The partner at the San Francisco firm Keker and Van Nest was recently elected the 87th president of the State Bar after nearly a 30-year law career.
Can you tell us a bit about the election process?
The election happens traditionally every summer. A meeting is set to hold the election and we have what amounts to a presidential debate where the people who are running answer questions from the audience. It’s like a little presidential debate that we all remember from when then-Sen. [Barack] Obama and Sen. [John] McCain and those that went before them. It was actually a very interesting process to go through.
What does being the 87th president of the bar mean to you?
It’s a tremendous honor because it is recognition of the esteem in which my colleagues hold me. It’s humbling and it’s certainly something that I hardly take for granted. I work really hard to be a contributor to state bar leadership. And to have my colleagues ask me to assume the position of their chair, it’s thrilling … frankly.
What was your foray into law?
I went to law school at Berkeley — Boalt Hall School of Law. I spent a year in Washington, D.C., as a law clerk to a federal circuit court appellate judge. I spent the entirety of the rest of my career practicing commercial litigation here in San Francisco. I spent 17 years with the Orrick, Herrington firm … then I decided to join a partnership with other lawyers who specialize only in doing litigation and trial work in the late ’90s. The main common denominator of it all is that we typically are asked to handle very high-stakes disputes involving things that have depth to company consequences and involve many millions of dollars.
How long is your term?
The presidency is a one-year term, although the law that governs the structure of the leadership of the state bar is being changed this year for the first time in a significant way. The bar has been around since 1927. If this law is passed and signed by the governor in its currently proposed form, the person who is elected president will have the option of serving for two years instead of just one.
What is your goal while in office?
We oversee the prosecution of disciplined cases against errant lawyers, which is a critical and important public function. For example, the foreclosure crisis. There are a number of lawyers who have created great harm to clients. We have a very important role in singling out the individuals who commit misconduct. We discipline them and that can include disbarment … or kicking them out of the bar.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
I didn’t know any lawyers when I was growing up. My father was an architect, so I did have growing-up years around a profession, but it wasn’t law. I really loved to read. My older brother became an architect, and his great talent was in drawing … and I couldn’t draw a lick. What I could do, though, was immerse myself in books. I remember reading “Moby Dick” when I was 13 and just getting lost in the world of storytelling on the page.
Is there a specific case that demonstrates the kind of man you are?
I’ve had many great successes and big wins for large corporations. But the one case for me that was a once-in-a-lifetime case was one that I did on largely a pro bono basis. I represented a condemned inmate at San Quentin. I worked on the case for 17 years and I eventually saved his life … literally. The day that I learned that we had won the case and avoided his execution was probably one of the most gratifying experiences that I’ve ever had.