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A Spiritual Crisis In Our Legal Profession

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2019

 

By Chris Burdick                 SCCBA CEO & General Counsel

 

[Editor’s Note: This article is an adapted version of remarks by SCCBA CEO & General Counsel, Chris Burdick, at the Installation Ceremony/Reception for the 2019 SCCBA Officers & Trustees.]

I want to thank our 2019 SCCBA President, Gabe Gregg, for his generous invitation to share some thoughts about the legal profession. First, I hope you will indulge me for a momentary diversion.

As many of you know, the now Honorable Jim Towery was SCCBA President in December 1989 when the SCCBA was hiring a new, then, executive director. Jim was a significant reason for my accepting the position. I decided that if he was representative of the attorneys in leadership at the SCCBA, it would be a terrific job. As it turned out, Jim was representative of the attorney’s active in the legal community and SCCBA.

I want to publicly thank Jim for his exuberance for the SCCBA and for the many opportunities I have had as a result of his pushing some doors open, opportunities that allowed me to represent the SCCBA locally, statewide and nationally. Most importantly, Jim has been an amazing mentor and friend, who I have always counted on to tell me the unvarnished truth and give me his sound advice and he has. Thank you, Jim.

A spiritual crisis in our legal profession exists and has existed in the legal profession for a number of years. Indeed, the profession may be in danger, and many already be in the process, of losing a soul it has embraced for nearly as long as there have been lawyers in this country. I don’t mean a spiritual crisis in the religious sense. I mean “spiritual” in the sense of having a deep connection with the essence of being a lawyer as opposed to being a legal technician proficient in the everyday practice of law. That internal sense or expectation that being a lawyer is a higher calling, a higher endeavor than merely a way to earn a good living, or gain influence or advance political agendas.

It’s that sense that lawyering is about the public good, about contributing to the fabric of our democracy, sustaining the rule of law and preserving individual liberties. That is the spiritual dimension to which I refer. That is what distinguishes American lawyers from lawyers in other countries and what makes our democracy unique.

It’s this sense of having a higher calling that initially motivated lawyers to organize. Attorneys as individuals cannot fully meet that expectation. But coming together as a group expands the capacity to meet that expectation, gives it intensity and emotion and helps lawyers generate ways to meet the expectation. In addition to which our unique training gives lawyers a singular kind of insight, a certain wisdom, judgment and prudence that the public has always relied on lawyers to meet.

We used to call ourselves “lawyers and Counselors at Law.” It’s an ability to counsel that comes from possessing a trait of character that is only acquired by being a person of good judgment, by being able to balance conflicting interests and needs. These are the traits that have been and remain a significant part of being an attorney. Lawyers develop these traits as we study the law and better understand the significance of being an integral part of the judicial system.

Because being an attorney is not just a job, it’s a way of life; a way of life that has a soul evidenced by the emotional and intellectual intensity that comes with being part of a higher calling. A type of soul sustained by reaching for the loftier values of acting in the public good.

And, these values must be attended to or we stand in danger of losing them. But, not nearly enough attorneys acknowledge this essential character trait openly enough or place as much value in them as we have in the past. [Click here for the full post]


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“Lawyers Are Awesome, etc.”

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 4, 2019

 

By Gabe Gregg                  2019 SCCBA President

 

 

Hello again Silicon Valley Attorneys!

 

As you may know, it is customary for the incoming president to choose a theme, project, or area of emphasis for their presidential year.  For this second Presidential Message, I would like to introduce the two presidential themes that I have chosen for 2019, and briefly discuss the path that led me to them.  For those that attended the Installation Event on January 30, the text below may seem familiar.

 

 My first presidential theme is: “lawyers are awesome.”

 

I believe this at my core.  And I am sure that I arrived at this conclusion objectively.  Since my first day as a 1L at UCLA Law School, I have been impressed and amazed by the legal mindset, and by lawyers’ unique functional roles within our society.  For me, spending a career practicing in this profession has been more fun and interesting that I could possibly have imagined.

 

Lawyers seek to find order in chaos.  They solve important problems.  They stand up to bullying.  They help people feel heard.

 

Lawyers are naturally conservative in that they work within courts and other civic structures, and use tools of advocacy and of contract, developed cautiously over centuries by honest and careful architects.  But lawyers, too, are natural mavericks, and instinctively liberal, in that they are regularly called to test the boundaries of these systems and tools through imaginative challenge.

 

The practice of law also is a fascinating mix between science and art, and good lawyers learn how to balance the two. While the court system and our other legal and civic institutions are bound by laws and rules, justice and fairness seldom occur without lawyers creatively investing their personal, intellectual and often emotional effort in representing their clients.  Judges and juries render the judgments, but it is the hard, creative work of litigators working within the justice system that shows them the path to those decisions.  Business people make business deals in concept, but it is the corporate lawyers that iron out and document the important details with an eye to the complexities of law. Without lawyers, important things simply cannot happen.

 

My favorite description of the proper mindset and role of the lawyer came from my first-year law-school contracts professor.  Fair warning – this is a little inscrutable.  But it might be the most useful thing I heard in law school.

 

A few weeks into my first semester, after a bunch of squishy Socratic classes with lots of questions and no firm answers, my professor sensed our dismay.  So he took a break and said this:  “I’m sure that most of you came into law school thinking that there is a Santa Claus.  Now many of you may be worried that there is no Santa Claus.  I hope that at least some of you leave law school realizing, wait a minute, I’m Santa Claus.”

 

It is also important to acknowledge one of the great developments of recent generations:  The value of the legal mindset to our society has clearly been strengthened by the growing diversity of our lawyer population.  While we are far from a fair equilibrium, the increase in law licenses issued to women and people from underrepresented races, cultures and communities, and the new creativity and life experience that they have brought to the entire legal system, is very good news for our profession and our nation.  And it certainly is a special pleasure to practice in a county with unusually robust diversity in its lawyer population.

 

Now, to get a little more topical, I also believe that lawyers are particularly important at this moment in history.  Each year, the dictionary publisher, Miriam Webster, announces a “word of the year” based on website searches and other reported “signs of the times.”  The word of the year for 2018 was “JUSTICE.”

 

Almost every day, we are reminded by breaking news of the work being performed by lawyers:  Working within this nation’s civil and criminal systems to achieve results of often momentous significance – frequently both classically conservative and liberal at the same time.  It is not a stretch to say that this is the era of the vital lawyer.  It is certainly fun to have special insight into front-page issues and processes.  And to have family and friends want to talk to us about typically obscure legal matters. 

 

While not every recent high-profile action by lawyers has been a model of ethical conduct, I hope that you, like me, have taken a special pride in the central and crucial role lawyers are playing in the significant issues of our times.  Lawyers finding order in chaos.  Solving important problems.  Standing up to bullying.

 

My second presidential theme is: “lawyers should be freed to be lawyers.”

 

A corollary to my first theme is that lawyers should be freed, as much as possible, to use their unique skill-sets for the benefit of their clients.

 

Luckily, the last few years have seen an explosion of tools, technology and ingenious law firm platforms and innovations to release lawyers from many of the administrative tasks and other drudgery historically involved in the practice of law.  Online research and reference services have eliminated law firm libraries and created the opportunity for expansive hyper-speed research.  Leading vendors and boutique start-ups have brought new thinking and automation to document review and production and law-firm file organization and work-product sharing.  Time entry and invoicing is more speedy and seamless.  Artificial intelligence is allowing lawyers and law firm administrators to unburden legal practices and let lawyers concentrate on the core work of lawyering.  And, following the lead of the Federal Courts, almost all California courts, including our own local Santa Clara County Superior Court, have now adopted e-filing – radically freeing litigators from the paperwork and assembly hassle of routine court filings.

 

In 2019, with the help of the chairpersons of our sections and committees, the SCCBA intends to focus on providing tips, tricks and insights into such new developments and technologies to our membership.  Our aim is to help the lawyers in this county learn how to better free themselves to be lawyers, and to pursue more streamlined professional lives.

 

This presidential theme draws heavily on my own personal experience, which is a prime example of the freeing power of new legal tools and law firm models.  Two years ago, I joined Rimon P.C., which is a leader in law firm innovation.  My firm is semi-virtual.  This means that while we have brick and mortar offices across the globe—including locally in both Palo Alto and Menlo Park—most of our almost 90 attorneys, including me, do most of their work from home.  When I need space for depositions, client meetings, document productions or other such intensive tasks, I have access to top-quality hard resources.  But on a regular day, I can get up, exercise, and start work in sweatpants and a hoodie without leaving my house and without battling traffic.

 

Notably, other law firms have also started experimenting with such models.  Larger and midsize firms are now allowing associates to work from home on a regular basis.  And, of course, many of our local smaller law firms and solo attorneys are finding that their practices no longer require a full-spectrum brick-and-mortar footprint.

 

Again, as an example, my particular law firm has developed its structures to accommodate this streamlined model.  Our HR, marketing, accounting and other personnel are efficiently scattered across the country.  My legal secretary works from home in Sacramento.  I work with partners, associates and paralegals all over the world and communicate and collaborate using video, email, phone, and other law firm tools.  We have regular all-firm and practice-area video conferences, and the lawyers physically meet up multiple times a year for retreats and get-togethers.  We even have a new AI robot that helps keep our meetings, files and other legal product organized and harmonized.

 

Models like this are obviously not for everyone and for every practice area.  But for lawyers and law firms looking to simplify, I can vouch that these kind of modern streamlined platforms can bring striking efficiencies and increased enjoyment to daily work.  And it is authentically freeing:  Last Summer, I was able to spend five weeks with my family in Greece and, to my surprise and joy, was able to effectively run my litigation practice remotely from my laptop and phone (with help from trusted partners and associates on the ground locally).  Such an opportunity would be almost unheard of even five years ago.  It is a pretty good time to be a lawyer.

 

So, these are my presidential themes.  I look forward continuing to promote them in 2019.

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Hello, Thank You, and Happy New Year

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 3, 2019

By Gabe Gregg
2019 SCCBA President

 

Hello Silicon Valley Attorneys, and Happy New Year!

 

It is with enormous pleasure and, on reflection, a little shock, that I assume the role of President of the SCCBA in 2019.

 

The pleasure comes from my admiration for this bar association, and the positive expectancy of working and spending time with committed colleagues over the next year helping to guide our important institution during particularly turbulent and eventful national and international times.

 

The reason for the little shock is a bit more complex. I’ve anticipated and prepared for the coming year since I was elected as SCCBA President-Elect in October 2017. But its formal arrival has triggered some unanticipated personal introspection—perhaps abetted by my 50th birthday this last Summer—about the passage of time and alternative life-paths untaken.

 

I typically steer away from sentimentality, but it feels appropriate to start my tenure with public affirmation of how startlingly grateful I feel to be living and working as an attorney in Silicon Valley. I unabashedly love being a lawyer. And I love Northern California. Finding myself in this lucky circumstance, with the opportunity of taking on this leadership role at the SCCBA, is an astonishing honor considering the winding and unexpected path that brought me here.

 

Our outgoing president, Kevin Hammon, often used personal “anecdotal” models for his graceful President’s Messages in 2018. In that tradition, and in the context of this introductory, contemplative message, I hope you will indulge a brief recap of my personal history.

 

I am the only-child of George and Deanna, two California hippies that met and married “on-the-road” in Europe but had the judgment to come home to Santa Barbara for my birth in 1968. At age 5, my parents moved our young family to New Zealand, which at the time was a relative socialist-utopia far from the chaos of Nixon’s second presidential term. I grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand. After 2 years of failing-to-study at the University of Canterbury, I flunked all my classes, was tossed out of the school, and decided to return to my place of birth to start afresh. In 1988, just after turning 20, I touched down at SFO with a backpack and a couple hundred dollars – and my priceless U.S. citizenship.

 

In an inauspicious start to my American dream, I took a Greyhound to Santa Barbara, slept in a park for a couple of nights, and started as a dishwasher at a bagel joint. But this is an amazing country, and as I began figuring its gears and levers, I realized that I needed to go back to school. After taking night classes at Santa Barbara City College, I was—remarkably—accepted to UCSB as a discretionary admittee. I studied hard and graduated in 1991 with a B.A. in Theater Arts, with Highest and Departmental Honors.

 

I then moved to Europe, where I had promised myself I would live since hearing stories of my parents’ life on-the-road in the ‘60s. I lived in London in semi-legal squats; I lived in central Paris in a tiny fifth-story walk-up apartment; and I worked in both cities as a waiter in Tex-Mex restaurants. I vagabonded through the continent, and North Africa, for almost two years.

 

Then I woke up one morning in London and, implausibly, decided to apply to law school. I had never met a lawyer and was not sure what they did. But I was burnt-out on Bohemianism, ready for a new challenge, and disinclined towards graduate school in the humanities. I flew back to California, took the LSAT, was accepted to UCLA Law School, and started as a 1L in August 1993 (just prior to the Northridge earthquake and the OJ Simpson trial). I soon learned that I relish the mix of art and science that characterizes the practice of law.

 

Now, 25-years later, the good-fortune that led from that weird decision seems inconceivable. I have had a providential and extremely fulfilling career as a litigation attorney: A federal clerkship in San Diego, 9 years with mega-firm Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and well over a decade at great law firms in Silicon Valley including as a partner at my current ingenious law firm, Rimon P.C. My cases are captivating. My clients, colleagues, friends, and even opposing counsel, are some of the finest, smartest, and most creative people I’ve met. My engagement with the SCCBA has been very rewarding. Practicing law here, at the center of U.S. technological innovation, is an authentic joy. And, most importantly, my career path led me to my amazing wife, Raana (Santa Clara J.D.), who is the reason I moved here from San Francisco. She, and my daughter and son, Anahita and Gieve, are the inspiration, justification, and ends for all the hard and complex work.

 

So, for those of you still reading, I want to thank you for being part of this special legal community, and especially for being members of this bar association. The SCCBA really does so much, often quietly, to improve and enhance our professional lives. There will be more discussion of such topics in President’s Reports to come in 2019. But for now, again – hello, thank you, and Happy New Year!

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