Sierra Dugan / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
Louis Goodman 0:04
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 experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
She has worked as a Public Defender in both Marin and Santa Cruz counties. She listens and truly cares about her clients. She is comfortable with people from all walks of life, and has handled all manner of criminal cases from simple misdemeanors to serious felonies. And it seems to me that when we did go to court, I always saw her in court. And now that we’re doing court on video, I always see her on the video conferences, Sierra Dugan. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Sierra Dugan 0:59
Thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to our chat.
Louis Goodman 1:02
Where’s your office right now?
Sierra Dugan 1:04
Right now I’m down in downtown Oakland. I’m right by op ed Off Broadway. I’m on Washington, right there on Washington & Seventh.
Louis Goodman 1:13
Can you describe your practice a little bit?
Sierra Dugan 1:16
So right now I’m primarily doing a State Court, I get an occasional misdemeanor. But I’d say my bread and butter is mostly felony work. For whatever reason people tend to hire me for serious crime. I wouldn’t turn down a DUI, but I don’t get them often. And recently, I started on the Federal panel. So I’m going to start taking those kinds of cases as well.
Louis Goodman 1:38
How long you’ve been doing criminal defense?
Sierra Dugan 1:40
Well, I’ve been doing criminal defense, I mean, that was my intention when I entered into law school. So I’ve been a lawyer since 2012, and only have been doing criminal since that time.
Louis Goodman 1:52
Say about 10 years of experience. Yeah. That’s great. Where are you from originally?
Sierra Dugan 1:57
Originally, I’m from the Bay Area. So I’m from here. I grew up originally down on the Peninsula. I was when I was young I was living in Colma, California don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.
Louis Goodman 2:08
There’s only person living there most people they’re dead, right?
Sierra Dugan 2:12
That’s right. I lived across the street from the Italian cemetery for the formative years of my life. So maybe explain why I like black so much. But I lived there until about fifth grade. And then I moved over to the East Bay. And I lived in San Lorenzo. So pretty local, and then went to Cal for undergrad and so have pretty much stayed in the Bay Area. Yeah.
Louis Goodman 2:36
What high school did you go to?
Sierra Dugan 2:38
I went to a Royal High School, which is in San Lorenzo. Went all four years there. And that’s rich, you know, was five minutes from my house?
Louis Goodman 2:48
What did you do in high school? Did you have any thing that was fun to do besides algebra and practical math?
Sierra Dugan 2:54
Yeah, so I was heavily involved in high school. I was involved in student government. I was the president of my class all years, except for the senior year where in my senior year, I ran a, like a moot court or like a court program, where we would have attorneys, different attorneys, to our students on both sides. Come in and try cases that were referred to us by the office, if you could believe it. It was held in Hayward in the actual courthouse down there and in I created the program.
Louis Goodman 3:30
That’s great. Now, when you graduated from a Royal High School, you said that you went to Cal?
Sierra Dugan 3:37
Yes, Yes Go Bears. I started there. right out of high school, I was a double major in Rhetoric and Native American Studies.
Louis Goodman 3:46
What drew you to those two subjects?
Sierra Dugan 3:50
Well, originally, I started off as a Political Science major, and classes were so big. I started off as Political Science because I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. And I knew a bunch of lawyers who were probably signed majors and so I was like, Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to do. After being in school for a little while learned you can pretty much study anything that is interesting and still be a lawyer. So I took a few classes, you know, as you do when you first start and the Native American Studies courses I found fascinating and Rhetoric. I loved it was just, it’s an outstanding program at Cal. Have some like world famous teachers, and I just loved the whole the whole program. It was just fascinating. And we always got to read some really interesting books and really analyze things and pick things apart. I just, I loved it.
Louis Goodman 4:39
Do you have some Native American in your own background?
Sierra Dugan 4:42
Yes, I believe so. We are not card carrying members. But there is some indication that yes, my family has those roots for sure. Yeah.
Louis Goodman 4:51
Now when you got out of college, you ultimately went to law school. Did you go right away or did you take some time off?
Sierra Dugan 4:58
Oh, I took a long time. So after I graduated from al, one of my dear friends from Cal, his, her father was a lawyer, Spencer Strellis. A well known Oakland attorney, I started to work for him. And in that office was him, Bill Cole, Richard Crush, Bill Dubois. And, you know, they’re all practicing criminal law. And so I started in that office, and I was supposed to just be the receptionist for a year and I ended up being there for like six years. I started just doing stuff for Spencer, and then moved on to working exclusively for Bill Dubois.
Louis Goodman 5:40
So that gave you a real background and understanding of what really does go on in the practice of criminal law.
Sierra Dugan 5:48
Completely. I mean, I started to put together cases or assist attorneys putting together discovery when it was voluminous and, you know, figuring stuff out with her assistance, of course, and then, when I was working for Dubois assisted him in a lot of different cases, you know, murder trials and different things and got a lot of exposure to not only the, like, serious cases, but how to run an office and intake of clients calendaring and definitely the practical side, and they’ll do by had an incredibly busy practice. I was his sole employee, other than another attorney, sometimes who worked with him. And so, yes, it was very much knew what I was getting into. And it solidified my intent to be a criminal defense attorney, and I loved it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Louis Goodman 6:41
Okay, I have two questions that are related, but they’re not the same. And the first is, when did you really start thinking about becoming a lawyer? And then when did you start thinking about actually going to law school?
Sierra Dugan 6:59
I started thinking about being a lawyer when I was about five years old. I do not come from anyone, I’m the first person in my family to ever go to college. I was the first since that time. So my siblings have gone and other things. But neither of my parents went to college, nobody in my family had an extended degree. But for whatever reason, when I was five years old, I started telling everyone I was going to be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman 7:28
So when did you decide to go to law school?
Sierra Dugan 7:31
Well, at a point, when I was working in that office for Bill Du Bois, I recognized that I could work for Bill forever, but I was starting to really want to go and become aware of myself. And so after working with him for a number of years, I knew it was just time, if I felt ready, I was starting to really want to take those next steps. I was, you know, in my late 20s, at that point, and you know, wanted to start that process. And so that’s when I decided it was time, it just felt right. And that was when I was around 27 years old, I think. So I applied to a number of different schools. But I really liked the focus on social justice at USF and they had at the Crim Clinic, and they had another program that really interested me. You could go to New Orleans to Mississippi to Texas, and help work on death penalty, appeals or cases. And I did that.
Louis Goodman 8:29
You know, I’ve said this before on the podcast, but I really think that it’s true. People who did the best in my law school class, were women in their late 20s, who had had some experience working in a law or law related field between the time they went to college and the time they went to law school. So I assume you did quite well in law school.
Sierra Dugan 8:56
I did well, I made some great friends and really one of the great things about our law school at USF was they had so much focus with criminal law. And so I really tailored my program to include all of the criminal law cases. And then starting my second year, I applied and started working for the Marin Public Defender’s Office. And then also was part of that, you know, practical, real experience. And I got that starting my second year.
Louis Goodman 9:29
And then you actually went to work as a Deputy Public Defender in both Marin and Santa Cruz County at some point, is that correct?
Sierra Dugan 9:36
Yeah, yes. And so after graduating from law school and passing the bar, I worked in Marin County initially, and then was hired as an extra hire and work there for about a year and a half. And I loved working in that office. It’s a fantastic office. It’s got just such a great feeling.
Louis Goodman 9:55
Now at some point, you decided to open your own practice.
What prompted that?
Sierra Dugan 10:03
So I was working as a Deputy Public Defender in Santa Cruz County, and I was living in Oakland. And my husband and I were looking at housing and different things to figure out where we were going to land. And so what I was doing was to making that commute every day, it was brutal. And what ended up happening was, I was working in Santa Cruz, and I got a call from Bill Dubois. And he had an offer for me to work to do a murder trial with him in Oakland. And at that time, I was getting really tired of the commute, I had had a lot of trial experience up into that point of Public Defender’s Office. And it was from that call, and that push where I decided to open up my own practice and start that process.
Louis Goodman 10:56
What do you really like about practicing law?
Sierra Dugan 10:58
I love being a criminal defense attorney. I like all areas of it, but I like learning new areas of law, I also really like to get to know and help clients. I don’t see my job as just, you know, getting them through this moment, but also trying to get them on a better path, if I can. We come in contact with a lot of people who’ve had a lot of trauma and their pasts, and, you know, have done something that is not indicative of who they are. And so I feel like really helping people through that process has been really, really rewarding. And I also like my colleagues, I like going to court I like, you know, I think I really love being in trial too. So I like that the nervousness you get right before and standing up and saying what you have to say to a jury, I really do. There’s not one area like more than the other, I really just enjoy the whole experience.
Louis Goodman 11:58
If a young person was just graduating from college, let’s say from Cal, would you recommend going into law as a career?
Sierra Dugan 12:06
So I know that there’s this mixed bag. I think I’d have to get to know them. But if it was really something that they wanted to do, I would be all for it. I think you really have to love, especially if they’re looking into being a criminal defense attorney. You have to love what you do you have to really have passion for it. I think, because it’s a hard job.
Louis Goodman 12:29
How is actually practicing met are different from your expectations.
Sierra Dugan 12:33
I think it’s been pretty in line with what I expected. But I think that’s due in large part actually, had working in a criminal law office for the number of years.
Louis Goodman 12:44
Yeah, you had real experience, as opposed to just kind of like watching LA law or something. And I mean, you knew what you were getting into, I guess.
Sierra Dugan 12:53
Oh, for sure. I mean, I knew there was going to be long hours. I knew the different kinds of clients that you would get a knew exactly what to expect. I mean, working in a functioning law office in a busy law office. You know, there’s nothing that surprised is I had dealt with a lot of different situations as you know, the person answering phones and coordinating and all of that. I knew what to expect. And I think that really helped me, you know, keep my wits about me.
Louis Goodman 13:25
With respect to the business of practicing law. Have you found that to be something that’s been hard to adjust to? Or were you really pretty clear on what you were getting into as far as the business as well?
Sierra Dugan 13:39
But when you’re talking about the business, are you speaking about like, you know, having an office and
Louis Goodman 13:45
Yeah, having an office, taking in money, paying out money, signing the front of the checks, paying bills, you know, the kinds of things that are required in order to have any business function? And then on top of that, you’re practicing law.
Sierra Dugan 14:07
Yes, I think the business side is probably a little bit more difficult for me, because I have my public defender routes, you know.
Louis Goodman 14:17
Yeah, I do know, I came out of the District Attorney’s Office and I didn’t have to worry about paying the phone bill or paying the secretary or ordering the stationery or, you know, wondering whether the computer was going to work. I mean, you know, all I did was legal work and I have to assume that being a Public Defender is pretty much the same thing.
Sierra Dugan 14:41
Well, we definitely and that not sort of hard for me when I was first starting out was charging people money. Some of us come in and needed help but didn’t have that much money. It was really difficult for me to turn them away. And I think in my early days, I didn’t turn them away. You know, I would take cases for not as much money as I should have. Because it was hard for me to separate from that public defense mindset where you know these people don’t have as much money. You feel for them, you want them to have the best defense you can give them, then it was hard to say no. But over time I’ve gotten better about that, you know, that was a little bit hard, though, coming from that public defender background, but I’m getting it slowly but surely.
Louis Goodman 15:26
What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Sierra Dugan 15:29
I try to be the most reasonable person in the room at all times. But and I think that was something that was told to me very early on and always rings true.
Louis Goodman 15:41
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Sierra Dugan 15:43
No, not all the time. But I think that’s our job is to try to make it as fair as we can. In every instance, where we practice. And I think that what I love about being a lawyer, and especially practicing where we do is I think most of the attorneys that I see every day are as fair as we can possibly be. And so you know, I’m here for that fight. And I think most of the other criminal defense attorneys I know are here for it to.
Louis Goodman 16:09
Do you think the DA is and the Judges are here for being fair?
Sierra Dugan 16:13
I think they think they are sure. I think everybody’s trying to do their best they can honestly. We all have our marching orders, you know, depending on what side you’re on. I do enjoy practicing in Alameda County. I think that everyone is ultimately trying to reach a fair disposition. I do believe that.
Louis Goodman 16:34
Yeah, I think so too. And I think that goes back to that notion of trying to be the most reasonable person in the room. Because if you’re in a kind of collegial environment, where people are trying to get to what’s more or less the right result and sort of hammer out some sort of rough justice, being the person that is looked to, to come up with some ideas is, I think, a real advantage.
Sierra Dugan 17:00
Definitely, definitely. And I think that in Alameda County, people are open to that to creative solutions.
Louis Goodman 17:07
What’s your family life been like, and how is practicing law affected or fit into it?
Sierra Dugan 17:13
So I have two little boys. I have one who is going to be five in December and I have a six year old who is in first grade. So managing all of that, to be honest, has been, I think, as good as it gets. I mean, I had really great support with like, you know, people that I’ve hired to watch my kids, my husband’s been great. My kids are healthy and happy. And so, um, you know, being an attorney has fit in with that. I will say it’s a lot easier to get away now that they’re getting older. When they were babies, it was hard. When you have a newborn, I think and then going into practice, it’s difficult, but you know, you manage it. And I think I’ve managed it quite well, I think. I remember when I first came into Alameda County, when I first started as a private practitioner, I was pregnant. And I think that I had a baby again, short order. I feel like I was the pregnant, the new pregnant attorney when I first started taking cases around here, so but it’s worked out great. I have no complaints.
Louis Goodman 18:22
Have you had any travel experience?
Sierra Dugan 18:25
Yeah, I’ve traveled some, you know, that’s the one thing that I can say that I wish I had done more of, but I’ve been to Europe a number of times, and I did live, you know, different parts of the country I lived in, you know, as I mentioned New Orleans and things. But honestly, I’ve always been a little bit of a workaholic.
Louis Goodman 18:43
What other sorts of things do you like to do recreationally things to kind of get your mind off of the practice of law? Clear your head a little bit?
Sierra Dugan 18:52
Yeah, so I really like to, I like the domestic arts and I say that in all intensive purposes. I love to bake. I love to cook for my family. I love like you know, all the holidays and all the, you know, the cheer and decorating for the home and all of that stuff.
Louis Goodman 19:11
Let me stop you right there. What do you like to bake? What kinds of things do you like to bake?
Sierra Dugan 19:17
Oh, I like all kinds of things. I mean, right now I just bake what my kids like, but if I had my own, you know, my own choices, I probably do more complicated things. But I just love to bake like, you know, cookies, cakes. You know I love to for me, I think I’m part Mexican, too. I think food is love and so you know making dishes for my family and my children and especially, you know, desserts, because what kid and who doesn’t love a dessert, right? And so I love doing that. So anything, you know that is chocolaty right now is big in my house.
Louis Goodman 19:54
Well as a chocoholic, I can certainly appreciate that.
Sierra Dugan 20:00
If anything goes these kids love dessert. I mean, they have it every night. You know, fortunately and unfortunately for me.
Louis Goodman 20:07
Yeah, I like cooking stuff too. And as a matter of fact, if I have a little bit more time, I would like to put together a YouTube channel where I show people how to cook things that are great but easy to make.
Sierra Dugan 20:23
Yeah, I love I mean, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I love a few websites that I love to go to where you have these delicious meals under 30 minutes. That’s where it’s at for working people.
Louis Goodman 20:36
Yeah, really. That’s now there’s I have a name in mind for my YouTube channel. But there’s one we can have we have like, under 30 bucks under 30 minutes.
Sierra Dugan 20:47
Oh, yeah, that’s perfect. That’s where it’s at. I mean, it’s what people want. People want that kind of, you know, ease and fun and delicious food. Because you know, and adding the under 30 bucks is even a bigger style.
Louis Goodman 21:00
What sort of things keep you up at night?
Sierra Dugan 21:03
Having grown up in California and having experienced California over time, I see how we did is to have all these fires and like, it used to not be as hot. I think it’s funny because I never would have considered myself somebody who would be concerned about the environment, it was always sort of something you’d think of as something hippyish. And that wasn’t really my scene. But I think really, the environment is one something that’s really been troubling me. I always have a few life cases kicking around and those are the cases that keep me up and worried are the ones where you know, it’s literally someone’s life in your hands. And I think about those a lot.
Louis Goodman 21:49
Let’s say you and your husband came into some real money, let’s say $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Sierra Dugan 21:58
How could I do too much different? I would certainly not stop being a lawyer. I think I would be more choosy about what I would take and try to have a little more time because I am really busy. But I probably buy a bigger, nicer house. But I don’t know that I would change anything too fundamentally. I really like practicing law. I like being a mother. I like it, you know, the only thing I could think of it’d be some upgrades maybe to the home and new shiny appliances. Again, you know, maybe a sub zero refrigerator, I don’t know. But overall, you know, I think if I really had that kind of money, I would also start giving it away to people who need it.
Louis Goodman 22:41
Let’s say you got 60 seconds on the Superbowl, you know, one minute Superbowl ad really big platform really big microphone, to say whatever message you want to get out there to the world. What sort of message would that be?
Sierra Dugan 22:59
I think I would try to make it about like let’s all be good to one another. It sounds so touchy feely, but I really feel like people need to be reminded about like common decency and helping your fellow man and being a good person and looking at the public and the community at large and really trying to make a positive change, and I think it’d be something along those lines.
Louis Goodman 23:23
Sarah Dugan, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
Sierra Dugan 23:30
Thanks so much. I really appreciate the chat. It was great.
Louis Goodman 23:34
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music. Brian Matheson for technical support. And Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Sierra Dugan 24:15
I thought about that is such a hard question.