Thirty-five years ago when I entered law school, the be-all and end-all for virtually everyone in my class was the brass ring of being a big-firm hire. My daughter, Teny, who just graduated Loyola Law School, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in June, has told me that nothing has changed in the decades since. Even I, as the oldest son of a solo practitioner, looked dismissively at small firms, let alone sole practitioners, as a career path. Yet that’s exactly how I started out. Straight out of law school, I went into practice with my father in a two man shop.
Forge Your Own Path
Back then, most of my classmates looked at me with pity. But within 10 years, those same people had a different emotion—envy. Those who were in big law firms spent 5 to 10 years toiling on cases where they never met a client, never went to court, and never really understood what it means to be a lawyer. I’m not trying to demean the BigLaw track because for some that’s a virtue. But for those who want to be in front of a judge and in front of a jury and to send a message, you need to know while you’re in law school that you need to forge your own path. I realized that when colleagues of mine soon understood that if it was all about money, they never would have gone to law school.
The practice of law, not unlike being a neurosurgeon, is a higher obligation. Being a real lawyer means representing real people. Corporations aren’t real people, despite what the former five-ninths of the U.S. Supreme Court believed. In the past 35 years, I’ve represented the most loved people in the world and the most vilified men in America, often at the same time. And I never wavered in my commitment to fighting for the underdog.
Fighting for Justice
When I first started practicing law, I practiced exclusively criminal defense. However, in recent years, I’ve expanded my practice to civil litigation. This shift hasn’t broken—but instead amplified—my desire to fight for those without a voice.
For my clients being railroaded by the criminal justice system, that means fighting against the government with unlimited resources. For my clients being denied their basic human rights by insurance companies or government institutions, that means fighting in front of a judge and jury.
My experience shouldn’t simply demonstrate that it’s possible. It should also demonstrate that there’s a higher calling in this practice. Trust your degree, trust your intelligence, and trust your faith in the law. Never stop working hard. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all these things. The example I’ve set is one of engaging with the judge and jury and the truth versus a photocopier, stapler, and sharp practice.