January 01, 2017

Member Spotlight: Jeffrey Allen

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association and the Alameda County Bar Association. 

Tell us a little bit about your career.

I knew early on that I did not want to work for a large firm. I started working in a small firm (five attorneys) and became a partner after a year. We grew the firm to 10 before four of the attorneys left to form their own firm. After about 21 years in practice, I created my own firm and for the last 22 years have operated as a sole proprietor with an associate attorney working for me. My practice has emphasized business and real estate and included both litigation and transactional work. I also have done a considerable amount of work in ADR as a mediator and an arbitrator.

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

No, I started law school with a Perry Mason concept. I planned on practicing criminal law. I did a lot of work as a volunteer during law school and ultimately reached the conclusion that I wanted to do litigation, but not necessarily criminal work. I started out as a civil litigator and expanded my work into transactional after about five years.

What has been the highlight of your career?

I have enjoyed the opportunity to participate in several major development projects as the attorney for the developer. I still take considerable pride in that work when I drive through the development areas, knowing that I helped make the projects possible. I have also enjoyed helping many small businesses get started and others to survive and grow.

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

In looking back, I am very happy with my career. I learned a lot working with more experienced attorneys at the beginning of my career; but I have enjoyed the freedom of practicing without partners. The one thing I would likely change is going off on my own at an earlier point in my career.

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

I would suggest that students planning on going to law school get a good background in both English (particularly writing skills) and in business. Get as much practice in public speaking as possible. The practice of law is about communication of information and ideas. If you cannot communicate well, it is not likely that you will succeed in the practice of law. I am often dismayed at the poor quality of writing and speaking that I observe in practicing attorneys. I would also tell a youngster contemplating law school that they should make sure that it is what they want to do. Law school has always required a substantial commitment of time and effort; but now the cost of law school has grown almost prohibitive, making it costlier to go and then find out you don’t enjoy it or cannot handle it.

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

The practice of law has changed significantly since I graduated law school in 1973. In some respects, it has improved. In other ways, it has grown more difficult and problematic.

Law school has also grown dramatically more expensive, making it harder for students to finance it and more difficult to repay the loans that most of them seem to need. I went to a top law school (Berkeley Law [Boalt Hall Law School]) and paid just over $500 a year in tuition/fees. The private law schools cost less than $5,000 (I recall Harvard costing around $4,600). Law school now costs in the range of $40,000 a year or more. When I graduated, students did not graduate with substantial educational debt. Most of the recent graduates I have talked to owe well into six figures. Repayment of that amount limits their ability to take public service oriented jobs that many graduates gravitated toward when I came out of law school.

Looking at the manner of practice, the biggest single change I have seen relates to the adoption and incorporation of technology into all aspects of the practice. From word processing, to calendaring, to legal research, to time keeping, and billing, we now depend on the use of technologies that did not exist when I graduated from law school

When did you first become a member of the ABA, and why did you decide to join?

I joined the ABA right out of law school, when I got my license to practice, as I was excited to finally be an attorney and believed all attorneys were supposed to be members of the ABA. I probably would have joined as a law student if I knew that I could, but I did not know about law student members until after I joined the ABA. I did not immediately actively participate in the ABA for the first several years of my practice as I did not have the time to do that. In the mid-1980s the chair of the General Practice Section asked me to chair a committee. I agreed to do so and enjoyed it. I have continued as an active member ever since.

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

I have held many positions in the ABA proper, the General Practice Section (Now Solo, Small Firm, and General Practice Division), and the Senior Lawyers Division. These positions have given me many opportunities to learn new things and meet many very special people.

I have enjoyed most of the work I have done, but would have to single out my work in the publications area as the highlight of my ABA career. I have had the opportunity to serve on the editorial boards of the ABA Journal, GP Solo Magazine (and its predecessor, the Compleat Lawyer), and Experience magazine. I chair the editorial board of GPSolo Magazine and am Vice Chair the Experience Editorial Board. I had the opportunity to create the Technology eReport and merge it into the GPSolo eReport and served as the Editor-in-Chief of both. I was blessed to work with some extraordinary people in each of those positions and I believe that the work we did with those publications made significant contributions to the ABA and the sponsoring divisions, and I take pride in my participation in those publications. I am always grateful when I receive a letter from a reader thanking us for what we published or telling me how much they enjoyed an article (especially if I happened to write it). I feel that through the publications we have contributed to a great many practices.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

Before I decided to practice law, I seriously considered a career in medicine. Likely, if I had not decided to go to law school by the time I started college, I would have majored in a hard science as opposed to political science and gone on to medical school. Alternatively, I might have considered teaching full time at the university level. I have taught on a part-time basis at the college and university level throughout my career and have greatly enjoyed that work.