Stephanie Cianci / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, will 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 is a rising star among the young criminal defense bar with a practice that currently emphasizes DUI defense. She interned at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, where she worked with county jail inmates. The stories of those men and women fueled her interest in criminal defense. She reads, she travels, she works out, and she is the mother of a newborn infant. Stephanie Cianci, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Stephanie Cianci: Hi, good afternoon Louis, thank you for having me.
Louis Goodman: It’s a pleasure having you on. I know that you’ve listened to quite a few of these podcasts. And I’m honored that you did that.
Stephanie Cianci 1:07 Yes, of course, I listened to every back episode over my maternity leave.
Louis Goodman 1:12 Maternity leave, so that means that you have a newborn?
Stephanie Cianci 1:16
I do. I had my first little girl in February.
Louis Goodman: Oh, well, congratulations. What’s her name?
Stephanie Cianci: Charlotte.
Louis Goodman: Very nice. What sort of practice do you have?
Stephanie Cianci: Right now my practice is 100% criminal defense with an emphasis on DUI.
Louis Goodman: And where’s your office?
Stephanie Cianci: I have an office based in San Jose.
Louis Goodman: Who do you work with?
Stephanie Cianci: I work with the Kavinoky Law Firm, otherwise known as 1-800-no cuffs, and I’ve been with them for about approaching two years.
Louis Goodman: Are you enjoying that?
Stephanie Cianci: I love it. I love being a part of a bigger team and all working together toward the common goal of, you know, helping our clients with their DUIs.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Stephanie Cianci: I am from the Bay Area. So more specifically, the peninsula born and raised.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to high school?
Stephanie Cianci: I went to Notre Dame High School in Belmont.
Louis Goodman: Oh, yeah. Very good school.
Stephanie Cianci: Yeah, I loved it. I had a great experience there.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about your experience there.
Stephanie Cianci: I very much wanted a single gender education. I knew that that would be good for me. And so I found Notre Dame’s when I was in middle school, and they seem to encompass a lot of things that I was interested in, in terms of education and college prep. So I was very focused on getting in there and attending and then once I was there, I swam and played water polo. And when I wasn’t studying, and I made some of my best friends, whom I’m still friends with today.
Louis Goodman: When you graduated from Notre Dame, where did you go to college?
Stephanie Cianci: I went to San Jose State University.
Louis Goodman: How was that experience?
Stephanie CIanci: I again, I loved it. I loved high school and college equally. In college, I was very active in my sorority, and I made many friends from that experience whom I am also still friends with today.
Louis Goodman 3:14
No, that’s great. Though, after you graduated from San Jose State, you ultimately went to law school. Did you take some time off? Or did you go directly to law school?
Stephanie Cianci 3:24
I took about two years between undergrad and law school.
Louis Goodman: What did you do?
Stephanie Cianci: Excuse me, just to figure everything out. Take the outset, I had a brief stint at a tech company just to see what that life was like. But I ultimately knew that law school was where I was meant to be. And I was studying for the LSAT, while I worked for this technology company.
Louis Goodman 3:50
When did you really kind of decide, hey, I really want to be a lawyer? That’s what I’m interested in doing.
Stephanie Cianci 3:56
I had always had law school in the back of my mind. My mother is an attorney locally. And so I had grown up with, of course, her as an influence. And many of her friends and colleagues always knew that it was something that I could be interested in. But it wasn’t until undergrad when I started taking more legally oriented classes and my political science classes when I really became interested and started to seriously look at law school and specifically criminal defense.
Louis Goodman 4:26
Was there anything that prompted you to start thinking in that direction, Criminal Defense direction?
Stephanie Cianci 4:34
I just always knew that I wanted to help people in some way. And I thought that I could if I knew that I was a very outgoing person, and someone who didn’t mind taking on a challenge. So I wanted to kind of help people in a difficult time in their life and criminal defense seemed like the right avenue to apply my skills for that.
Louis Goodman 4:56
Yeah, nobody’s in more need of some help. And when charged with a crime. What did your friends and family and your mom say when you told them that you wanted to go to law school, be a lawyer.
Stephanie Cianci 5:08
Everyone was very encouraging. I had grown up seeing my mother run her own practice for most of my life. She doesn’t practice criminal defense, but she does family a lot. And I saw the challenges of being a solo practitioner. So I knew that I may want to practice with a firm or in some other way than being by myself. But she was very encouraging. She was very realistic with me about what to expect and how it would change my life and the challenges that would be before me. But she also knew that if I wanted something, and I was determined enough, I would seek that out. And all of my friends felt the same way. So I received a lot of support and encouragement from when I started taking the LSAT through the bar exam.
Louis Goodman 5:56
I’m curious about this job that you had with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.
Stephanie Cianci 6:01
I absolutely, I’m so glad you asked. Because I absolutely love talking about that experience, as many of your listeners may know, when you want to have a criminal defense or an internship with the District Attorney’s Office, those can be hard to come by after your 1st year because those jobs often require you to have taken a Criminal Procedure, or some class that gives you more evidence. And at that point, I hadn’t been able to take either of those classes, but I didn’t want to waste a summer doing an internship, which wouldn’t help me later on. So I was introduced to Prisoner Legal Services through a job fair. And to this day I support them and their mission so much. I’ve had other friends and classmates from Golden Gate School of Law go to work for them. And it was a really amazing experience because I was able to go into the housing units in the county jail, which I’m not sure they’re doing now, of course, because of the pandemic. But at the time, myself, and my fellow interns would go in and talk to the defendants who were housed there and find out what their challenges were and how we can help them. So we would do everything from things like if they needed power of attorney to sign over their bank account, we could help with that. Or if they needed more information about the crime that they were charged with a case law, we could help that. So it was a lot of us providing them information to help with their cases and other legal issues which may be arising in their life because of their incarceration.
Louis Goodman 7:42
How did you get involved with the firm that you’re currently working with that does a substantial amount of DUI?
Stephanie Cianci 7:50
I actually was introduced to the Kavinoky Law Firm through a former guest of yours and friend of mine, because all Sharif she had been with the Kavinoky Law fFrm. And then she went out to start her own practice. And that was when I was introduced to the firm and thus hired on.
Louis Goodman 8:09
And what sort of work have you been doing specifically with him?
Stephanie Cianci 8:14
Nearly all of my cases are misdemeanor DUI, which they all sound like, they would be the same, but every case really is different. Every client has different needs. And every case, no matter how similar, they may look on paper, they really are different.
Louis Goodman 8:29
So I think that, you know, having practiced for a long time and seeing a lot of cases that are similarly charged similar fact patterns, even It doesn’t matter, every case is different. And that really is true, isn’t it?
Stephanie Cianci 8:46
It really is. And when I tell people who are not criminal defense attorneys about my practice, I say, Oh, you know, isn’t DUI really straightforward? You know, a person has blood alcohol concentration above a point a weight, they they’re arrested, and it’s a DUI. And I say no, it’s actually much more complicated than that. And I can have, you know, 10 cases with point one five blood alcohol contents, and have them all end up with completely different results in the court and the DMV.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Stephanie Cianci: I really like that it’s such an interesting look at humanity, specifically with criminal defense, as we were discussing earlier, you get to see people in a very specifically difficult time in their life when they may have a lot of questions about the process and be introduced to a part of the justice system, which they may not have been familiar with before. And I really take seriously my responsibility of being able to guide people through that process because I treat it with the golden rule. I try to treat my clients with the care and attention that I would want if I was in that position, or if a family member or close friend of mine was.
Louis Goodman 10:01
If a young person was just coming out of school, let’s say San Jose State, would you recommend the law as a career choice?
Stephanie Cianci 10:09
What I tell people about recommending law as a career choice. Now, having done it for a little while, and having gone through law school is you should go into the practice of law, if you wake up and go to sleep thinking about it. If you know that there’s nothing else in the world that you want to do, or care about as much as practicing law and helping your clients then you should do it. But if that is not you, and then I would not recommend taking on the cost of law school and the time commitment, and then of course, the commitment and effort of actually practicing law.
Louis Goodman 10:45
Yeah, I think law really is a calling. And if you don’t have that calling, it’s not going to work out for you.
Stephanie Cianci 10:53
No, I completely agree. And I knew that criminal defense was right for me, because ever since I decided to go into law, I knew that this was what I wanted to specialize in and focus on. That has been my focus for all of the years since I started law school until now.
Louis Goodman 11:13
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out a career in law?
Stephanie Cianci 11:18
I would give the advice to make friends with everybody that you can, because you never know when you can help somebody else or when somebody else can help you. So it’s great, not just have friends in your specific field. But it’s nice to have friends who do Employment Law, Labor Law, Family Law, you need to know people all over the place, because I find that as an attorney, you know, at least once a week, I have a friend or somebody come to me and say, Oh, do you have an attorney who does something else? And I usually am able to say yes, because I know, at least one person in many different areas of law. And it’s also really interesting and educational, to be able to speak with other attorneys about parts of the law in which you don’t practice. And I really enjoy being able to learn about those different avenues.
Louis Goodman 12:10
How is actually practicing either met or differed from your expectations about it?
Stephanie Cianci 12:18
Honestly, the biggest difference is that I spend a lot more time thinking about logistics than I ever expected. Meaning that I spend so much about calendar planning and balancing the different counties in which I practice and the different types of hearings and how long things will take. And then just making sure that I’m not overextending myself saying that I’ll be in too many places at once. I never really expected that part of practice. But it’s something that I’ve had to learn.
Louis Goodman 12:49
How involved are you in the business aspect of practicing?
Stephanie Cianci 12:55
I am actually not involved in the business of practicing law for our firm, which is something that I appreciate that there are people in our firm who are much better suited to deal with the business aspects. And then I can focus on being an attorney and helping our clients and learning as much as I can about the practice of law and about their cases and diving deeper into that rather than having to focus on the business aspects. They’re much more talented people than I who do that part.
Louis Goodman 13:27
Are you involved with interviewing clients and signing clients up? Or does somebody else do that?
Stephanie Cianci 13:35
I am actually not involved in that very often, we have a team of very talented attorneys who do that, and they help some clients. And then based on where the client is located, they are assigned to me and then I give them a call and introduce myself and kind of do my own intake and ask them you know, what specific questions or concerns they may have about their case being in a specific county in which work or what the timeline will look like. So I do my own intake, just to get a sense of what working with this particular client will be like?
Louis Goodman 14:14
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you’d known before you started practicing law?
Stephanie Cianci 14:20
I wish I had known how much time I would spend thinking about client expert hopes and expectations because that has become a big part of what I spend my time thinking about. I used to imagine practicing criminal defense being only thinking about how to work with the judge and the DA evidence, but I find now that it’s a lot more about working with my clients and different personalities and how to work together in a cohesive way to get to the best result possible.
Louis Goodman 14:58
Yeah, that working with for clients and explaining things to clients, and really making the system understandable to clients is really the other part of it. You know, I mean, I think we take our clients position and run it through the law and the evidence code and presented to the Court and the District Attorney. But by the same token, we have to kind of run the court in the district attorney’s position through ourselves and be able to explain that to the client. Do you think do you think that’s accurate?
Stephanie Cianci 15:32
Absolutely. And I especially find that to be true with the DMV, and those proceedings, which are a big part of my practice, because that’s even more confusing more often than not to our clients than what happens in court. So navigating those laws and how our clients can deal with that is often more of a challenge when dealing with what happens in court, I have found.
Louis Goodman: 15:57
What do you think is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Stephanie Cianci 16:05
I think that the best advice that I’ve ever received is, it sounds so fundamental, but I find that not everybody abides by this, but it’s just to be nice to everyone, especially in the court and DMV settings. Because, you know, everybody is involved in the process to make it work. So I often find that some people will ignore the court clerks or the deputies or the interns and those are often the people who make the process run. They keep the machine running the most cohesively. And so those are the people who, I mean, I try to be nice to everybody. But those are often the people who I feel like can be ignored. And so you know, I try to give them the respect and attention that they have earned, because their jobs are often very difficult as well, specifically through the pandemic.
Louis Goodman 16:54
Yeah, my dad practiced law for over 50 years in New York City. And when I first got to be a lawyer, he told me, you’re gonna be nice to the judge, but remember, the clerk, the bailiff, the court reporter, these people can make or break you.
Stephanie Cianci 17:15
I absolutely agree. And they have some of the hardest jobs. And I feel like sometimes their work gets overlooked when it absolutely shouldn’t.
Louis Goodman 17:23
Yeah, I agree. What aspect of practicing law do you think is your strong suit?
Stephanie Cianci 17:30
I think that my strong suit is dealing with different personalities, which is not something that I gave a lot of thought to before practicing. But with many different cases at different stages, at any given time. It’s all about being able to be on the same level as your client and be understanding of each other. And I think I’ve gotten to be pretty good at that. Because I know that, you know, as a younger attorney in years of practice, I don’t know everything that there is to know about the law yet. But I can always talk to somebody I can take their call, I can answer their text message, because I find that most of the time our clients just want somebody to talk to, to ask questions of and then they feel better. And I know that even if I don’t have an answer about the law, when they ask it, I know where to find it. And I know that effort will make our clients feel better.
Louis Goodman 18:32
Yeah, you know, the number one complaint to the State Bar is not that my lawyer is ineffective or cause too much or doesn’t know what he or she is doing. But it’s my lawyer won’t return my phone call.
Stephanie Cianci 18:44
Yeah, I’ve heard that too. And I completely agree with it. So I take great pride in you know, I won’t answer a call on Saturday night at midnight, but I will return the call on Monday morning. And I try to make myself as available as I can to my clients to be there to answer their questions, because usually, a two or three minute phone call is enough to make them feel better about the process.
Louis Goodman 19:10
Yeah, I think you’ve brought up something about boundaries with clients. That’s important.
Stephanie Cianci 19:16
Yes, it is. And that’s something that I see working on all the time, especially with being a new mother and having to put more of myself into my family now than I did prior. I’m not able to be working as much. And as late as I may have once upon a time and I can’t answer my phone, you know, late at night anymore. So you know, every day is a little bit different. But most people will respect when I say, Oh, I didn’t call you back on Saturday night. I was with my family and I call them on Monday morning. They say oh, I understand. I just wanted to leave you a message or something like that. So I think that we’re all seeking that balance and to have those great boundaries which can take some and some learning.
Louis Goodman: Do you think the legal system is fair?
Stephanie Cianci: No, I don’t, even practicing just in the Bay Area, I can see how cases are treated differently. Certainly from county to county. And I think that that’s something that I spend quite a bit of time thinking about, because I find it unfair that in some places, you know, a factually similar case will be treated very differently, despite legally having the same facts, a client will be treated differently just based on where their cases has originated from.
Louis Goodman 20:40
I’m gonna shift gears here a little bit, Stephanie, tell me about your family life, especially now that you have a newborn baby?
Stephanie Cianci 20:50
Well, I live with my husband, Jeff. He and I met in college at San Jose State, and we have been married for three years now. And we just as we said earlier, had our first daughter Charlotte in February. And it has, of course, been the biggest life change that I’ve ever been through yet, but it has been pretty fantastic.
Louis Goodman 21:13
And how do you see practicing law with young child going forward?
Stephanie Cianci 21:21
I see it as a set of skills which I am trying to learn now. And which I will continue to practice in my practice of law and practice of being a parent every day is different. Thankfully, my husband is currently on his paternity leave, which his company gave him some time for. So that makes my work a little bit easier, because I can spend most of my day doing what I need to do without worrying about her. But you know, it’s definitely just more On My Mind. Now, when, when I’m working, I miss her. And when I’m with her, I’m thinking about work. So I feel like I always have to be on right now. As opposed to before I before excuse me, before I had my daughter, you know, I had a pretty standard workday. And at the end of it, I could just go about doing what I wanted. And now I have to go from work to tending to her and her needs.
Louis Goodman 22:23
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have and enjoy?
Stephanie Cianci 22:29
Right now, I don’t have a ton because my daughter takes up most of my time, but I do have a peloton bike which I really love. And I have been trying to get back into writing that regularly since I gave birth. And I am also in a pretty great book club, which I really enjoy. And I read a fiction as often as I can.
Louis Goodman: Is there a book that you would recommend?
Stephanie Cianci: Yes, actually, my very favorite book is actually not surprisingly, about criminal defense. It’s called Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. And when I read that book, a couple of years ago, it reinvigorated my passion for criminal defense and why I feel like I do what I do and why I’ve heard a lot of other attorneys say that they continue to practice criminal defense, you know, even in its challenging moments.
Louis Goodman: Can you repeat the name of the book, please?
Stephanie Cianci: The book is Small, Great Things by Jodi Picoult. And it’s a fiction story, but it really resonated with me and why I’m so passionate about criminal defense.
Louis Goodman: What sort of things keep you up at night?
Stephanie Cianci: I stay up at night thinking about how to bridge the differences between what the court and district attorneys often want and what our clients hope and want in the outcomes of their matters. There can be a big difference between those two. So I spend a lot of time thinking about that and thinking about, you know, what my clients and I can kind of offer to the district attorney’s office in return for, you know, maybe a different conviction or some different aspect of their case. I spend a lot of time thinking about that.
Louis Goodman 24:27
Yeah, so thinking about your clients and negotiation and how you can make that work.
Stephanie Cianci 24:36
Yeah, I spend most of my nights that are sleepless thinking about that and how to get the most fair resolution so that my clients are happy with my work and they can move on with their lives, but also so that the district attorney knows that that our community will be safe going forward.
Louis Goodman 24:54
Let’s say you and Jeff came into some real money, you know, a few billion dollars, what would you do differently in your life?
Stephanie Cianci 25:03
Well, of course, you know, there’s the standard answer of I would love to travel and only practice on kind of the most interesting cases that I could choose. We really do love to travel and hopefully with the pandemic, you know, with vaccinations coming in the world becoming a little bit safer, hopefully, we can do more of that soon, especially now that we have our little girl to travel with.
Louis Goodman: Where would you like to go?
Stephanie Cianci: Where would I like to go? I would really like to see more of Asia. We’ve been privileged enough to see Europe quite a bit right before the pandemic. In the fall of 2019, we went to Switzerland and Germany. And that was really wonderful. But I’ve never been to Asia. So I’d like to explore there. And I think for more noble pursuits, if I had a few billion dollars, I think I would really like to focus, you know, starting in the Bay Area, and then working out more into more of California, and then even the greater country, I think that every child should have the opportunity to go to preschool. I think that that is the root of a lot of inequality in our system. And I think that if every child had that opportunity, it would affect their lives in a really positive way, as children and then adults.
Louis Goodman 26:24
Let’s say you had a magic wand, that was one thing in the world, or the legal world, that you could change, what do you think that would be?
Stephanie Cianci 26:32
I think in the legal world, I would have it so that there was always a resolution to a case that everybody could be happy with both the state, the defense and the defendant, because that often doesn’t happen. And I would like that to happen more often.
Louis Goodman 26:51
Stephanie Cianci, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Stephanie Cianci: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure for me as well.
Louis Goodman: 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 from music. Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Sorry, can I start that answer over? That’s actually a hard question.