Qualities That Count

With nearly 176,000 active, practicing attorneys in the State of California – the largest Bar in the U.S. – every client needs to know what makes this one different? What makes this attorney stand out from the rest?
Here are a few reasons you might choose me.
Loyalty: I am on your side! This means I put my client’s interests first. Unlike some attorneys, I do not walk into the courtroom, pass by my client, and go sit in the jury box with the other lawyers. If you are there and there is room, I sit with you. I am there for you. While I try to maintain positive, civil relationships with other lawyers, the relationship with my client always comes first. I don’t play “games”, either, trying to “impress” you by acting “tough” in front of opposing counsel. Usually, getting along with opposing counsel is the best way to achieve a peaceful resolution. In the end, I want each client to walk away from their case with respect and confidence not only in me, but in the legal profession as a whole.
Passion and Industry: Determined never to settle for mediocrity, I approach my endeavors with a passionate energy and enthusiasm.
Integrity and Honesty: I will present your case, and your bills, in a manner that is consistent with truth. I will work diligently to uncover concealed and/or false material presented by the other side, consistent with any budgetary or other constraints. I will not, however, take actions designed only to harass or to injure the other party, nor will I present claims that are unwarranted under existing law or a good faith argument to extend, modify or reverse that law. I subscribe to the “detail” philosophy of billing, so that you should always understand and trust the entries on your billing statements. If you ever have a question or concern, I ask that you contact me immediately so that I can address that.
Courage: I have been willing to take on causes that many other lawyers would never touch, leading to positive reforms in the law. For example, in Lammers, I challenged the Constitutionality of a local rule by which bench officers were refusing to read the papers filed by litigants. That rule no longer exists today. In Sutherland v. Barclays, I defeated a $72 billion mortgage company (Norwest), which  was attempting to falsely declare defaults on mortgages secured by earthquake-damaged properties, to get HUD to pay off on the mortgage insurance. In Fogarty v. OCSSA, I obtained an unprecedented judgment against Orange County Department of Social Services (CPS) which had become “corrupted”, in the Appellate Court’s words. For more examples, see Appeals and Writs.
Experience: Unlike most attorneys, I didn’t go straight to college and then to law school. I “paid my dues” and worked my way up in the profession, beginning as a legal secretary in 1980 (at age 17). After 8 years as a legal secretary, I attended the University of San Diego Paralegal Program and worked as a paralegal for the next 8 years. This experience – working in all sorts of law firms, large and small – for so many years was integral to my great success in law school. I graduated from Whittier Law School, Cum Laude (#11 in my class, top 7%) in 1996 and have been a practicing lawyer in the 17+ years since. I also had the unique experience of working during law school for Justice Norman L. Epstein of the California Court of Appeal, right after law school for Hon. Alex Kozinski (now Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit), and during my first year out of law school as a Research Attorney for the L.A. Superior Court. In private practice, I have handled numerous trials and other contested hearings, including a 7-week jury trial in Orange County. I have handled numerous appeals and writs in the Appellate Courts in San Diego and Los Angeles. I have also handled many personal injury and other civil cases (e.g., sexual harassment, employment discrimination, breach of contract). And I’m still not “that” old!
Knowledge/Intellect, Judgment and Common Sense: I have acquired a vast amount of knowledge, covering a wide range of legal issues, during my 30+ years in the legal profession and have usually exceeded the continuing education credits required by the State Bar to maintain my license. In practice, I am mindful of the value of the services performed in relation to the fees and costs being incurred. For example, you may have a perfectly valid appeal, but if the monetary value of appellate success equals the cost of pursuing it, I will probably ask whether you really want to spend the money. If a deposition will cost $5,000, but will yield little useful information, that is something you should probably skip.  If you can settle your case and keep more of your own money and property, I will try to help you do that. Of course, I can only offer my advice – you will have to decide. And no one can safely predict or control the actions and tactics of the other party.
Skill/Ability: My research and writing skills have always been exceptional. Even as a paralegal (1988-1996), I was writing discovery and complex motions. In law school (1993-1996), I won the Am Jur Bancroft-Whitney Award for my first-place finish in my Advanced Legal Writing (aka PR Practicum Skills) class. By invitation of my professor, I served as her Teaching Assistant in that class during the next semester. The quality of my briefing far exceeds that of many other attorneys.
Tenacity: I am highly motivated to achieve my clients’ (lawful and reasonable) goals, even if it means putting in extra time or focus to get there. I won’t take “no” for an answer, if it’s the wrong answer (my appellate record speaks to that).
Organization and Preparation: I have learned, from the first day I stepped into a law office at age 17, that organization and preparation are key to the successful presentation of a case – whatever kind it may be. “The Devil is in the details”, as they say. My pleadings are indexed and labeled. With me, you will almost never see the disorganized “mess” in which some other attorneys keep their files. I review the file before I go to court, preparing an outline of the key points and facts to be presented. The amount of investigation and preparation must take into account the issues and amount in controversy, as well as any financial constraints of the client; yet, some preparation is always needed.
Communication: One of the biggest complaints clients have about their lawyers is that the lawyer fails to communicate adequately with the client. I am so committed to keeping my clients reasonably informed about significant developments relating to the representation that I write this ethical mandate into my retainer agreement. I will communicate settlement offers to you, and you (not I) will decide whether to settle your case.  We work together as a "team", each playing a vital role.
Personalized Attention: Unlike some firms, I do not run a “volume practice”. Some attorneys and firms will offer low ($2,000 to $3,000) retainers in order to attract a volume of business. Some have 100+ clients at a time, which requires clients to be “staffed out” to paralegals or subordinate lawyers in the firm. I don’t do that. My retainer for a new family law client will always be at least $5,000 (or $3,000+ for a post-judgment modification or enforcement proceeding; higher retainers are charged for more complex cases or those involving over $1 million). I do this because I prefer having a few (usually under 20) quality clients that I know can and will pay my bills. This allows me to give personalized attention to each and every one of my clients.
Perspective: When I was born (in Oct. 1962), my dad was serving in the U.S. Navy onboard an aircraft carrier in the Cuban Missile Blockade. As a Navy family, we traveled all over the U.S. until junior high, when we ended up in Colorado. After about 10 years in Colorado, we moved to Southern California, where we have remained ever since. Early in 2012, I had the good fortune of being able to take a 4-month world cruise, traveling to all 7 continents and gaining a unique perspective on the people, religions and cultures that shape our world.
Compassion and Understanding: I know what you are going through, and I care. While I must necessarily maintain an “emotional distance” (so my judgment remains unclouded), your goals are my primary focus.
A Spotless Record: No client has filed a malpractice claim or lawsuit, or a BBB complaint against me. I have never been disciplined by the State Bar. Only one client has sought fee arbitration, resulting in a minimal (app. $20) reduction in my bill. I believe in open communication, so I can address any concern you may ever have.
Pro Bono Activities, Promoting Access to Justice: In March 2009, I received The State Bar of California’s “Wiley M. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services” due to my voluntary provision of legal services to the poor. These volunteer activities include:

  • North County Bar Association, Legal Clinics at the Vista Court’s Law Library
  • San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP) – pro bono legal representation of indigent clients
  • San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP) – volunteer at Women’s Resource Fair
  • Pro Bono representation of service members stationed abroad under the Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
  • San Diego County Bar Association’s Mock Trial Competition – volunteer attorney scorer
  • Whittier Law School and U.S.D. Law School – volunteer judge at moot court and negotiations competitions for law students
  • San Diego Superior Court, Family Law Facilitator’s Office – free assistance to family law litigants in completing court forms
  • San Diego County Bar Association – free legal consultations for Law Day and Law Week events
  • Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law in Los Angeles – volunteer attorney
  • Regularly provide free 1/2-hour telephone consultations to person seeking legal advice