Tell us a little bit about your career.
I was the first in my family to graduate from college and professional school. When I graduated from Stanford Law School in 1983, I immediately went to work at a large firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico (well, large by New Mexico standards!). Even though I had gone to college and law school in California, as a fourteenth generation New Mexican, I knew that I wanted to return home to practice law.
I was with my first law firm about ten years before it broke apart. Having lived through that experience taught me that I personally had to be more knowledgeable about and engaged in the business of my law firm, and since then I was actively engaged in the management of the other law firms where I practiced. Throughout my private firm career I mostly worked on real estate transactions of all kinds, including sales and purchases, real estate financing, leasing, and land use.
In 2004 I decided to leave the private practice of law and I went into the title insurance business, where I worked primarily as a commercial escrow officer for Stewart Title. In that role, I was more of a business development person than a lawyer. The tug of doing legal work never really abated, and in 2013 I became an underwriting counsel, which is what I do today as the New Mexico Underwriting Counsel for the Fidelity National Title Group. In that capacity I work with Fidelity title insurance agents and Fidelity’s direct operations to help them underwrite title policies. I love my job in that I get to visit with many people daily, use my experience and judgment in a real hands-on way, and I help get deals done. That is the best reward.
My career has encompassed much more than my pure professional legal work. I have been very active in my community since I began my career. I have served and/or chaired numerous boards in Albuquerque, including the Albuquerque Museum Foundation, the New Mexico Natural History Museum Foundation, All Faiths Receiving Home, and the New Mexico Chapter of NAIOP. For many years I chaired the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee for the New Mexico State Bar. I currently serve as the President of the New Mexico Land Title Association, and I have served on the Board of Trustees of The Stanford Associates.
Is it what you had planned when you started law school?
Not at all. I chose the firm I first joined because I thought I wanted to be a labor lawyer, and this firm had the premier labor law practice in New Mexico. I had loved labor law in law school and my favorite professor and mentor was Bill Gould, a preeminent labor lawyer himself. At that time my firm believed every new associate should have a well-rounded view of the practice areas, so all new associates had to rotate through different practice areas of the firm. To my surprise, during my business rotation I discovered that I really enjoyed the transactional practice and helping clients get their deals done.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I have been fortunate in each stage of my career and have developed a reputation as a “lawyer’s lawyer.” I take that as the highest compliment in that other lawyers recognize and value my knowledge and expertise. Since I became involved in the title insurance business, I am a frequent national speaker and author on matters relating to title insurance. I have also taught a course on commercial real estate at the UNM Anderson School of Business, and I am the co-creator of Las Llaves de Mi Casa/The Keys to My House, a Spanish and English language video for the first-time homebuyer. I am very happy to be recognized by my peers as one of their go-to persons when it comes to difficult, complex title insurance matters, even though I live and work in a small “flyover” state. I do my very best to help our customers get their deals done with acceptable risk to the title insurer.
If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?
I don’t think so. I appreciated getting to understand different practice areas first-hand and I think having had those experiences ultimately made me a better lawyer.
What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?
Take some time off between undergrad and law school. In retrospect, I think I would have benefited from doing something, whether it was a paying job or some kind of volunteer or teaching opportunity. I think I would have had a much better perspective in law school. I am very proud to say that my daughter has just started Yale Law School, after having done many interesting things in the five years since she graduated from college. Although I had always hoped she’d go to law school, her time off helped her reach a very clear understanding of why she wanted to go to law school and I think it is making her a much better and more engaged law student.
What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?
First, technology. When I started practicing law, word processing was just gaining a foothold in the office. I handwrote my documents, my secretary typed them, and then word processing staff turned them into WordPerfect documents. I remember one Saturday in the office when none of us associates who just happened to be there could figure how to send a fax. I remember having to spend hours at the law library, researching physical books. I remember lots of concern about giving lawyers desktop computers and how that would transform us into mere word processors. Today, I cannot do my job without my computer and access to the internet. Everything I need is at my fingertips.
Second, the diversity of the profession. During the course of my career, I have seen our profession become more diverse in every way: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and many other categories. Through my ABA service I have been proud to work to help promote diversity and inclusion within the profession and within the ABA. While we still have much work to do this sphere, it certainly is quite different than when I started my career.
When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?
When I started, my firm automatically paid for everyone’s ABA dues, so I became an ABA member in 1983. I attended my first ABA Annual Meeting in 1989 and since then I was hooked and became actively engaged. Not only did the ABA provide me with tools and networking opportunities to develop myself and my practice, I came to understand the critical role that the ABA plays in so many important issues facing our country and our profession and in ensuring the rule of law at home and abroad.
What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?
My first home and still one of my homes in the ABA is the Section of Real Property Trust and Estate Law. I slowly worked my way up the leadership ladder, from committee vice-chair, to Council, to Secretary and to Vice-Chair, and now as a Delegate. I would have become chair of the section, had I not been elected to the Board of Governors in 2015. Serving on the Board during very challenging times and having to make difficult decisions brought the responsibilities of stewardship into sharp focus. I have been active in diversity efforts for the ABA, including service on behalf of the Hispanic Commission and as Chair of the Pipeline Council. As a member of the Council of the ABA Fund for Justice and Education, I am happy to help support the ABA’s many charitable endeavors, including the Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund. I grew up in the time where ABA meetings often became our family vacation. My wife and I have been blessed to have made so many life-long friends through the ABA, and our daughter grew up with the ABA. I look forward now to continue to share my experience and perspective in the Senior Lawyers Division.
If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?
I had thought seriously of pursuing a career in architecture. I loved (and still do love) architecture, but I wasn’t sure if I had the math and technical abilities for the job (the classic comeback to why did I become a lawyer). One of the real draws of architecture is its creativity; creativity comes in many forms and I believe that creative thinking is one of the real strengths that I have brought to my legal career, whether in private practice or in the title insurance world.