GPSolo Magazine - Oct/Nov 2003
Voices of Experience
What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?
I received a B.A. in psychology with a minor in health science and an M.A. in educational psychology. Dr. Bernard Diamond, a professor on my thesis committee who taught forensic psychology, suggested that I go to law school.
What influenced your decision to pursue a general practice/solo/small firm career?
I initially became a legal services attorney working at the local legal aid office. I had to be a general practitioner to provide much-needed legal services for our clients, who could not otherwise afford a lawyer. After legal aid lost its funding and was forced to close most of the neighborhood offices, I then became an in-house corporate attorney—again, as a general practitioner. I decided to go into private, solo practice to gain better control over my time. I did not want to continue working 70 to 80 hours a week for the rest of my career. I now have the option of working as many or as few hours as I choose.
What did you find hardest about setting up as a general practice/solo/small firm lawyer, and where did your biggest help come from?
The hardest thing was maintaining a steady cash flow to cover overhead expenses. As a member of my county bar association, I was able to join the panel of court-appointed criminal attorneys. The bar association provides each new member of the panel with the name of a very experienced attorney who is willing to serve as a mentor. My mentor was a top-notch criminal trial lawyer, Ruth Spear. We met monthly to go over cases and discuss any concerns that I had. I was also lucky that at the time I decided to go solo, my father's business client was looking for an attorney to represent his closely held corporation. I was retained after I handled a couple of cases successfully for him. That small corporation continues to provide for my overhead and guarantees a minimum income.
What are the biggest changes in law practice you have observed through the years?
The increase in paperwork in civil practice. I've also seen cutbacks in the judicial system—it gets harder and harder to get a case to trial. In the arena of criminal law, the sentences are much more severe, so there is much more at stake.
What early lawyer experiences have helped you in your career?
All my trial experience as a legal aid attorney helped me the most, and it also gave me a sense of what justice means.
Whom do you most admire?
Justice Joyce Kennard of the California Supreme Court, who lives the advice she gave me ("be true to your beliefs"); the late Judge Cecil Poole of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for whom I clerked; and Ruth Spear, my mentor, who is an excellent criminal defense trial lawyer, a wife, and a mother—and keeps it all in perspective.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
Always do what is right and be true to yourself.
What was the worst professional advice you ever received?
Win at all cost.
Who or what got you started with ABA and/or GP Section involvement?
Larry Ramirez, Suzanne Graber, and Sharon Stevens got me involved with the GP Section. I had been a member of the Litigation Section prior to that.
What can the ABA and/or GP Section do to be a good home to young lawyers?
Be more welcoming of attorneys who are new to the ABA and who did not come through the usual ABA system. GPSSF can provide better networking or mentoring through electronic means, such as assigning an e-mail mentor.
What personality traits have served you best through the years?
Honesty and being true to my beliefs.
What area of general practice/solo/small firm practice would you like to see changed?
The only problem with being in solo practice is multiple demands on your time, such as being assigned to two courtrooms at the same time.
What is the one thing you cannot stand regarding the law/lawyers?
I dislike the lack of civility in the practice of civil law. Discovery practice in civil law tends to be about obfuscating the truth. I find that very distasteful.
What advice would you give new lawyers?
- Be true to yourself.
- Always be honest.
- Work hard.
- Don't be afraid to ask other lawyers for advice.
- Make time to smell the roses.