There are just fewer things that are out
of your control in appellate law. You write
your briefs, they write their briefs, you go
argue. The world is pretty defined. It’s not
like you go to trial and an impeachment
witness shows up that you’ve never heard
of and blows your case out of the water.
The process of discovery and developing
the factual record is very different than
reading it once it’s been developed.
Appellate lawyers tend to be analytical,
highly creative. You must also be a great
writer. When you’re an appellate lawyer, each
brief needs to be a premium piece of work.
Q: You grew up abroad, right? In India
A: Right. We moved back to the States
when I was kindergarten age.
Q: You learned Urdu. Shouldn’t you be in
the State Department or something?
A: I know. The problem is nobody spoke Urdu
to me after we came back, so I lost it. I was
completely fluent when we were there. I kept
speaking it for a couple years after coming
back. But then it died, unfortunately.
Q: Why were you born abroad?
A: Well, my dad was born in Canton,
China, along with his two brothers. They
were there until he was about 11. Then the
country came crashing down around them
with the civil war between Chiang Kai-shek
and Mao Zedong. They escaped right
before the fall. My dad was actually on a
boat that passed near Pearl Harbor within
two hours of when it was bombed.
Q: On December 7, 1941?
A: Yes. I mean, scary close. The captain
announced to them, once they were safely
past, what had just happened. Nobody on
the boat knew that.
Q: Why was your father born in Canton?
A: His father was a doctor—what they called
a medical missionary—for the Presbyterian
church, which meant the church sent him
and other healthcare workers over to simply
take care of people who were there. So my
dad’s goal, when he went to medical school,
was that he was going to be a medical
missionary, too. That’s how he, and we,
ended up in Pakistan and India. He worked
in hospitals and clinics where people
would walk for days to get medical care.
He said what he remembered most was
that women’s tongues had been cut out—
because of some violation of how they were
supposed to behave—and they were coming
to him for help.
Q: You’re from a family of doctors, so
why the law for you?
A: I was never a math-science type.
Honestly, I grew up idolizing my dad.
Because of that I thought I needed to
be like him. I wanted to have what he
had—and by that I mean financial security
and a profession that people look up to. I
knew it wasn’t going to be medicine. I’m
a psychology major and I got into one of
the top programs in clinical psychology in
the country, and I went and started that
program, but really quickly I thought “I’m
out of here” and I left. So I’m kind of sitting
there going, “OK, what do I do?” and I just
thought, “How about law school?”
Q: Did you have a mentor?
A: Marcie Mihaila. She and Charles A.
Bird at Luce Forward really established
the appellate practice in San Diego, and
they did this in the two biggest firms in
San Diego. By the time I came along, she’d
established a great culture at Gray Cary.
People really understood that if you had an
appeal, you needed an appellate lawyer.
Marcie and I were already friends; then
the associate that helped her with appeals
left and she asked me if I wanted to do
them. We were kind of seamless. She
could write one section of her brief, I could
write another, and you couldn’t tell the
difference. Our lives were pretty enmeshed.
We would typically talk half an hour a day
in each other’s offices. She would wear
pink leather pants with zippers at the side
to work—not an everyday thing in a law
firm. My husband used to call those her
She was amazing and loyal. When most
of our practice was in the intermediate
courts of appeal, a California Supreme
Court case came along. There were two
issues that the court was reviewing and
we each briefed one issue. Then the court
dismissed review of her issue. Since it was
her case and her client, I said, “Of course
you’re going to do the argument in the
Supreme Court.” She said, “I wouldn’t do
that to you. The client gets to decide, but
I’ll talk to the client and tell them that I
have absolutely no hesitation in saying
you should argue this case in the Supreme
Court.” And I did argue the case. Not a lot
of people are necessarily like that.
Q: Did she give you any advice that you
A: She was giving me advice all the time.
She gave me advice about my life, too,
especially when I started to get divorced.
She always was restless and moved up
to Seattle and started working out of our
Seattle office. She met my husband there
and told me what a great guy he was.
In October of ‘04, she was diagnosed
with cancer. She was 49 when she died.
Marcie was just a treasure.
Q: You’re a member of different legal
organizations. Which have been
A: Currently, I’m the president of the
California Academy of Appellate Lawyers.
I was kind of stunned when I was elected.
It’s a huge honor. These are the top people
in the state of California. They have huge
brains. There are probably more nerds in
our specialty than in most.
Q: Would you say that appellate lawyers
tend to be introverts while trial lawyers
are more extroverted?
A: I think so. Because they have to be OK
with spending very long spans of time
in their offices doing legal research and
writing briefs and reading records. So their
practice keeps them at their desk. If you’re
a trial lawyer, you have an ex parte hearing.
You’re doing a deposition. You’re sending
a deposition. A trial lawyer might have a
month-long trial. An appellate lawyer has
a 15- to 30-minute argument. That’s it for
the whole case that they’ve spent maybe
500 hours on. A 30-minute argument.
This interview has been edited and condensed.