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freshmen and watch them come back and
get better and better and better. Finally, as
seniors, they look like third- and fourth-year lawyers. They’re that good.
Q: Did you have mentors along the way?
A: I had some great professors [at
Berkeley] that I’ve kept in touch with
since, who were very inspiring and really
got me engaged. One in particular has
been a lifelong friend and mentor, [UC
Berkeley law professor] Jesse Choper, who
was dean and taught constitutional law.
That was the height of Watergate, right
before Nixon resigned. [Nixon] fired the
special prosecutor and then everybody
was resigning, and there was this whole
thing of how could this happen that
you fire these people. The law school
was ready to go out on strike—the law
students—and Jesse was at the forefront,
getting everybody focused and collected.
He and I have been friends since.
Q: And before Berkeley you were at
Antioch. What was that like?
A: I grew up in Laurel Canyon in the
Hollywood Hills; I wanted to get out of LA.
I chose Antioch because they had a work-study program. It was 1968. There was a
lot of anti-war activity in that area in rural
Ohio, so a lot of speakers. Allen Ginsberg
and anti-war protesters would come there.
My parents, I think, were liberal Democrats,
but it definitely was eye-opening and a
It was so hot in that first summer
there, I went to stay with a college
roommate in Chicago, and little did I
know that the Chicago [Democratic]
Convention was going on. I just didn’t
put the two together. It was really just
because it was air-conditioned and we’d
get out of Yellow Springs [Ohio] for a
little bit. [There were] demonstrations
and marches, and the police were
arresting people. People were running,
literally running for their lives, in the
park. It was a wake-up call, for sure.
Q: Did that influence your decision to go
A: It certainly politicized me more. Being in
Yellow Springs, I think, politicized me.
Q: And you ultimately switched from
criminal defense to personal injury.
A: A lot of criminal defense lawyers do
make a switch to plaintiff's personal
injury. I was co-counsel in a murder
trial defending Huey Newton, who
was co-founder of the Black Panther
Party. Ultimately we prevailed on it.
That was a long trial. I just needed a
break from that intensity. About the
same time, a friend of mine, Andy
Gillin, who had been with a Bay Area
legal service for the poor, was looking
for a litigation partner. It just seemed
perfect, representing people against
corporations and insurance companies.
Q: Was it a difficult transition to personal
A: It was different, but the trial experience
is critical. Picking a jury, getting documents
and physical evidence admitted, is
essential. You see a lot of big firms, hourly
firms, where young associates aren’t
getting experience. They have programs
where they farm [an attorney] out to the
public defenders or the district attorney for
a year. You get so much experience and
you’re able to try so many cases, you can
then transition over to a personal injury
case or a civil case, because the rules of
evidence are the same.
Picking a jury, dealing with judges,
dealing with that dynamic—that’s critical
experience that you can’t always get in
the civil arena. A lot of civil cases don’t
go to trial.
Q: What do you think of that trend?
A: Well, I’d rather be in trial. But the
cases that I’m working on now are very,
very complicated. I really enjoy the
three-dimensional kind of chess piece of
putting the case together, unwinding it,
spending hours and hours at the scene of
an accident, and looking at critical pieces
I’ll get a big case with a serious injury,
catastrophic injury, which are my cases
now. Maybe I’ll handle five of those at
any given time. Somebody has either
been killed, sadly, or there’s some
horrible injury, paralysis, amputation.
Those are the cases that I’m involved
Q: What do you like best about your job?
with. Typically, there are a lot of
depositions, a lot of workup, and a lot
of careful analysis. So I do enjoy that
process. It’s like a puzzle in a way.
A: It’s really, really a rewarding practice.
I can’t say that there’s been a time where
I’ve ever wanted to leave it. I feel like I’m
doing something good with my life and my
time. I’m helping people that need help.
The jury system in this country is
unbelievable, where you can have equal
footing against a major corporation or
a county or a huge insurance company
with unlimited resources. You can tell a
person’s story and present that case, and
you’re the same as that big corporation
or government entity and you have equal
footing in the eyes of the law.
Q: How do you make sure you get a good
A: I have honest talks with jurors. I credit
my criminal law background with being
able to pick a jury because, boy, as a
criminal lawyer, sometimes you don’t
like your client. Sometimes they’re scary.
Sometimes they’ve done something or
have been accused of doing something
really terrible and you’ve got to try to
pick a fair jury. So you can’t be timid.
A lot of lawyers are afraid to ask open-
ended questions. They might say, “You can
be fair, can’t you?” And then you’ll say yes.
“You’ll give my client a fair chance, won’t
you?” And then you’ll say yes. Those are
close-ended questions. I haven’t learned
about the way you feel. Who’s going to say,
“No, I’m not fair”?
You have to get over that
uncomfortableness. If you don’t get the
feelings of people out on the table and get
the elephant in the room and talk about it
a little bit, you’re in trouble.
I get people that will listen and give me
a shot and be open. That’s all I want.
This interview has been edited and condensed.