Q&A: Who are your biggest influences in the legal profession?
California Lawyer

Q&A: Who are your biggest influences in the legal profession?

July 2013

Eric Toscano

For me, people who influence me are a reflection of what's important to me as a lawyer. My role models are in three different areas: trial lawyers, politicians, and entrepreneurs. In the trial lawyer category, I'd have to go with Melvin Belli. His life fascinated me -- he was a colorful person, an Italian guy from the Central Valley. He's no longer alive, but he's famous among trial lawyers because of his innovative approach to demonstrative evidence. When he won cases he would fly a Jolly Roger flag at his office in San Francisco and fire one or two shots from a cannon he kept on the balcony.

What the lawyers I admire usually have in common is that maybe they don't have the most prestigious pedigrees or backgrounds, but they've put in a lot of hard work. That's what really is attractive to me. A political leader I really admire is San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has done a lot for marriage equality. As for entrepreneurs, there's Mark Britton, the attorney who founded Avvo.com . Raj Abhyanker also comes to mind -- he founded a couple of websites on using your legal skills to combine technology and the law. I appreciate that these guys are extending the definition of what you can do with a law degree besides just running a standard practice.

Eric Toscano is the founder of Toscano Law in San Francisco, where he focuses on civil litigation. He currently serves as the Vice President of the BASF Barrister's Club Board of Directors.


Lily Hughes

James Anderson, then general counsel of Ingram Micro, hired me in 1996 because of my background in corporate governance. When I think about my legal career and the biggest influences on it, he would be one of them. He was a great example of how one can set the right tone at the top -- he was an exemplary legal leader for our company. When I joined the company there were a lot of loose lips and side whispers in our industry, but Jim made it very clear early on that we were an FD compliant company. That impressed upon me what the right approach is in the work that we do. I also really admire Lloyd Johnson, the new publisher of InsideCounsel. He has been a community leader with a focus on increasing diversity and promoting women in the legal profession, particularly female in-house lawyers. There's a project he's involved with called 5/165 -- the hope is that in five years, 165 of the Fortune 500 companies will have women GCs. The last people I'll mention are Michele Coleman Mayes and Kara Baysinger, the authors of the book Courageous Counsel: Conversations with Women General Counsel in the Fortune 500. Their work has helped me think about how I can grow as a leader in the in-house community, and how I can best guide generation that comes after me.

Lily Hughes has been practicing law for 25 years, and is currently vice president and associate general counsel of Ingram Micro Inc., a Fortune 100 NYSE tech company in Santa Ana.

Loren Freestone

When I thought about this question, three people came to mind. The first is Associate Justice Judith Haller -- I worked for her for a year while I was in law school in San Diego. She was the epitome of class and integrity in the sense that she taught us that law could be practiced in a civil and respectful manner. To the extent that I can emulate that in my work now, I do. The second person, and someone I know and trained under who is now also a judge, is Gregory W. Pollack. I worked as an associate underneath him at Higgs Fletcher & Mack. He taught me that the more time you spend on a project, the better service you provide to your client, and the details you'll uncover are where the salient facts lie. The last person I'll mention is also someone I knew before they became a judge -- the Honorable David Rubin, who was president of the California Judges Association for 2011-2012. I'd say the most important thing he taught me is that it's very important to just be yourself. He was the first openly gay president of the judges association, and watching him I've learned that you're a better person if you are just who you are.

Loren Freestone is a litigator at Higgs Fletcher & Mack in San Diego. He is currently the chair of the San Diego Bar Association's Diversity Fellowship Program.

Jane Heath

The folks I most admire have three qualities in common: integrity, civility, and work ethic, and they're qualities ones that I try to embody as a lawyer. I have had the opportunity to hear Anthony Kennedy speak on more than one occasion, I believe he has them all. Retired Justice Joanne Parrilli from the First District and Martin Jenkins who took her place both embody those qualities. And more important to me than the amount of work they've amassed or the amount of success that they've had is their commitment to justice and civility. As lawyers we recognize that our clients bring their problems to us, and although we have to be zealous advocates, it's important that they not make it personal between counsel. In fact, a San Luis Obispo judge, Charles S. Crandall, has prepared a civility oath that he asks the lawyers who appear before him to voluntarily sign. He realizes that you don't have to demonize your adversary to be effective.

Jane Heath is a partner at Smith Duggan Heath LLP in San Luis Obispo. Before she went to law school, she was a paralegal for more than 20 years.

Eric Handler

One person in particular who has been a strong influence on my desire to stay in the legal profession is one of the senior partners at my firm, Eric Doney. Eric has always treated me and everyone else at this firm as though we are a family here. He's encouraged me to give back not only to the firm but also the community we're in, and the legal profession at large. Our firm places a heavy emphasis on allowing our associates to do pro bono work, as much as they want, without a cap on billable hours approved projects. We also have consistent involvement with the community in terms of giving back. That practice of helping other people out has been a constant here, and also manifests itself in Eric helping me and others with major choices in our careers. Julie Hofer, another partner at my firm, has been very important in my own development and career here and encourages me to give back as much as possible. We are in a profession that is driven so by money and by winning and those things create perverse incentives. I've found a home at my firm because the senior people here make sure that younger associates don't lose sight of what's important on a personal level and in the larger world.

Eric Handler is a partner at Donahue Gallagher Woods in Oakland. He specializes in intellectual property law, commercial litigation, and bankruptcy.

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