who had Trump troubles getting along with the people who did what I did for a living.
And he called us all sorts of names. Yeah. And, uh, uh, and [00:15:00] I’m wrapping up my, my newspaper days working under somebody else who had went through an impeachment inquiry. I’ve my. There’s paper. Careers seems to be bracketed by presidents who have had impeachment inquiry.
Louis Goodman: Have you had any mentors in the, in the news business, people that you really admired?
Steve Rubenstein: I have admired my colleagues at the San Francisco Chronicle greatly. If I could throw out a bunch of names to you, that wouldn’t mean anything to your listeners. I admired greatly such columnist as part hoppy very much. He was a. Columnist at the Chronicle in a, in a great, uh, reporter before that general assignment reporter, before that and a mediocre tennis player that I was on the other side of the net, other side of the net from on occasion, I liked dark very much.
I liked, uh, I reported named Kevin Wallace greatly, who was there when my early days walking into the San [00:16:00] Francisco Chronicle, as a young reporter was sort of like walking into a room with all your favorite English teachers. You could learn something from any one of them. And any reporter on any given day had the ability to write something that would knock your socks off and they still do.
Louis Goodman: What sort of travel experience and recreational pursuits do you have?
Steve Rubenstein: Well, I’m a confirmed bicyclist and that confirmed harmonica player. And sometimes I do both at the same time. And I think one of the greatest scams I ever pulled at the San Francisco Chronicle was somehow persuading them that a cross country bicycle ride.
That I did in 19, in 2006 was, uh, could be counted as work. Uh they’d let me write stories about crossing the country on a bicycle much to my surprise. I had asked them for the time off and they said, well, why don’t you write stories about this thing that you’re going to be doing on the bicycle? And I said, well, if I do that, then it’s not time off.
[00:17:00] And the editor said, well, go ahead and do a Bolivian staff on salary for two months to ride your bicycle. Boy, boy, what a deal at.
Louis Goodman: If you came into some real money, say a few billion dollars, what, if anything, do you think you would do differently?
Steve Rubenstein: Absolutely. Nothing. I think though is a great nuisance. Most of the time it’s important to have enough of it.
It’s also important not to have too much of it because I think having way too much of it, it’s just as much a problem with having way too little of it. And it warps your judgment. I like doing what I’m doing. And, uh, one reason I never bought a lottery ticket other than the mathematics is that I wouldn’t know what to do with any more than what I’ve got right now.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, that was one thing in the world and the news [00:18:00] world, or otherwise, what would you change if you could change one thing,
Steve Rubenstein: make people answer the phone on the first ring.
Louis Goodman: Steve Rubinstein. Thank you so much for joining me today on Loveline lawyer, it’s been a privilege to talk to you in this forum.
And even though we’re friends and. We talked to each other all the time. This has been a real experience for me.
Steve Rubenstein: Thanks so much. I’ve enjoyed it. I hope we stay friends after this thing hits the air. I do love my lawyer, even though we’re not supposed to use words
and I am greatly honored to share my thoughts.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s edition of welfare lawyer. Thanks so much to our representative of the fourth estate, Steve Rubinstein. And Francisco Chronicle and thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support at Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman. [00:19:00] .
Nancy O’Malley – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. Nancy is the chief law enforcement officer in Alameda County. First appointed in 2009. She has been elected and reelected in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
The 2018 race being one that was hotly contested, but which she won by an overwhelming margin. She is a nationally recognized expert and advocate for victims of crime, and she has made juvenile victims, women, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, a professional priority. She has prosecuted hundreds of felony cases and personally tried numerous serious violent felony cases to jury verdict.
She has won and been presented with numerous awards and recognitions, as a matter of fact, too numerous to really mention, but I would urge you to simply Google her name and see what comes up. Nancy. O’Malley welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Nancy O’Malley: Thank you, Louis. I’m very happy to be here with you today.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m really honored that you’re participating in this program.
We’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve always admired you and your professionalism.
Nancy O’Malley: You’re very, very kind. I met you before you even before I joined the office. And when I met you and other people, I think you had a party at your house, which I was invited to. And that made me realize that this was a, not just a profession, but comradery and people who supported each other and people who were there to do justice.
And that was exactly what I was looking for in my career.
Louis Goodman: Well, I’m certainly glad you found it in Alameda County. Right now you have the corner office on the ninth floor of the Alameda County courthouse, which as I mentioned in the intro, you are the chief law enforcement officer in Alameda County.
Is that that’s right?
Nancy O’Malley: That’s right. As you know, the building was built when Earl Warren was the District Attorney. And I’m so proud to sit at the desk that Earl Warren actually sat at when he was the DA.
Louis Goodman: Before you were in quite that elaborative a setting. You grew up in Contra Costa County.
Nancy O’Malley: I did.
Louis Goodman: And as I understand it, you were involved in some law enforcement and protection of victims at a very early age. And I understand that one of the things that you used in those days in order to enforce law in Contra Costa County was a garden hose.
Nancy O’Malley: That’s a funny story. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time.
Louis Goodman: I wonder if you could tell us that story.
Nancy O’Malley: After I graduated from college, I was diagnosed with cancer and I needed to move back home to my parents’ house. So while I was having chemotherapy and one night I came home and the cars were parked in the driveway and I heard someone by the car and it was probably 11 o’clock.
So I said something like who’s there. And then I heard rustling and I ran and got the garden hose turned on the water. I’ve got it. I’ve got a hose, I’m going to hose you, if you don’t get away from our cars. And somebody jumped up and ran down the street.
Louis Goodman: Now I understand that when you were 12 years old, you used the garden hose on a prior occasion involving the Connors and the Wards.
Nancy O’Malley: Oh my gosh. How do you know this? So I grew up being a protector and I’m one of nine kids and I was the third oldest and I have a younger brother. So I came around the corner on our little street and we lived in Concord. And these two kids in the neighborhood were trying to beat up my younger brother.
And so I grabbed the hose and I went after them like a crazy woman, even though I was only one [person] and I was swinging the hose, they were swinging the hose, but I grabbed it and I started swinging at them. And then I chased them. They started running and I chased them. They literally jumped through their screen door to get away from me because they knew that if I caught them, I was going to beat them up.
And my mother forced me to go apologize to the mother of these two boys. So I went over to apologize and I said, I’m sorry that I, you know, beat up or hit your kids and that they jumped through your screen door. But if there weren’t such jerks and I wouldn’t have had to do it. And my mother, that’s not exactly an apology.
Louis Goodman: No. Are you originally from Concord?
Nancy O’Malley: Yes, I was born there. My parents are from Boston and they moved out here when my mom was pregnant with me. And so I was born in Concord and we lived there for my part of my childhood. And then we moved to Danville for the rest of it.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Carondelet High School, the girls’ Catholic school in Concord.
Louis Goodman: What was that experience like?
Nancy O’Malley: It was awesome. It’s right across the street from De La Salle High School, which one will know that school, you know, I really loved being in a school where it was all girls, the boys were across the street, but at that time we didn’t share classes with them, but, you know, there was not the kind of posturing and boy and girl energy in the classroom. So it was just a bunch of girls that were learning and having fun. And we had our own territory and I really appreciated that learning environment. And it was also a new and a progressive school, which I also liked very much. And then after school, you know, everybody would mingle the boys and the girls, boys from De La Salle, girls from Carondelet.
But when it came time to studying people were, you know, everybody got down to business in the classroom and that’s great.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to college?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Cal State. Then it was called Hayward now Cal State East Bay. And you know, an interesting story, which I share with a lot of young people who feel like, you know, maybe I’m not the best person.
Maybe I’m not the smartest, whatever, which is all untrue. But I remember there was one nun who was in Carondelet. And she told me, and a bunch of other young women that we weren’t smart enough to go to college. So we should look at secretarial school and things like that. So I had a little pause before I went to college in my adult life.
Louis Goodman: And what did you do during that gap time?
Nancy O’Malley: I had a full-time job and I was, you know, moving quickly in this company. I was the area trainer for all of these people. I was 20 years old and I was training much older people. And one of my friends said to me, you know, why aren’t you in college? Like, you’re smart.
What’s the deal here? And I said, nah, I’m not really college material. And she said, who told you that? And I told her the story. And she said, no, no, you need to go to college. So I did. And I always remind people, especially young people don’t ever let anyone define you. You know who you are and you do what you feel is best for you.
And don’t let teachers or other people pull you down. When you know in your heart that you have a lot of worth and a lot to give.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that that experience of working between high school and college made you more focused or a better college student?
Nancy O’Malley: I think that it did. It certainly opened my eyes up to a much broader population of people.
And the friends that I met at in college were friends that were, that are still, some of them are still my friends. And it also gave me a broader understanding of what adult life looks like. And I appreciated that because when I, in those two years that I was working full time, I didn’t really have an appreciation of the academics, but when I got to college, I realized that there’s a lot more than just having a job.
And I think that that was probably one of the most important lessons from those two years is, you know, you don’t have to just have a job with your education. You can do so much. Your choices are so much greater.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about being a lawyer?
Nancy O’Malley: Well, I when I was growing up, my parents would always say, particularly my mother, oh my God, you should be a lawyer.
Or my dad would say that and they say, Oh, you’re never going to be a lawyer. And when I got to,
Louis Goodman: I don’t mean to interrupt Nancy, but you come from a family of lawyers and, I mean, I come from a family of lawyers. And so I’m just sort of wondering if that affected things in the way you looked at it?
Well, I think that when I was younger and I was declaring to everybody who used to say, you should be a lawyer because of the way I handled myself. And I say, I’m never going to be a lawyer. What happened to me is that I, when I was in college, I became a rape crisis volunteer. And it was when rape crisis centers were first starting.
My father was the District Attorney of Contra Costa County at the time. And he funded those Rape Crisis Centers out of his DA budget. And he came home and told us what he was doing. And I volunteered and I walked into was system that to me was so unjust and so horrible for victims of crime. That I just knew whatever it was I was going to do in my life. I was going to work to change that paradigm of primarily women, but not just women who are the victims of sexual assault are victims of domestic violence were being treated. Like they were making it up or that they weren’t worthy of the system’s support or the justice. And so that really got me on my mind, I mean, I was really there to challenge the system.
I made complaints. I wrote letters to my father’s office, complaining about the way his lawyers were handling cases and I, made complaints to the police departments. About how they were working in interacting with victims of these horrible crimes. And so that was really what started my mind about justice.
And then when I graduated from college, like I said, I was diagnosed with cancer and it was pretty rare form. And nobody quite knew if I was going to live or die. And my doctor, my oncologist, who was at Stanford, the first couple of sessions, he would tell me what we were going to do. And I’d say, well, I don’t really want to do that.
I take the class on Monday. I want to do my chemotherapy on Tuesday. And he’d say, God, you should be a lawyer. And I said, God, you sound like my father. And that year I was applying to law school and thankfully, you know, entered.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Nancy O’Malley: I went to Golden Gate in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman: How was that?
Nancy O’Malley: It was great. First of all, it was 50% women. When most of the other law schools were like five or 10% women. So I liked that there was a strong, equitable environment.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Nancy O’Malley: I worked for a woman who had a small practice in Danville. I was actually a law clerk for her in the summer.
And then when I graduated, and passed the bar, I started working for her as a lawyer and it was a small firm. It was mostly real estate and business law. Our big client was Ken Behring and the whole Blackhawk environment. And so I used to review the contracts for the cars that they were buying, the old cars and the antique ones.
And I realized they were paying more for those cars and they were paying me as a lawyer. And also what I found was that it was just, it was boring. And, you know, the law was interesting, the practice was boring and I thought, this is what you retired to. It’s not where you start your profession.
And so I was very fortunate to have met Dick Iglehart along the way and called up and asked him if I could talk to him.
Louis Goodman: And I guess you did.
Nancy O’Malley: I did. I actually went to him and said, I think I should be a public defender, but I don’t know anyone in the public defender’s office. Can you help me out? And we talked for quite a bit and he said, you know, the way you think you should be a DA, because we need people that think about justice and think about fairness and think about victims and think about, you know, equities to be on the side where the district attorney, where a lot of authority exists.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. You know, I, I just so agree with that. I think that Dick was really a pioneer in that sort of thinking and how way ahead of his time, he was in that kind of thinking of how way ahead of your time you were, in recognizing that kind of thinking. I mean, just now I start reading in the papers about how we need more people who have sort of a humanitarian bent involved in law enforcement and, and this was years ago.
Nancy O’Malley: Yeah. You know, I think that when you see, when you’ve experienced people and, you know, we can look at not only victims of crime. Of course, that was an important focus. Our office, your former office, my office was the first office in the country to have a division just dedicated to helping victims through the process.
Who thought that? Nobody but Lowell Jensen, the former DA, who I think was DA when you were hired,
Louis Goodman: I was the last person that Lowell hired.
Nancy O’Malley: Wow, that’s a distinction. But you know, his theory was I’m sick of victims being treated like evidence, they are people, and we need to start treating people like that.
I mean, that was incredibly progressive. Making sure victims were treated fairly and respectfully and things like that. But also at the same time, how we’ve evolved as we recognize that somebody could be a victim today and potentially a perpetrator the next day, or someone who’s charged with a crime, people come from very unique backgrounds and very different backgrounds.
And you know, that humanitarian component that you talk about, I think is really critical as we recognize all the different dynamics that people experience in their lifetime.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I was listening to somebody, a lot brighter than I am say. The people who are doing the hurting are people who are hurt themselves.
Nancy O’Malley: Yeah.
Louis Goodman: And I think we see that every day.
Nancy O’Malley: I agree. I mean, the fact that we recognize what psychologists have known for years or mental health professional, that people are a product of their childhood.
Louis Goodman: If someone were graduating from college and thinking about a career choice, would you recommend going into law?
Nancy O’Malley: I would. I would. It comes from me who declared many times I would never do it. You know, I think that the law is really about the concrete structure of our society. The law brings order. It brings to some extent, predictability, it brings stability for society.
Louis Goodman: How has practicing law as a District Attorney, and then of course, as the elected District Attorney, how has that met or differed from your expectations of what being a lawyer would be like?
Well, that’s a good question. So I think that my expectations were that you could go in and just work as hard as you wanted and do good. What surprised me was that there was, you know, there was a structure in place that was hard to break in, particularly for a woman. You know, in those days, primarily it was the men who were attorneys and for sure, and District Attorneys, there was kind of this law and order rough and tumble attitude.
And, you know, a lot of when I first joined the office, that the women were often times relegated to the soft crimes, like family support or child abuse. And what surprised me was that you couldn’t just go and be all, although I say that, but then I want to say the caveat to that, I saw that happen and I saw people be held back.
Because they didn’t fit into the norm of this, you know, rough and tumble type attitude. But then I also saw our bosses at the time, you know, Jack Meehan was the DA after Lowell and Jack was really focused on that on order and law and motion and things like that. But he didn’t really interfere with people’s ability to excel and Tom Orloff.
And for sure, Dick Iglehart and then Tom Orloff, the DA, the person who became DA after Jack. You know, they, I think that they understood that they could benefit from the energy and the ingenuity that people like me and people like you were bringing to the office and that we were part of the evolution of the office to be modernized and to be continued to be as effective as it had been.
Louis Goodman: You know, in my intro remarks, I mentioned that you ran for District Attorney and that you got quite the challenge last time out. And I don’t want to relitigate that campaign. And fortunately you were successful in it, in my view, but I’m just wondering if you could just talk a little bit about what it feels like running for office.
You know I did it myself, not as successfully as you have, and I found it to be a very different experience than anything else that I’ve ever had in my life. And that it’s hard to explain to someone who’s never done it. So I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about your experience.
Nancy O’Malley: Sure. So, you know, I mean I look at my career and I do my job. The purity of heart, I’ll say, and I don’t mean to say so, you know, goody two shoes about it, but I come to work to make sure that all the things that I value in life, helping people. Running for election is has almost nothing to do with that.
You know, there are accusations that can be made that are false and there’s almost no way to correct it or to respond to it. You know, they say if you’re denying, you’re lying or something like that, it’s frustrating experience because if you could just get up and have a solid debate about philosophy or about practice and it was respectful and dignified, then it would be very exhilarating, but it’s not like that at all.
The campaigns now are ugly and they’re aggressive. I never took the low road. I kept reminding myself, Michelle Obama said, when they go low, we go high. And I did my best to stay above the fray and the personal attacks. And so that’s the first thing is that you just think, God, people like me, but out here, I feel like I’m the enemy of the people.
If you listen to my opponent, the other part of it is that it’s just so money driven. That of course, you know, you have to campaign, you have to get put information out, you know, things like that, but there’s a lot of outside money that infiltrates into these races.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, that’s what really shocked me about that campaign was how much outside money came, flowing into it.
Nancy O’Malley: It was insane. And I mean, I stayed on the path because I never looked at some of the flyers that were being put out, because I knew if I did, I would either feel upset and feel defeated or I’d want to go fight. And I mean, fight as in like beat the heck out of someone. Exactly. But I wanted to stay my one foot in front of the other, such that I kept telling myself one foot in front of the other state on your path.
But there was so much money and so much distortion and such you know, just a lack of recognition of the things that we’ve done. I mean, Alameda County DA’s office has always been progressive for its time.
Louis Goodman: What sort of mentors have you had over the course of your career?
Nancy O’Malley: I will say my first major mentor was my dad who, you know, even when he did not have his career in the DA’s office, he was in and out.
He loved doing trials. But he had eight kids. And so our nine kids and my mother said, you can’t make $300 a month. You need to go get a job. As a real lawyer, he always was brought back to the DA’s office. He started the Public Defender’s Office in Contra Costa. And yeah, and I used to go with them just, you know, when there’s that many kids, you find your time.
So I would say to him, he’d go to work on Saturdays, and I’d hang out with him. And you know, I’d read books, read, talk about the law, or you talk about circumstances. And so watching him, how he ran his office, how he worked and did a lot in the community also was my first real mentor.
The other mentors I’ve had, I have to say Tom Orloff was probably one of the best mentors I had in terms of leadership and guidance. And, you know, I’m probably more, definitely more animated than he is. But he’s very thoughtful and very strategic and very calculated in a healthy way, in a good way.
And it taught me a lot about when you’re sitting in the chair of the DA, the District Attorney, you know, you can’t be the hot head and run down and try every case, which I love trying cases. So he was a great mentor. And then I’ve had other really strong women that have guided me, Carol Corrigan was just amazing to watch a strong woman, good sense of humor at the same time balance in her life and not afraid to go for it and, you know, put herself out there. And so, you know, there were a lot of people, Buzz De Davega was a great mentor. He was a great friend. He was a wonderful guy, but he was so smart and so sophisticated in strategies, trial strategy. That I learned a lot from too, about trying cases. And, you know, I think that being, having friends like that, and you know, you, you were a little bit ahead of me, but we were in the same crowd, having these people that had that kind of experience and they were successful and smart, and they understood the law.
We got like a college degree in our first couple of years in the DA’s office, because we were friends with them and we got to sit at their feet, so to speak and listen to them, talk about how to do things and how to make an argument and how to try cases and stuff. And I was really, really blessed that I had those relationships.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, me too. I mean, Buzz was, as you well know, one of my great mentors.
Nancy O’Malley: And a great friend to you.
Louis Goodman: Great friend. Yeah, absolutely. How’s your family life been? How does that work in terms of being an elected official and being very, very busy and active in the community?
Nancy O’Malley: Well, my husband, is now retired, I was single for a very long time, was married when I was younger and that didn’t work out. I was single for a long time. And that was really when my career was my highest priority. then I met this wonderful guy who was perfect for me. And I think I for him, we’re a little bit older when we met and got to know each other and eventually got married, he was working in the banking industry and so he worked nights and when I would come home he would be gone for work to work. And when I got up in the morning, he would be, I go work out. And when I came back, he’d already be asleep. So I used to say, when I was younger, I need to marry an athlete. Who’s gone a lot of the times so I cannot have the distraction.
I can just, yeah, my career. And then when I got to a certain age, I said, well, I can’t have an athlete. Yeah. Now I need a coach. Like one of those professional coaches who’s gone all the time. And then I ended up marrying a guy who worked nights.
Louis Goodman: What other things do you like to do? Recreational pursuits travel, that sort of thing.
Nancy O’Malley: I do travel a lot. When I was in the DA’s office, someone gave me good advice, which was trying to take, to be gone, like go really, go away from the office for your vacation. And so I started going to Paris and I rented the same apartment for 20 years and I went the same time of year. And it was so invigorating first I loved Paris.
I mean, who wouldn’t, but I became very comfortable and very familiar. And it’s a place where you could walk everywhere.
Louis Goodman: Do you speak some French?
Nancy O’Malley: I do speak French. I mean, I’m better when I’m there, but when I was going there every year, I was very good. I used to tell people I can have a conversation, but I might not be able to get out of jail.
Louis Goodman: Well it’s a good thing you didn’t get arrested.
Nancy O’Malley: And then, I’ve traveled to Europe a lot and I’ve been to South Korea. I’ve been, but you know, just different places like that. I, I really liked to, be able to get that separation. Though I never really separated. I check my emails at night or something, but also during, just in my regular life, I mean, we both swim.
So we swim. I don’t swim during the week, but I swim on the weekends and we like to take walks and we have dogs. I have two dogs that, you know, are just great. Animals are great companions. They actually, the older one, he’s three now, but I had him when I was running for election and I would come home at night, sit on a chair, just, you know, kind of spent and he’d come over and just put his head on my knee and just sit there.
And I thought, okay, these dogs, these are great dogs. They’re great.
Louis Goodman: Yeah We have dogs too, and, and we have a little, little embroidered pillow and it says your dog loves you even when no one else does.
Nancy O’Malley: I’ll attest to that. Absolutely
Louis Goodman: Say you came into some real money, like $3 or $4 billion just dropped into your lap.
What, if anything, would you change about your life?
Nancy O’Malley: I would fund foundations for one thing. We have a family justice center, , which I created 15 years ago, and I would fund that thing so that there was money for anybody who needed help, that we would be very highly in doubt. I would, there’s a hotel in Oakland that I would love to acquire too.
It’s an old historical landmark right on Harrison Street. And when I first looked at this hotel on the outside, it’s inscribed dedicated to the nobler womanhood in 1926. And it was a hotel built for women, has 93 rooms, and I would buy that and I would fund, I would pour money into places like that, so that women and children don’t have to be on the street or they don’t have to stay in a violent environment kind of thing.
I mean, that’s what I would do with my money. I would travel. I would probably buy houses for all my nieces and nephews, but, you know, I think that’s the kind of stuff I would want to endow these programs that I focus on so that when I’m done, when I’m not doing this anymore, when I’m too old to do it, or I die that they don’t have to hope a new leader comes along and has the same values or, or wants to protect the same programs that I protect.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal or otherwise, what do you think that would be?
Nancy O’Malley: What would that be? If I had a magic wand I’d end this COVID pandemic right now.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that would be greatly appreciated by everyone.
Nancy O’Malley: I mean, I think that I was at a funeral this morning for a Deputy Sheriff who died from COVID. At the courthouse, we all know him, wonderful guy. And you know, I now know a couple people who have died from COVID and more people who have thank God survived, but, you know, I would, that’s one thing I would do is try to get rid of the health issues. I was at a dinner one night on a foundation board that I sit on and there was a doctor who’s doing a lot of research in breast cancer, and we raised money for his research and he declared that he, with the work they’re doing that, they would find a cure of breast for breast cancer within 10 years.
And he was very confident in his declaration. And I think that, you know, those types of illnesses that they’re so close from a research perspective to making no longer be a death sentence when someone gets it, you know, that’s my magic wand.
Louis Goodman: Nancy, I know that you have lots of things going on in your office.
Can you give us a specific of one project that you’re really interested in right now?
Nancy O’Malley: Yes, I, four years ago, I created a working group in the office. It’s called the fair and equitable policing and prosecution working group. And we’ve spent the last couple of years really tearing ourselves apart to expose or uncover any implicit bias, to look at ways in which we are eradicating racism or race based decisions. Really making our office be a race neutral and fair and equitable to everybody with whom we deal with. The new part of that project is to create an advisory committee from the community and bring people in from the community to look at what we’re doing around those issues, and advise us. That’s a project that I’m very active, excited about. And we, the rules for the people that were serving on that, my working group was that you had to tell the truth, you had to speak up. It was nobody repeated what went outside the room. So people felt like they could talk honestly.
And we had to, we had to continue moving forward. That there was no complacency in this working group. And that’s what I’m looking for with people from our community who bring diversity to us and help to educate us and influence us in our, in the way we manage the important work that we do.
Louis Goodman: Nancy O’Malley. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been really fun talking to you. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we see each other from time to time. And this has been a real experience in being able to talk to you on the pod.
Nancy O’Malley: Thank you, Louis. Thank you so much for inviting me.
And I’ll just say that. You know you were one of the people I knew when I joined the office and I watched you and I learned from you and I’m so glad that we still have a relationship and a friendship. And it’s a pleasure when you come into court, it’s a pleasure to deal with you. And it’s great talking to you.
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer, many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make this show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman
Nancy O’Malley: It takes a lot of fortitude to hang in there when all of this craziness and bad stuff happens.
David Lim – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. Today we welcome David Lim. He’s a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney.
He’s the former Mayor of the City of San Mateo. And he’s been an educator. Please help me welcome David Lim. Mayor David Lim, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Thank you so much for being here. And I’m very honored that you’re talking to me today.
David Lim: Hi, Louis. It’s good to be here. Glad to be on your podcast. Thanks for inviting me.
Louis Goodman: What was it like being Mayor of a city in the Bay area?
David Lim: It was a lot of fun. You know, I ran for the city council of San Mateo in 2006. I won, and I served two terms, so a total of eight years, and in San Mateo, we rotate the Mayorship position. So. I was selected by my colleagues to be Mayor in 2013.
And again, in 2017 and I had a wonderful time doing it.
Louis Goodman: What made you decide to get into city politics to begin with?
David Lim: You know, I started when I was still working for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. In San Mateo, like many smaller cities in California, city council is a part- time position.
So I had gotten involved in my community serving on a City Commission. I was on the neighborhood watch board for the City of San Mateo and when one of my City Council members who I adored, decided to retire and left a spot open, it just sort of was a natural progression for me to decide, to run for City Council.
And my boss at the time, Tom Orloff gave me his blessing to, you know, do this part- time gig. And I ran and I had a lovely time doing it, but it really was just a sense of community involvement that made me seek out the City Council Seat.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally David?
David Lim: So I grew up in Montebello, California, which is a small suburban town in Los Angeles County, kind of near East LA.
And I was born and raised in the same house for 17 years until I left for college.
Louis Goodman: And what high school did you go to?
David Lim: So, the name of the high school was very strange. It’s called Schurr High school. Like, you know, for sure, but it’s spelled S C H U R R. It’s named after George Miller Schurr, who was an administrator the Montebello Unified School District. And I don’t know what he did to get a school named after him, but he did something. And so he’s got a school named after him. No one else has ever heard of this man.
Louis Goodman: And after you graduated from Schurr, where did you go to college?
David Lim: So I went to UCLA for undergrad, got my bachelor’s degree in political science.
And then I did another year to get a master’s degree in education. Also, UCLA.
Louis Goodman: Did you teach for a while?
David Lim: I did. So my first career was not the law. I was a school teacher in Los Angeles Public Schools. I taught for about three years. I taught Middle School History. I actually taught two years of middle school.
And then I did a year as an adjunct Professor at UCLA, helping to teach in their Teacher Ed Program. So a total of three years in education.
Louis Goodman: What made you start thinking about going to law school?
David Lim: So I had actually gotten into a PhD program at UCLA after my second year of teaching. They said, UCLA approached me, my old professor and said, we really like what you do.
We’d like you to come full time to the faculty at UCLA, but you need to have a Doctorate Degree. So I got into a doctorate program at UCLA. I was going at night. While I was teaching and it almost just about killed me. I was 23 at the time I was young. I was teaching all day and going to classes all night.
I had no social life and I literally looked in the mirror about two months into the program and thought, is this really what I want to do with my life? And I love teaching. I love being in the classroom, but it was just too much. And I thought, you know what? I always wanted to go to law school. I still have that desire to go to law school.
If I don’t go now, I won’t go. Because after about five years in teaching or anywhere in a job, you might kind of get settled in. So I said, I’m going to go to law school. And so I quit the teaching job. I dropped out of the PhD program. I packed up my truck, moved to the East Coast for a year, worked on Capitol Hill while I took the field and got my applications in.
Literally just sort of caroused and worked and had a good time in DC until it was ready to come back to time to come back and go to law school.
Louis Goodman: Where did you work for in DC?
David Lim: So I worked for the late Congressman Robert Mitsui. He was a democratic Congressman out of Sacramento. Great man, great mentor. He actually went to the same law school.
I went to Hastings law school. So when I was applying, he gave me a lot of good advice about, you know, which law schools to apply to what he did with the practice of law. He passed away in early two thousands, but he was a great guy to work for.
Louis Goodman: He was a real mentor to you.
David Lim: He was a mentor.
Yeah. He was a nice guy.
Louis Goodman: When you went back to Washington, did that sort of peak your interest in politics as well?
David Lim: You know, I’d always sort of been interested in politics, but that, yeah, it really did give me the first taste of how to do politics effectively. You know, I went there without a job and I basically walked the halls of Congress banging on doors, dropping off my resume.
Then I came back to law school. Yeah. I came back to East, came back to California, moved to the San Francisco Bay area. I chose San Francisco because it reminded me the most of an East coast city. And I’d had so much fun in DC I didn’t, I wasn’t ready to go back to Los Angeles.
So Hastings was a good school. They accepted me.
Louis Goodman: What was your experience in law school? How did you like Hastings?
David Lim: I did not like Hastings at all. To be honest with you. I thought, you know, after my time as a teacher and then I’m working in DC, going back into graduate school and being told what to think and when to do things was a little, little hard.
So, I, you know, fought the system a lot. I would ask a lot of questions that really had nothing to do with anything about the study of law and were more kind of policy, social justice issues. I was not intimidated by my professors, you know, when they tried that whole Socratic method, if I, you know, did the reading and didn’t understand it.
And they asked me a question, I would say, I had no idea what you’re talking about. And I think over time they grew to respect me because they realized, Oh, wait, this guy, you know, he’s in his mid-twenties, he’s not, you know, some newbie out of undergrad, he’s got some world experience. And so I actually ended up becoming friends with a lot of my professors, but the beginning was rough.
I didn’t like the competitive nature of, you know, everyone worrying about their grades so much. I really thought you should be learning about justice and you know what it meant to be a good moral lawyer. But, yeah, Hastings was very, very cutthroat.
Louis Goodman: When you got out of law school, what was your first legal job?
David Lim: So I’ve only had three legal jobs. The first one that I did for almost 20 years was as a prosecutor for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. I did a short break, about 13 years in, I moved over to the Santa Clara County DA’s Office, which has a whole, we can do a whole podcast just on. The politics of moving district attorney’s offices.
It didn’t take so after 18 months there, I moved back to Alameda. I lasted another, Oh, probably six, seven years in Alameda. And then I retired. Last year in 2019, opened my own private practice, did that for a year. And now I’m at a firm called Richards, Watson & Gershon, which does public law, representation
Louis Goodman: When you were in the district attorney’s office, can you tell us about, any notable experience that you had there, whether it was a specific case or just an experience having been there.
David Lim: Yeah. You Louis, you and I were in the trenches together. I know that the listeners are podcasts don’t know that, but you and I have been friends for a long time.
You were always one of the good guys, but you were a defense attorney who fought hard for his clients and you know, you and I could probably sit for three hours and tell stories of funny things that happened to us and to our clients, both victims and defendants. But I will tell you, I have to. I have a number of good stories.
I have nothing, but really good memories of being a District Attorney for Alameda County. The very first.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, me too, by the way. You know, I was in the DA’s office years ago and it was a great place to work. Really great.
David Lim: Yeah. It was, it was, it’s the two stories that stick out the most. If I had to pick, you know, One or two.
So the first one was, you know, I’m a brand-new DA. I work at the old Berkeley, Berkeley Municipal Court. It’s not there anymore. This was before they consolidated all the courts into Superior Courts. And, so I had a Berkeley Municipal Court. I was doing the misdemeanor calendar and jury trials in Berkeley, which is, you know, kind of like if you’re a Prosecutor, it’s probably the most unfriendly venue to be dropped in as a new District Attorney because it’s very liberal and they are very, you know, even back in 1999, when I started black lives matter had not even come onto the scene yet, but there was a very high, suspicion on any government prosecution agency.
And my very first case, literally the first week I had, you know, I hadn’t even sat down and warmed up my seat yet. I get handed a case to take out to trial. It’s a case involving, the old Albany Bulb. The park and rec area out there. Probably every 10 years, Albany gets a bee up their bonnet and they say, okay, we want to clear all the homeless people out because we want to develop it into housing or a park or whatever they want to do.
So back then they were in one of their moods and they wanted to, clear out the bums. So they did, there was a man there named Michael Smith, who was this eccentric, you know, homeless guy. And he had, he was an artist and he built this wonderful native American teepee painted, and they basically bulldozed it.
And they forced him out and they charged him with trespass and it was a political case because they needed to make an example of someone and they had decided to pick on poor Mr. Smith. I get this case for jury trial. I’m looking at it and going, this is not why I became a District Attorney. I did not become a District Attorney to pick on you know, homeless guys who just want to live somewhere and have this beautiful teepee that the city bulldozes down seemed crazy to me, but you know, I was brand new and I needed the job. And, my boss explained to me that, you know, sometimes you get marching orders and you got to follow them and you know, he was in violation of the law.
So I screwed up my courage. I had no idea how to pick a jury. I had no idea how to make In Limine motions. I just went in there. I literally got my butt handed to me, I think it was like a 20-minute acquittal where people said, how can the city do is to this poor man? And so I fulfilled my constitutional obligations as a prosecutor.
Luckily things got better. I started handling, you know, real cases after that, where people had committed real crimes, but I’ll never forget that one. Cause he was a really nice man. He would talk to me while we were on breaks and he at one point said, Oh, I know you’re just doing your job. You know, no harm, no, no hard feelings.
And he was so nice and he really made it better for me to feel like, you know, he was going to be okay. So I felt okay. And you know, you, and I know it was a misdemeanor trespass, even if he had been convicted, he wasn’t going to do any time. It was more just a political statement. So that was kind of an eye-opening kind of fun first experience, a very low stress jury trial.
One more story. So yeah, the other story was a little more serious, but again, it’s fine. It’s sort of the gallows humor that Louis you and I have, right. As being in criminal law. If you practice it for any amount of time, you take it seriously, but you also kind of have to laugh at some of the weirdness that goes on. Otherwise you’ll go crazy. So this was a case, it was a very serious case. It was an attempted murder, assault with an assault rifle. A young man basically decides he’s going to kill his rival. He walks up on a van that he thinks contains his rivals, starts shooting a Mac 11 or some sort of semiautomatic weapon at the van, just lights up the van. Peppering it and you’re right with bullets, such a bad shot. He hits the van. Luckily doesn’t kill anybody. Thank God. But it also turns out that the van is full of people. He knows his friends, his rival was not in the van. It was just like six people who all knew. One of them jumps out of the van and started screaming, Mooky, Mooky. It’s me. Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. And he gets hit in the ankle for his trouble. So that’s the worst injury thing. Thank goodness. But during the trial, we basically call all six witnesses and because all six witnesses are friends of the defendant, they were reluctant witnesses, uncooperative witnesses, I think you and I used to call them and, The defendant for some odd reason, decides that instead of just sort of appealing to the friendship of his friends, to tell them, you know, to not cooperate with the prosecutor, he decides to go strong arm tactic.
So he has three guys come into court every day and sit in the audience and basically glare at the witnesses as they’re coming in and glare at them while they’re on the stand. And this has the effect of them all, not suddenly not remembering what happened. But I’m able to impeach each of them with their statements.
And so it goes very well for me. Cause a jury is watching these, you know, thugs in the audience mean mug my witnesses and they can put two and two together. And it was a very quick trial. And I remember that attorney yelling at his guy saying, you gotta get these guys out of here. You know, you they’re ruining the case. You’re going to, you’re going to get convicted so fast. And of course, nobody listened. So the funny part of the story is they’ve done this to, you know, three or four of my witnesses. I got two or three more left to go. We’re coming back from a lunch break. I come into the hallway of the old Rene C. Davidson courthouse, which is you, and I know you come up the elevator and you come into an hallway and you’re kind of locked on the floor and the courtroom doors are on either side of the hallway. Well, the courtroom doors were locked because we were coming back from lunch and I was a little early and I wanted to sit out there and, you know, go over my notes for the afternoon session.
And the witnesses are downstairs in our office with our inspectors so that, you know, they’re kind of being kept safe because of these guys walking around and we didn’t want some sort of altercation that could pop off. So I’m sitting there alone in this hallway, the courtroom doors are locked.
There’s nowhere to go. I’m sitting on a bench, the elevator door opens and two of the guys come in. Two of the thugs come in. And they see me and they come over, they sit right next to me on either side of me, clearly in an effort to intimidate me. And they’re just sitting there and I’m thinking, okay, what am I going to do?
I’m you know, I’m alone. My police officer inspector’s downstairs. If these guys suddenly decide to wail on me, there’s not a darn thing I can do about it. If I scream, I don’t think anyone’s going to hear me. But then I think they’re not dumb enough to attack a prosecutor in a courtroom. Are they? But you and I Louis know that everything happened they didn’t, you know, they’re not the smartest bananas of the bunch of they’re trying to intimidate witnesses.
So I’m literally there sitting there with them for about 30 seconds. And finally, I decided, you know what, I’m just going to, I got to play tough. I gotta play tough if I don’t who knows what can happen. So I turned to them and I said, I’m very polite. I don’t yell at them, but I said, gentlemen, can I help you?
I said, because you know that I’m the District Attorney. And is there anything that I can answer? Any questions I can ask for you to answer for you? Anything at all that I can help you with? I just want to let them know that I wasn’t scared of them. I was trying to just act confident and it’s hilarious because they kind of look at me for a second and then they go, Oh my God.
We’re so sorry. We thought you were the next witness. We did not know we do for a guy. You were the District Attorney. It’s our bad. We would never they’re like we don’t meet. We would never try to do anything to the District Attorney, man. We’re so sorry. It was it all good. And I’m looking at them like, first of all relief that I’m not about to get beat up, but to being like you guys gotta be the dumbest people ever. I’ve never met, like we’ve been trialed out for a week and that, and you’ve seen me as asking these people questions, but maybe they were so fixated on it. The witnesses they never took notice of me, which is the only thing I can think of.
But the funniest part was they became so nice. They were like, Oh, we’re so sorry. Oh, you know, we didn’t mean it. You mean last week I on the, and they left and I thought in their mind signs, intimidating a witness. Okay. But intimidating a DA is not like that’s a weird. That’s a weird line to have, right. A weird line.
Not to cross you figure if you’re going to do me a witness. What does it matter to intimidate the, but I thought it was hilarious because after that, they were kind of nice to me. See me and they’d sort of wave kind of smile and then go back to intimidate witnesses. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, well, everybody’s got their job. You know, the judge has got a job. You’ve got a job. Attorney’s got a job. That’s nice. That’s their job to intimidate witnesses.
Louis Goodman: You left the district attorney’s office and went into practice for yourself. Yes.
David Lim: For a year or two.
Louis Goodman: And what sort of practice did you have at that time?
David Lim: So I left office, took my pension. I’m 50 and I had one of those old timey pensions. That’s really good. So I’ve turned 50. I’m like, I’m going to take that good old timey pension and opened my own practice focused mostly on criminal defense work, I would say about 80% criminal defense. And then I was trying to build up a land use, civil practice from my time as a city, a city council member.
Cause I really enjoyed a local municipal law. I enjoy watching our city attorney work and I thought I want to do that. That’s kind of fun.
Louis Goodman: How did it feel going from the District Attorney’s Office over to the criminal defense side?
David Lim: You know, it wasn’t as hard a transition as people would think. I think people always think that for a prosecutor, the hardest part is interacting with your client who is now the defendant.
And I never really thought that was an issue. Even as a prosecutor, I was probably one of the more liberal prosecutors you’d ever meet. I mean, you heard my story of Michael Smith, the teepee guy and sort of the sympathies I had for him. To me, there was always a thin line between a person who was a defendant and a person who was the victim.
A lot of times it boiled down to who drew their gun first.
Louis Goodman: Were most of your cases in San Mateo County?
David Lim: I would say, yeah, the large portion were in San Mateo County. I did a few with our good friend, Jack Noonan. He’s a very prominent well-respected defense attorney in Alameda County. Nice guy.
He had some cases he needed help with, so I worked with Jack on a few cases, but you know, it’s hard driving from San Mateo to Dublin. It’s a long drive.
David Lim: Yeah. I mean, yeah, the, before times now you just go on to the blue jeans and you appear, and your microphone doesn’t work and that’s a whole another set of problems.
Louis Goodman: I’m wondering if your experiences coincide with mine, which is people tend to, I think, to get in trouble with the law, mainly because they’re either drinking or using drugs or both.
David Lim: I would say that’s absolutely fair, you know, or if they just have bad decision making processes, you know, you go through the mind and you talk to your client and you’ve done this a hundred times more than I have thousands of times more than I have.
But I agree with you that the, the trigger factor for most crimes is some sort of substance abuse, you know, but I think socioeconomic status plays a large role in it that. You know, if you are financially insecure, if you’re housing insecure, it leads to a lot of stress which can lead to poor decisions because of the stress that you feel that you need provide for your family.
And you make decisions which ended up not, you know, being the best choice.
Louis Goodman: Well, do you, do you think that the, that the legal system is fair or dispenses justice, or do you think it’s unfair and doesn’t dispense justice?
David Lim: See, I’m used to talking to those who don’t know. I mean, this is the secret that we can release to your listening audience, that prosecutors and defense attorneys, at least the good ones on both sides, we get along.
Right then, would you agree? I mean, like if you had a client, if I was still a prosecutor and you were the defense attorney and you had a client that you absolutely believe was innocent, you would do everything in your power to acquit him. You would come at me with every tool in your legal arsenal, but at the end of the day, we would go get lunch.
We might hang out. We might even see each other in Tahoe, skiing and talk and hang out with our families. That’s a secret that I think people who watch Law and Order don’t understand is that you know, it’s important in the system for the system to work for there to be good relationships between prosecutors, defense, attorneys, judges, court staff.
And so to answer your question, I am not avoiding your question. My point is I think that our system, our American judicial system is the best system in the world. Hands down for dispensing justice, but like every other construct, it is a human made construct. And so it is still susceptible to the prejudices and foibles of are very humanistic.
Louis Goodman: if someone was, just starting out in their career, someone was in college and asked you about going to law school. Would you recommend the law as a career for a young person?
David Lim: Yeah, that’s a loaded question because on the one hand I’ve had a great career. I have had no complaints.
That’s paid for my house. It’s allowed me to have a very privileged lifestyle with my family and we are never wanting for anything. You know, I would say it’s not for everybody, you know, I think you have to go on with a clear mind of what it is that you want to do. I think the advice I’d give to people, in fact, I gave this advice to my niece because she’s starting law school this fall and the advice I give young people is, you know, law’s a wonderful career. It teaches you wonderful skills in terms of analytics, in terms of thinking and negotiating and parsing down issues. But you shouldn’t do it just because you want to make a lot of money. Because I think if you go into law thinking, Oh, I want to make a lot of money. You’re going to be miserable. You’re going to go to the highest paying job that you can find, which is probably going to be some firm. But if you’re not passionate about it, you’re quickly going to become disenchanted.
Louis Goodman: What one thing would you like to change if you had the power to do it?
David Lim: Wow, that’s a great question.
So in terms of societal health, I think the one thing I could change would do, I would improve our education system.
Louis Goodman: David Lim. Thank you very much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. We’ve known each other for quite a while. I certainly learned some things about you today that I didn’t know before.
So thank you very much for being so open about it.
David Lim: I enjoyed being on your podcast, Louis. I wish you the best of luck and that’s nice to hear from me. Always. Good to talk.
Zach Thompson – Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman: Today Love Thy Lawyer talks to Zach Thompson. Zach is the President of MediaSmack, a company that focuses on website development for lawyers and for assisting lawyers and law firms in gaining marketing advantage. We’re going to talk about a few different subjects, including website design, SEO campaigns, pay per click advertising, online marketing and internet best practices.
And we’ll touch on a host of other law, business and marketing issues. We’ll also discuss some strategies for dealing with these kinds of marketing and law business issues. Full disclosure. I’ve worked with Zach and Media Smack for years, and they’ve put together the LouisGoodman.com website.
Zach Thompson welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Zach Thompson: Thank you, Louis. I’m actually really excited to be here.
Louis Goodman: Good. So tell me a little bit about your background, where you grew up, where you went to school, what your education is.
Zach Thompson: Sure, so I was actually born in West Texas and as a preteen, I ended up moving out to Northern California.
We lived everywhere from the Central Valley to Sacramento. And then about two years ago, we decided to move back to Dallas.
Louis Goodman: So you’re living back in Texas now?
Zach Thompson: I am, yes. I live about 30 minutes, right outside of Dallas.
Louis Goodman: And you work for a company called Media Smack. And matter of fact, you’re the president of Media Smack.
Is that correct?
Zach Thompson: That’s correct. Yes. We started Media Smack back in 2013 and originally I started it with a good friend of mine who had worked with, at other companies. And about two years ago, I ended up buying him out. And now I’m the sole president.
Louis Goodman: You and I met, and I have this uncanny ability to remember just about everyone, my first encounter with them. And my first encounter with you was at a restaurant in Jack London Square, Scott’s, where you had invited me and a number of other attorneys to a business lunch to discuss what was then really the cutting-edge technology of. lawyer websites and SEO campaigns. And you were working for another company at that time.
Do you recall that?
Zach Thompson: I was, yes. I do remember that day. Yes. I was working at Lexus Nexus, the division of Martindale Hubbell that was doing similar items to what we do now, Media Smack, and yeah, I will always remember. You have a great memory and you were always what I considered more of the cutting-edge lawyers as well.
Louis Goodman: Well, thank you. So what exactly does internet marketing entail? And can you walk us a little bit through the setting up of the website and the SEO process and tell us what exactly is SEO? What does that stand for?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So SEO stands for search engine optimization. All that basically means in so many words is that when someone goes to do a search on the internet, let’s say through a search engine like Google, when you’re doing a search, they’re going to have results that pop up. What search engine optimization is, is there’s some ads that’ll pop up on most searches. Let’s say for a lawyer, you’ll have some maps settings that pop up as well beneath those advertisements.
And then you’ll have the organic section that comes up underneath. And so there’s really three ways that somebody can be found when you do a search result. That’s what search engine optimization is in a quick rundown.
Louis Goodman: When you design a website. Do you think about the search engine optimization in designing the website and what goes into that design?
Zach Thompson: Sure. It’s really important when you’re developing a website, obviously there’s two rules of thumb. There’s one where the consumer, what the consumer is going to see what the client, what one of our personal clients let’s say, wants to have their site look like. And that’s from the user experience standpoint.
Now, the other part you have to think about is the design. The speed, how it’s built again, back to user experience, but you have to think about how am I going to optimize this site? How am I going to make sure that Google reads it? Because that’s really what it is. Google’s reading and crawling all over your site to make sure that you can come up well for a particular search.
And so you have to make sure that there’s, hundreds of factors that go into building out a website the appropriate way. And it’s really important that you’re following those best standards and best practices from Google.
Louis Goodman: I know you’ve talked to me about this a little bit. I can’t say I’ve ever really completely understood it, but there’s certain backend things and kind of invisible pages in a well-constructed website is that correct?
Zach Thompson: There are anything from, to make it simplistic. Anything for me, even having, let’s say with your practice, you’re a criminal defense lawyer. And so you have your criminal defense practice. And then within that, even as in building out a website, if I was talking about your domestic violence page or DUI page, any other sub area of practice page, those have to be structured in a format that makes it easy for Google to read, because what we see is this wonderful website.
On the backend, what Google sees is a bunch of different code. And so you have to make sure the code, the structure, et cetera, is all submitted the appropriate way in order to number one rank. Well, but number two, give off a good user experience because without a good user experience, Google really is not giving you as much push towards the top of the page as others.
Louis Goodman: Zach, can you tell me a little bit about online marketing and how that works?
Zach Thompson: Sure thing. So a lot of different component can be done online. We talked briefly about having a website, having search engine optimization, SEO. There’s also pay per click advertisements. Those are Google AdWords. It’s a budgetary process.
It’s the ads that you see. On top of Google, whenever you do a particular search, that’s pretty simplistic. You give Google an ad budget, and then from there they’ll run the appropriate ads and you monitor and maintain them. There is social media marketing that you can do with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I’m even seeing lawyers now doing things on Snapchat, as well as doing things on tiktok.
So it’s always ever changing another type of advertising online. That is not as utilized as in my opinion, as it should be is video. Right.
Louis Goodman: How does that work? How does the video advertising work?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So it’s in multiple different ways that you can utilize video advertising. You can either have a main video of, let’s say one to three minutes that you put on your website.
You can have it in your email, signature, those types of things, or you can cut several different videos, uh, client testimonials. 30 to 60 second spots that you can have. On your website, let’s say you have a domestic violence page. You can have a video explaining why to call you for as a domestic violence lawyer or any type of very practice.
So that’s how they’re utilizing videos a lot.
Louis Goodman: On your website you talk about something called internet best practices. What do you mean by that?
Zach Thompson: So again, like we talked about with Google and how when you’re building a website, they have different parameters. We have to follow the best practices for Google, but also we have to follow the best practices in general, for ethics, especially dealing with the legal industry.
Louis Goodman: How did you happen to get interested in this type of work?
Zach Thompson: So funny enough, I actually, years ago began, I went in and did an interview and began selling yellow page advertising.
Louis Goodman: I remember those days.
Zach Thompson: Yeah, yeah. It was funny to me; I was unaware that the advertising costs any money. So I very quickly learned that the advertisements were so expensive and part of my youth was selling advertising, but it was right when the internet was getting big.
And back then we were selling one, three or five page websites. So if you can imagine not large sites whatsoever. So one of my jobs was to help, help the folks that and wanted to still maintain advertisements. But I was such a believer in the internet that I began putting a lot of those programs online.
And then from there eventually made my way at Lexus Nexus. Back when I was with Yellow Pages, I was dealing a lot with the lawyers that were from our books and was helping a lot of different branches close out those books and make those movements over to the internet. Because it was so new and then went over to Lexus, did the same thing for Martindale Hubbell and then eventually made our way to Media Smack.
Louis Goodman: I know that you and Media Smack, I don’t know whether you personally have, I know someone you work with, Sean, has done some presentations for the Alameda County Bar Association, so that lawyers could come to a presentation that Media Smack put on. And I certainly appreciate you guys doing that because it’s interesting and informative for lawyers to hear that kind of thing. But I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the Alameda County Bar Association presentations.
Zach Thompson: So we did speaking events a lot throughout the country prior to COVID. We had several setup with even large bar organizations and their leadership groups.
One of the things that we talk about in Alameda with, at that bar association is the fact that everybody’s familiar and it’s more of a technology niche group area as compared to other parts of the country. So one thing that we talk about is a big statement, which is why Google doesn’t trust you. And one reason why we bring that up is because a lot of lawyers don’t always understand that, although they’ve been practicing for quite some time, or maybe they’ve split from a firm of some kind.
Although they have ethics and they have been in this industry for quite some time. From a website standpoint and from an SEO standpoint, Google doesn’t quite trust you yet. And what our goal is with that presentation is to talk to you about ways to build trust, just like a relationship with Google.
Louis Goodman: So how does that work? How do you build trust with Google?
Zach Thompson: So one of the things that you have to do is you have to make sure that you’re submitting the right information. You have to make sure that again, even going back to the website, the appropriate standards and how you built your site, you want to start giving Google information about your firm.
You want to start getting listed. On several different sites throughout the internet. Now, some folks will just say we build backlinks. That’s not exactly what we’re talking about. It’s creating backlinks, but it’s following all the standards. It’s also, if you’re going to, let’s say build some links that are, go to your website.
You’re not going too fast and too quick with Google. I’ve seen it so many times where a firm has gone straight to page one. And then they fallen off and gone to page five when you do a search and it happens so quickly and it’s because they’re not following those standards. It’s like a relationship you don’t want to move too fast, too quickly.
You want to follow the right steps. And by doing that, you’re building trust. Another thing that we do for some clients is we do things like guest blogging. Well, if you were, if you’ve been a lawyer for 20 plus years, it was in articles you were featured, let’s say in an article. So that was a really respectable thing.
And now with the internet, we’re able to do those same types of programs, but do it more from a guest blogging standpoint where we can feature you and then send out that information. And what you’re doing is you’re showing Google that you’re linking well with others and then the third linking well with you.
And again, it’s kind of like being good on the playground if you’re working well with everyone and everyone’s sharing Google seems to like that on a personal level.
Louis Goodman: What do you like about the work that you do?
Zach Thompson: One of the things that I really care about is following through with the things that I say that I’m going to do.
And that is why we actually started Media Smack because we were tired of going out and talking with lawyers in any community. And that was the same thing over and over. We continue to hear, they had signed up for a service regardless of the company and that they felt that the service wasn’t being performed.
And so what we did at Media Smack is we wanted to start this company doing what we knew how to do in a great way, and actually fulfill. The promises that people tell people they’re going to do. And so one of the things that I want to make sure, always I enjoy dealing and interacting with different types of lawyers.
It’s a great group., I think you have to have the knack for it. They’re highly educated folks. They need to be talked to a certain way. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years with so many different lawyers throughout the country.
Louis Goodman: So if someone was just coming out of college and was looking for a career, do you think that going into a career doing the kind of work that Media Smack does is something that you would recommend?
Zach Thompson: I do. I think that it would be great for somebody who is just graduating from college to get into the world of internet marketing. I think it could be done. And if done right. And I wouldn’t necessarily start my own business necessarily because it does take time and it takes success from previous endeavors to do well and for a lawyer to feel comfortable with it.
But I think great is that if somebody learns how to do this, they can help a firm later on, let’s say that they were going to law school. They could go and help a firm that they’re working at and they could help. Gain more on their paycheck from that, obviously doing more and be little bit more dependable with those firms, but also it teaches you marketing in general and some of the best firms in the country that I’ve seen, know what they’re doing via marketing.
It’s tough out there. And especially with the COVID times, you know, if you don’t have a good word of mouth system and a lot of marketing that turns into clients which turns into word of mouth, I think it’d be great for anybody young to get involved with it.
Louis Goodman: How has actually doing this work met or different from your expectations?
Zach Thompson: I’ve never would have thought that we would have grown to our size and the amount of time I had expectations of growing. And I’ve always said that I would never want to get to the size of a company or I don’t know my clients by first name basis. I never want my clients to feel that they are just client number 86203
And so I’ve been really, really fortunate having a fantastic team. I have some of the best people that are out in the business right now. And from an expectation standpoint, it’s met and exceeded all of our goals.
Louis Goodman: What kind of stuff keeps you up at night?
Zach Thompson: So I’m a dad. I worry about that.
Especially right now during the times that we’re in, I worry about my kids and what the new normal is going to be.
Louis Goodman: What if you came into some real money, I mean, somehow or other two, $3 billion landed in your lap. What if anything would you do different in your life?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So I would probably do one of two things.
I would either continue doing exactly what I’m doing, because I think that so many folks stop working and stop doing the things that are normal and they kind of get away from it. And I mean, although it would be very lavish and fantastic. God’s been really good to us. We have a beautiful home, beautiful family. Everyone’s healthy. I really, I’m not a materialistic person, so I don’t really need to go spend all of that, but I would probably either do that or funny enough, I would probably go and coach high school football because I’m a big sports guy and it would be great to not have to worry about financial pieces that are involved with having to work and just go back and help kids get better and be a mentor to them as they go through those times.
Louis Goodman: I remember once asking you that question some time ago and you gave me a slightly different answer. So. Well, I’m just going to tell you what it was. Because I’ve asked this question to lots of people, not just on the podcast. It’s one of my questions. And I remember your answer because I thought it was one of the better answers I’d gotten.
And you said, and I’m wondering if you still agree with this, that you’d set up a really nice home gym and hire a personal instructor to come by on a routine basis to work with you.
Zach Thompson: Absolutely. I could tell you, it would be fantastic to have that. I still would follow suit with that.
Absolutely. To be able to have an at home chef and a personal trainer come to your house. That’d be great.
Louis Goodman: Well, if let’s say you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, whether it’s in the marketing world or in the legal world, or just in the world in general, and you could wave that magic wand and have a change, what would you like to see changed?
Zach Thompson: Hmm. With the magic wand? One thing that I’d really like to see is for everybody to be more open to others’ ideas. I’m a very big outside the box thinker. And I think that whether it’s myself or whether it’s someone I’m listening to, or whether it’s just folks in general, especially in society, I think it’d be great if we could have a little bit more patience with folks.
And sometimes I feel some of the best ideas are ones that sound crazy. Out front, whenever we picked the name Media Smack, for example, I thought it was a crazy idea and it ended up being fantastic. So I would just say if I could wave a magic wand, it would be to listen to some of the outlandish ideas and give some of them a chance.
Louis Goodman: We talk a lot these days about the corporate environment or the business environment or the work environment. Can you tell us a little bit about what the environment is like in the Media Smack universe?
Zach Thompson: Sure. So we’re a predominantly, a women run company. Everybody on my senior management team is a woman, we have fun, fantastic groups of people I’m so lucky to have gotten some of the folks that work for us.
I attribute all of our success to my team, to the folks that are out there doing what we do every single day. We like to have fun. And even if you go to our about us page, for example, you’ll hover over one of our photos and we have, if you hover over, there’s all these different things that everyone does.
We have our serious picture and then we kind of have our fun picture. And so I think keeping it as a good culture of everybody getting along, holding people accountable.
Louis Goodman: How big a company is a Media Smack now?
Zach Thompson: So we have 20 employees here at Media Smack.
Louis Goodman: So if I were to hover over Zach Thompson, what kinds of recreational things would come up for what you like to do?
Zach Thompson: So I am a coach first and foremost. So even on our website, if you hover over my photo, I’m holding a clipboard, a track, a whistle, a football. I coach I have three kids. I’ve coached all three of them, many different times.
I’m a coach first and foremost. If I could have had a golf club in there, I’d love to. I would love to have that in there, but it didn’t go with the photo. And then funny enough, I enjoy fishing. My sons love it. So we go fishing often. And then once we moved to Texas, I don’t know what it was, but my wife decided all of a sudden that she wanted to be kind of a little rancher. So we actually funny enough have several farm animals here at the house as well, too. She’s interesting. Never would’ve thought that would be the case.
Louis Goodman: What kind of animals?
Zach Thompson: So we have a miniature Longhorn, a miniature mule. We have about 16 chickens, two dogs, two cats.
And then we have six fainting goats.
Louis Goodman: What’s a fainting goat?
Zach Thompson: A fainting goat is a goat that when it becomes startled, the legs literally tense up and faint. And sometimes after you’ve had a tough week or you’ve just in general, just need to go out and smile and laugh. It is fun to watch those goats run around and faint.
Louis Goodman: Zach Thompson. Thanks so much for joining us today on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and I really appreciate your insights.
Thanks so much, Louis. Glad to have been a part of it. I love what you’re doing, I think it’s a great thing, to have this podcast .