Renee Ross / Louis Goodman – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today I’m speaking with Renee Ross. Renee is a fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and International Academy of Family Lawyers. She has been recognized as a Super Lawyer for the past nine years. She’s one of the top 50 women lawyers in Northern California. Renee limits her practice to family law and has substantial experience in divorce, custody support, and high-asset complex property division.
Renee Ross, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Renee Ross 00:47
Thank you, Lou. Thanks so much for having me.
Louis Goodman 00:49
It’s a pleasure to have you. I guess I got to know you for the most part through the Earl Warren Inns of Court where in addition to your great lawyering abilities, you have all kinds of acting ability and you’re always fun to watch on stage.
Renee Ross 01:07
It was fun to be on stage. I’m really glad we got to know each other during that time.
Louis Goodman 01:12
Where are you talking to us from right now?
Renee Ross 01:15
I am calling you, I am speaking to you from beautiful Marin County, California.
Louis Goodman 01:20
How long have you been practicing family law?
Renee Ross 01:22
Most of my legal career, now it’s been probably about 17, 18 years.
Louis Goodman 01:27
Where are you from originally?
Renee Ross 01:28
The Valley, the San Fernando Valley, that is.
Louis Goodman 01:31
So, LA Valley.
Renee Ross 01:33
Louis Goodman 01:36
What city in the valley?
Renee Ross 01:39
Born and raised in Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Encino area.
Louis Goodman 01:43
Where’d you go to high school?
Renee Ross 01:45
Taft High school, Woodland Hills, California. Go Toreadors!
Louis Goodman 01:50
Really? Yeah. Great team. When you graduated from Toreador high there, where did you go to college?
Renee Ross 01:57
I went to Mount St. Mary’s College in the hills of Brentwood in Los Angeles.
Louis Goodman 02:03
So not too far away for college.
Renee Ross 02:06
Over the hills, not too far.
Louis Goodman 02:07
Still close enough you could bring your laundry home.
Renee Ross 02:10
Exactly, exactly. Yeah. Pretty close.
Louis Goodman 02:13
Well, what was that experience like?
Renee Ross 02:14
You know, it was a really great fit for me. The Mounts, as it’s fondly known, is a very small liberal arts college where, you know, some of my class sizes were as small as five students and one teacher, and I think the largest might have been 30 kids. So I got a lot of personal attention, made really great friends and relationships with professors, and it’s in a stunningly beautiful location in the hills of Los Angeles. So it was overall a positive experience.
Louis Goodman 02:44
What sort of academics did you get involved with there?
Renee Ross 02:46
So I quickly became drawn to pre-law and I spent, you know, a lot of my undergraduate career exploring the idea of being a lawyer, so a lot earlier than such, so I focused on pre-law and philosophy.
Louis Goodman 03:01
After you graduated from college, you ultimately went to law school. Did you go straight through, or did you take some time off?
Renee Ross 03:08
No, I went straight through. I was too worried I’d get used to the good life of making money and so I was like, well, I might as well just go straight through. I was pretty determined and knew what I wanted to do.
Louis Goodman 03:19
Where’d you go to law school?
Renee Ross 03:22
I went to law school at Golden Gate in downtown San Francisco.
Louis Goodman 03:25
When was it and what was it that prompted you to decide you wanna be a lawyer? You going, Hey, you know, I really think that law school and lawyering is where I wanna be going?
Renee Ross 03:40
It was pretty much, I mean, my family just always told me, even as a young kid, I remember mediating family disputes, negotiating vigorously for, you know, toys that I wanted. And so my family, you know, always just kind of reflected back in, you know, not conscious ways that I’d be a good lawyer. And so it was, you know, from a very young age that thought was in my head. And when I went to college, I started taking some pre-law courses to explore whether or not that was what I actually wanted to do. And I had the pleasure of taking classes with a professor that really kind of solidified that in my mind. And he had a really huge impact on my career and my, you know, growth as a young adult.
And I remember, you know, the day that it, you know, it mostly solidified. I was sitting outside the cafeteria looking over the beautiful view at campus and studying, you know, nose in a law book while in college. And, he stopped by the table and just had a chat with me and said, you know, you’d be a really good lawyer.
And this guy was not a man that gave compliments often or easily. And so I really respected his opinion. And so then I had a hunch that I was gonna be a lawyer, but that, that really was, you know, a big driving force with his faith in me.
Louis Goodman 05:03
What do you think it was about the way you presented yourself that led him to think you’d be a really good lawyer?
Renee Ross 05:10
That’s a good question. I haven’t thought about that. I don’t know. I don’t know the whether it was my interest, my passion, you know, I was pretty diligent in terms of studying and preparing for classes and, you know, hopefully there was some natural ability there that he saw, just like my family did when I was a kid that, you know, there’s parts of my brain that just naturally work in the way that would lend itself to good lawyering.
Louis Goodman 05:36
What did your friends and family say when you told them, yeah, you know, I’m gonna really go to law school now. I’m really gonna do this?
Renee Ross 05:44
Well, most of them were really supportive and, you know, it wasn’t really much of a surprise. I have an aunt and uncle that I’m very close with, and they both happen to be lawyers. I’m still very close with them. And they said, you know, whatever you do, Renee, don’t become a lawyer. So I did not heed their advice. And you know, they were proud of me, but I think they didn’t want me to work as hard as they did. They tried to scare me away from it.
Louis Goodman 06:14
Yeah, just one more person not taking the good advice of their lawyer.
Renee Ross 06:20
Yep. Absolutely. I didn’t listen to them.
Louis Goodman 06:23
When you moved up to Northern California to go to law school at Golden Gate, you know, it must have been kind of a big move coming out of your entire life in southern California.
Renee Ross 06:35
Yeah, the aunt and uncle that told me not to go to law school and happen to live up here, so it wasn’t totally foreign, I’d spent a lot of time in the Bay Area visiting them. But other than that, I really didn’t have any other friends and family here.
Louis Goodman 06:47
You graduated from law school and now you have a very successful, very active, fairly large family law firm that you run, and I’m wondering if you could kinda walk us through the process of how you got from graduating from law to the work situation that you’re in now?
Renee Ross 07:11
Yeah. I started out practicing civil litigation. I did some personal injury, and I actually very much disliked it. I had a visceral reaction to it. I really did not enjoy it. And I was talking to a colleague of mine who had just landed a family law job in the city, and he was bragging about how much he enjoyed what he was doing and how, you know, work-life balance was great and he was working on interesting issues, so I thought, huh, that sounds pretty good. I like community property, so it was back in the days of the, you know, job ads in the recorder and so there was a job ad in the recorder, or a family law job in Pleasanton, and I didn’t really even know where Pleasanton was at the time. So I applied and I got the interview and it was spectacular. I hit it off with the hiring manager and I kind of fell in love with the idea of the firm in that interview. And I was incredibly lucky in the sense that I landed into a firm that had really incredible family lawyers. You know, I wasn’t savvy enough to do my due diligence about the lawyers that I was working with before, and so I just happened to luck out and get really incredible mentors and bosses, and I stayed there for many years honing the craft.
They trained me, building my reputation and my book. By the time they hit their tail end of their career I was ready to, you know, launch my own. And so shortly after that, I started my own firm. It was about seven years ago.
Louis Goodman 08:56
You just said something that I wanna talk about a little bit. You said you’ve been building your own book, your own book of business. Can you talk about why that’s so important for a lawyer to have?
Renee Ross 09:09
And again, I just followed what the lawyers that I worked for did. And so I didn’t, when I was doing it, I didn’t really understand the importance of it, but especially in family law and probably criminal law, a whole bunch of other areas of law where you don’t have corporate institutional clients. And so, you just don’t have one client that you will be with you for all of your career. You regularly have to have new clients looking for your services and what you do. And so if you don’t have people who want your services and are looking for your services, there’s no law to practice.
Louis Goodman 09:51
Yeah, that’s right.
Renee Ross 09:53
So, the book, you know, building a base of business is how you get to do what you wanna do.
Louis Goodman 10:02
That just sort of, you know, work kind of naturally for you, was it just kind of a natural flow or was it something where someone really talked to you about how important it was?
Renee Ross 10:14
No, it was definitely something, no one really talked to me about how important it was. The firm that I worked for definitely had an emphasis on, you know, doing what they did. And so, for example, there was a long history of the lawyers at that firm being involved in the Inns of Court. And so, you know, once I had been in at the firm for, you know, two, three years and really, you know, had a bit of a solid base of foundational legal training, then they really wanted me to get more involved in the legal community.
And so from, you know, near for the next, I would say five years, I joined probably a half dozen boards in the family law community and organizations that I really focused my efforts on. And it wasn’t that I divined this out of my own creativity or my own smarts, is that these are the groups that my firm was involved in. And so I just kind of blindly followed the path. And some of it, so that was like subconsciously taught to me, right? This is what everybody else did, so this is what you have to do. But the why wasn’t really explained. Why is this important wasn’t part of that education. But the part that did come naturally for me is building relationships in those organizations.
And so as I was going through, you know, time being involved in these very different groups, I genuinely enjoyed it and made friends and built relationships with people like you in those groups.
Louis Goodman 11:48
When you first went on your own, what was that like?
Renee Ross 11:51
It was exciting and scary. It’s almost that sensation, you know, that I felt when I started to practice law. Someone told this to me once, you’re sitting in a chair that has four legs on the ground, when you start to practice law or when you open up your own firm, you know, you only have two legs on the ground, and you don’t know you’re gonna fall on, you gonna fall on your ass or you’re gonna fall, you know you’re gonna land on your feet. So it was this teetering sensation where, you know, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. So it was exciting and scary at the same time.
Louis Goodman 12:26
How long has that been since you went out on your own?
Renee Ross 12:30
That was about seven years ago.
Louis Goodman 12:33
And how many people are working in your firm now?
Renee Ross 12:36
About 10 to 12.
Louis Goodman 12:38
I mean, that’s really an exponential expansion of a law firm, don’t you think?
Renee Ross 12:44
I didn’t intentionally set it out to be, it can feel that way at times. I really try to focus on growth that is the right growth. So it’s not, I don’t add people for the sake of adding people.
I think we, you know, I try to make sure that whoever joins the firm is the right fit and the more organic growth than growth by some other design.
Louis Goodman 13:16
What do you really like about practicing law? I mean, you obviously have business sense, you have good people skills. There’s a lot of things that you could do. You chose to go into the practice of law. You had a drawing to it when you were even just a child, but you’ve been there now you’ve really been a lawyer. You’ve had a career. You run your own firm, very involved in it. What is it that you like about it and what is it that keeps you as a practicing attorney?
Renee Ross 13:47
So I’m probably one of the happiest family lawyers you ever did see. And what I love about family law particularly is that I get to work on issues that are very broad, right? So family law is one of those fields in which you have to know a lot about, you have to know a little bit about a lot of things. But family law itself is quite complicated. And so you have to have a breadth of experience and a lot of crossover issues and a depth of experience in family law. And so I love that about family law. I also love that it requires IQ and EQ. You can’t be a droid and practice this kind of law. You have to be able to connect and understand humans and human condition and suffering that people go through. And I think it’s really hard work in that sense because it’s very emotional and people are going through one of the hardest times of their life.
And what I love about it and find that keeps me going is that people trust me to walk through one of the most difficult times of their life with them and be that guide for them. And so I find incredible gratitude in that blessing.
Louis Goodman 15:09
Do you sometimes feel this enormous responsibility for taking on that burden with someone at such a difficult time in their life?
Renee Ross 15:18
Yes and no. I mean, I think there’s a healthy dose of objectivity you need to have to be a good family law attorney. I think you can’t enmesh yourself in your client’s problem, but I do take the work that I do very seriously. And so in that regard, you know, there’s an enormous responsibility in being a lawyer. And so, you know, when these are decisions that affect people’s lives very closely, then yes. No matter how objective I am, there’s a heavy dose of responsibility that comes with that.
Louis Goodman 15:54
If a young person were just coming out of college, would you recommend law as a career choice and family law specifically as a career choice?
Renee Ross 16:02
Absolutely. Without doubt. Because it’s been so rewarding and fulfilling for me, and I recognize that it’s not that for a lot of lawyers, I know there are a lot of lawyers that don’t enjoy what they do as much as I do. But if I enjoy it so much, you know, I wouldn’t discourage young graduates from that.
Louis Goodman 16:27
How has actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations?
Renee Ross 16:32
You, I never thought about that. I don’t know what I expected. I don’t remember having any expectations about practicing family law. I was so young and maybe dumb or just naive, that I just thought, I’m gonna be a lawyer. Of course I’m gonna be a lawyer. I wanna be a lawyer. I’m gonna go be a lawyer. But I didn’t really ever reflect on what that was going to be like. I did a few internships in law school and, you know, I had the opportunity to do an entertainment law internship because I thought, you know, maybe I’d practice entertainment law, and that was dreadfully boring, so that didn’t meet my expectations.
So, you know, I guess it was, it’s as exciting as I wanted it to be.
Louis Goodman 17:14
Well, I mean, I think that family law to some extent does satisfy the, I dunno, fantasy that people have about lawyering, you know, you’re representing a real client. There’s a real person that you can relate to as the client, you know, as opposed to, you know, Chevron or something like that. And then there’s, you go to court, you stand up in front of the judge, you argue a case, you argue a point. You represent a position of advocacy. So I think that family law is one of those areas of law, like criminal law for that matter, where it kind of does satisfy the fantasy of what I think a lot of people think lawyering is. Do you have a comment about that? I mean, do you agree, disagree? What do you think?
Renee Ross 18:06
Yeah, I guess, yeah, I guess I mean, so the, I guess the expectation I had is that, you know, it would be interesting, it would be intellectually challenging. I would get to work with real people and real problems. And so, you know, to the extent that, I think you’re right. I think family law checks those boxes, at least for me.
Louis Goodman 18:26
What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Renee Ross 18:29
A friend of mine told me that everything is temporary and it related to my kid. It had nothing to do with law, but I still think it’s wonderful advice no matter the circumstance or the situation, literally everything is temporary.
Louis Goodman 18:41
And if a young person were just starting out a legal career, what advice would you give to that individual?
Renee Ross 18:48
Find as many mentors as you can. I’ve had incredible mentors over the years and still collect them. You have to nurture those relationships and seek out their support and the advice from, from people that can, can do that for you.
Louis Goodman 19:07
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Renee Ross 19:09
No. Often, but not always.
Louis Goodman 19:12
I’m gonna shift gears here a little bit. What’s your family life been like and how has practicing law affected your family life, your family life fit into your practice, your practice fit into your family life? How’s that working for you?
Renee Ross 19:25
So when I first started practicing law as an associate at a firm, I kept my legal life and my family life very separate. And as I opened up my own firm and my work life and my work life and my personal life started to blend more and they’re, you know, often one and the same. I’m also lucky to have a really wonderful spouse that is very accommodating and supportive of my work and my commitment to being a family law attorney and running my own business. And so I have, I have a lot of support at home.
Louis Goodman 20:05
And you have children?
Renee Ross 20:06
I have one 13-year-old troublemaker.
Louis Goodman 20:09
That’s redundant, isn’t it?
Renee Ross 20:11
Yes, yes, yes. She’ll be coming home from school any minute now.
Louis Goodman 20:18
What sort of recreational pursuits do you enjoy? You know, things to kind of clear your mind when it’s time to leave work?
Renee Ross 20:25
We’re a really active family, but we love the outdoors and the exercise. I did my first sprint triathlon this year. We hike, we bike, we paddleboard. We travel, we have dogs, spend a lot of time start dogs hiking. Outdoors active family.
Louis Goodman 20:43
How do you define success?
Renee Ross 20:45
Establishing a practice that you’re happy with, where you get to do the kind of work that fulfills you for clients that you enjoy working with, and that’s pretty successful to me.
Louis Goodman 20:56
Let’s say you came into some real money, let’s say three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Renee Ross 21:07
I mean, I’d probably scale back a little bit, but I would probably still practice law. I would maybe take more time off, have work from Hawaii a little bit more, but as of right now, probably not do too much, too differently.
Louis Goodman 21:22
Let’s say someone gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl. You could put out an advertisement for whatever you wanted to this enormous audience, what would you say?
Renee Ross 21:36
Be better to each other. You know, just everybody needs to be a little bit kinder to each other. We could all use some more kindness.
Louis Goodman 21:45
Renee, if someone wants to get in touch with you, an attorney wanted to refer you a matter, someone listening to this wanted to call you or your firm about some legal advice. What’s the best way to get in touch with you? Is there a website that people can look for so that they can find your email, contact information?
Renee Ross 22:05
Sure, yeah, they can go to our website, rossfamilylaw.com and just submit an inquiry to the website.
Louis Goodman 22:11
And so that’s rossfamilylaw.com, is that correct?
Renee Ross 22:15
Yep. You’ve got it.
Louis Goodman 22:17
All right, Renee, is there anything you wanna talk about that we haven’t touched on, haven’t discussed? Anything you wanna bring up?
Renee Ross 22:25
No, I think we covered it. You had a great list of questions to go through.
Louis Goodman 22:30
All right. Renee Ross, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Renee Ross 22:39
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure to talk with you as well.
Louis Goodman 22:42
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Renee Ross 23:22
Not much of anything that I recall, but nothing else that I strongly recall. This is a terrible answer, blah, blah, blah. No, I don’t have a good answer to this question. I don’t have a good answer to that one right now. I’ll have to get back to you on that.