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Lindgergh Porter

Posted By CMCP, Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Lindbergh Porter, Chair Person of the Board | Littler Mendelson P.C.
by Gagandeep B. Kaur, Associate, Reed Smith LLP

Lindbergh Porter began his career at Littler Mendelson, a premier employment and labor law firm, as a summer associate. At that time, he did not plan to stay at Littler for more than three decades and become the Chairperson of Littler’s Board of Directors. However, one tether to the community after another kept Lindbergh at Littler and in California.

Lindbergh grew up in rural Holmes County, Mississippi, a small farming community of 3000 inhabitants. He attended segregated K-12 schools as various efforts to desegregate schools only started to reach rural Mississippi when Lindbergh was getting ready to graduate from high school and attend the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. In this environment, Lindbergh recalls his parents were undoubtedly his role models. He viewed his father as someone who “could do anything, who could fix anything, who could make anything right.” His mother was “a real independent thinker, planned things and thought three, four steps ahead.” Together his parents provided him and his sibling the security and safe environment they needed.

During his first or second year at the University of Illinois, Lindbergh decided to go to law school. He noted “this was 1968, close to the height of the student movement protests regarding Vietnam, obviously, the civil rights movement, the assassination of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. Those were the things that were searing to someone who was 17 or 18 years old.” These events shifted Lindbergh’s attention from math courses and becoming an engineer to social science, political science, history and economic courses and of course, law school.

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Even when Lindbergh was pursuing his undergraduate degree, he stayed involved and in touch with home – Mississippi. He continued to go home during the breaks and participated in a program promoting adult education. After graduating from the University of Illinois, as planned, Lindbergh returned to Mississippi to be close to his family and attend Ole Miss Law School. However, at the last-minute Lindbergh decided to move to California, where he attended business school and got married before attending the University of San Francisco, School of Law.

Lindbergh approached law school with a level of practicality – it was a means to an end. Therefore, he did not focus on the negatives of being in law school. He recalls “whatever occurred in law school, however tough it got or seemed to have been, I knew it was necessary for me to get where I wanted to go. I didn’t have any doubt that I’d become a lawyer and so being in law school was just part of that.” Nevertheless, Lindbergh’s innate interest in diversity and inclusion issues resulted in Lindbergh becoming involved in battles with the law school administration to do more and faster to admit minority and women students, and hire diverse faculty. Lindbergh’s involvement to push the needle on diversity and inclusion continued during his tenure at Littler through his involvement in Littler’s diversity and inclusion program and hiring committee.

Between his second and third year of law school, Lindbergh clerked at Littler and joined the firm as a first-year associate after he graduated from law school. He chose Littler because it offered immediate opportunities to get into court, try cases, prepare witnesses and learn pre-trial discovery. When asked to describe his interest in Labor and Employment law, Lindbergh notes over time, “the cases, the people and the dynamics of human relations capture you” and keep you engaged in the practice.

Nevertheless, the practice of law came with its challenges for Lindbergh including dealing with clients, opposing counsel, and judges who were not accustomed to working with a lawyer of color and questioned his competency. Lindbergh recalls “you would go into a room and the client is there and the judge assumes that the client’s the lawyer and that you’re the client or you’re some other relationship. Or going to a deposition and the opposing counsel assumed that I was a paralegal. And I didn’t say anything. I just said, ok, fine. Let’s swear the witness in. I’ll just ask questions until the real lawyer comes.” In addition to mastering the lawyering skills, Lindbergh noted that as a lawyer of color you had to be thoughtful and strategic about addressing some of the stereotypes and presumptions that were prevalent about minority and women attorneys, and take charge of your own career and success.

Aside from a six to seven-year break to work at Allen Matkins, Lindbergh spent his entire career at Littler. Lindbergh says there are a number of reasons that kept him at Littler. He respects his colleagues and their work and overtime, he became friends with his colleagues and got to know their families and children. Littler has provided him an opportunity to design his own practice and the support he needed for his community engagements.

Lindbergh notes “I was not expecting to be elected Chair. But I was prepared for it and so I stepped into the role and I become the Chair.” Lindbergh looks forward to using this opportunity to expand Littler’s presence on the international front and continue his commitment to advancing lawyers of color and women in the legal industry. As the Chair, he expects to have more direct involvement in Littler’s diversity and inclusion program – to look at statistics, see what is being accomplished and make suggestions on where Littler can make improvements.

He would like to expand and export Littler’s multi-year Career Advocacy Program (CAP) model to other firms. For the past five or six years, CAP has been pairing advocates, senior attorneys who are well-regarded in their practice area and are known for their business acumen with protégées, attorneys who are have been at Littler for some time and exhibited promising potential to become shareholders. In addition, each protégé has a champion, another attorney at a law firm or a general counsel from one of Littler’s clients. In addition to the annual meeting of protégées, champions and advocates, each champion makes time to get to know his or her protégé and focus on a number of discussion topics such as practice development, alternative careers, career advocacy and business development. While CAP is, time-consuming and requires resources, Lindbergh states it very important for the firm and the profession. To that end, Littler makes an effort to recognize those who contribute to CAP.

When it comes to advancing diversity and inclusion efforts, Lindbergh notes that it takes a “menu of things” on the part of a law firm. It includes diversity and inclusion programs; the leadership’s involvement in the hiring committee and diversity programs; accountability for recruiting; hiring and retaining diverse talent; funding for programs; involvement by everyone in diversity and women's leadership programs; and recognition of those who are contributing to the firm’s efforts.

Lindbergh notes that CMCP is a great resource for law firms and institutions interested in advancing diversity. It is a one-stop shop for learning about programs, initiatives, and connecting with minority, women and LGBQT attorneys. For clients interested in promoting diversity and inclusion, Lindbergh’s advice is to have minority and women attorneys interact with law firms, hire and evaluate law firms based on the firm’s efforts to promote diversity, require regular reporting on attorneys who are working on the client’s matters, systematically follow-up with the attorneys working on the matters, and ultimately vote with your feet.

His advice to young attorneys is to do good work and seize whatever opportunity that comes your way. He is firm believer that if you decide what you want to do and go for it, regardless of what somebody says, then people will help you reach your goal.

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Julio Avalos

Posted By CMCP, Thursday, July 28, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2016
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Julio Avalos, Chief Business Officer and General Counsel | GitHub
by Raffi V. Zerounian, Counsel, Hanson Bridgett LLP

Julio Avalos walked onto campus at Columbia Law School as a first-generation student of color with no practical understanding of the profession. The only lawyer he had ever met was a man who occasionally hired his father to do odd jobs or handyman work. “I’d hold the ladder while my dad put up a ceiling fan,” Julio remembers, “or else help dig for landscaping work. All I knew was that he had a fancy house and smoked cigars.” A decade after graduating from Columbia Law, Julio is now Chief Business Officer and General Counsel of GitHub, a groundbreaking technology startup and maker of one of the most important tools in contemporary software development. Although Julio humbly attributes some of his success to being in the right place at the right time, his trajectory is an impressive example of someone who remained true to himself and his community, passion, and voice.

Julio has served on GitHub’s executive team since 2012 and now oversees the company’s operational departments, including the Legal, People Operations (HR & Talent Acquisition), Finance, and Internal Communications teams. Looking back to his first day of law school, this is not necessarily where he expected to be professionally.

On his first day of orientation at Columbia Law School, Julio felt disoriented and “apart from” most of his Ivy League classmates. It was similar to something he had experienced long before, on his first day of kindergarten. On that day, Julio, the first son of Guatemalan immigrants, had showed up with a Wonder bread and refried bean sandwich and slipped between English and Spanish when speaking to his classmates. “I don’t think that I realized it was possible to not be bilingual,” Julio recalls. He went home wondering why some of his classmates laughed when he spoke. That night, he recorded himself talking on a tape recorder and played it back to try to figure out what was so funny about his voice. He thought he sounded just fine.

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When he was eight years old, his family moved from New York to Florida. Julio always liked and gravitated towards school, and excelled in his studies. He received a scholarship to attend the University of Florida. His parents encouraged him to be a Business major, but in following a trend throughout his life, Julio opted to follow his passion instead and enrolled to study English and Philosophy. “All I wanted was to read and write and talk about reading and writing,” Julio says. “I wasn’t preoccupied with grades or what I wanted to be when I grew up.” As graduation neared, however, Julio was alerted by the school's administration that he had among the best grades on campus. Julio started to think more seriously about next steps. He ended up graduating at the top of his class, with perfect grades.

To him, the most natural next step would have been to continue to pursue the focus of his undergraduate studies and obtain a PhD in philosophy or literary theory. In Julio’s family, however, as with many immigrant families, a career in law or medicine was viewed as the pinnacle of both professional and personal success. Although he was not sure what lawyers actually did, he decided it would not hurt to apply to law school. But still torn, he opted to apply to one and only one law school. If he did not get in, he would reassess and pursue his doctorate. He knew he wanted to get back to New York and had a general sense of the "Ivy League.” He did some online research; Columbia was the only school that checked both boxes. Columbia Law also happened to have some of the top Critical Race Theory faculty in the country, and Julio recognized names like Patricia Williams and Kendall Thomas from his undergraduate theoretical work on race, gender, and law. Julio applied to Columbia Law School, was admitted, and quickly enrolled.

Julio did not love law school. He did not recognize himself in the work or his peers. His classmates were the children of governors, diplomats, and CEOs. Most had spent the summer or years before law school traveling or working abroad. Julio went straight from college to law school, and spent his summer months working the night shift at Target, helping to unload freight. He was a first generation American of Latino heritage whose mother taught English as a second language to Hispanic and Haitian immigrants and whose father was a handyman without a high school education. Even so, Julio eventually found work he enjoyed and thrived—child advocacy with an immigration component, copyright, trademark law, and race theory with Professor Kendall Thomas. He spent a very brief time with the school’s Journal of Gender and Law—“the only journal that seemed to be doing any interesting, hard, critical or theoretical work”—but stopped when he learned that in the law school journal system, students typically do not work on their own content, but are rather responsible for editing and publishing that of the professors. He opted to work on extending his undergraduate honors thesis instead, a psychoanalytic study of the works of Mark Twain. It was published by Johns Hopkins University as Julio began his second year in law school.

In addition to being the first member of his family to run the gamut of high school, SATs, and college applications, as a product of public schools, Julio went into law school knowing little of the student debt that would accumulate. He quickly understood that he would need to get a job at a corporate law firm to sustain himself after graduation. After his second year, Julio was a summer associate at a vaunted white shoe New York corporate law firm. The experience was eye opening. “I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but at least I knew that I didn’t want to do that,” says Julio.

After graduating in 2006, Julio took an offer with the New York office of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. A year later, Julio moved to Orrick’s Menlo Park office to be closer to his girlfriend (now wife), who was clerking for the Ninth Circuit, and who he had met on their first day at Columbia Law School. Orrick partner Neel Chatterjee recruited Julio to work on cutting edge intellectual property issues, and Julio credits him with helping to direct and form his career. This type of work—which focused on a mission of pulling the world together through technology—was interesting, and presented fewer moral and ethical complications than traditional big firm clients.

Eventually, Neel staffed Julio to a case for a new firm client known at the time as "TheFacebook.com." Julio’s practice became focused on copyright, trademark, and internet matters, and he spent nearly five years working primarily on Facebook cases and investigations. Julio's career grew as Facebook matured and as the complexity of the issues facing the company expanded, both domestically and internationally. Suddenly he was litigating not only intellectual property issues, but precedent-setting privacy, cybergovernance, and general commercial issues. Working with Facebook was Julio's first experience with a mission-based approach to work, and he fell in love with it. Facebook’s novel approach to running a company, its open office space plan, and the role lawyers play when working with a technology startup was a new and exhilarating experience. He had been bitten by the tech "bug."

Although Julio understood and enjoyed the positive attributes of law firm life, he realized that his passion was working with people and within a business. He enjoyed having an intimate understanding of the client and its business, needs, and culture. He also liked the more tangible and practical aspects of the in-house role, and being able to look at a legal practice differently. In 2011, Julio had an opportunity to go in-house at Yelp, before the company's initial public offering. “I went from doing litigation to almost anything but,” he says. Julio counseled Yelp on employment matters, marketing issues, and had his first experiences with contract drafting and commercial negotiations.

It was at Yelp that Julio noticed that many of the company’s engineers were wearing GitHub shirts or had GitHub stickers on their laptops. He was intrigued. Company-branded swag is a constant in the tech and startup industries, and used as almost tribal identifiers by the employees who work there. Wearing and identifying with a different company’s brand is unusual. After learning more about the company, Julio was introduced to GitHub's founders, who, he learned, had never had a company attorney despite having already established an international presence and almost cultish buzz in the tech industry. This eventually turned into a job offer, and Julio was hired as GitHub's first in-house lawyer in 2012, the same year the company raised $100M, the then-largest Series A round of funding in technology history.

GitHub is a social tool that allows users to collaborate on the development of software in a manner that fosters collaboration, transparency, and community. Since its founding in 2008, GitHub has been named among the most innovative companies in the world. Julio felt at home at GitHub culturally, which, like its product, has an environment that focuses not only upon high-quality work product, but also collaboration, empathy, and community.

When Julio joined GitHub, it had under 100 employees, nearly all of whom were building GitHub the company on GitHub the product. To Julio, that meant that GitHub Legal should be built on top of GitHub as well. It also meant that it was important to view himself not as a lawyer who happened to work at GitHub, but rather a GitHub employee who happened to be a lawyer. To Julio, doing so means that things like values, culture, and the mission and vision of the company get baked into the decision-making process in a way that would not otherwise be the case with lawyers who generally view themselves and their work as either fungible, or else somehow separate from the companies that employ them.

Julio soon crafted a bespoke and radical view of the legal function at GitHub. Under his leadership, GitHub lawyers treat the law as code, and approach legal issues as bugs in that code. Through that lens, something seemingly specifically and “obviously legal” and thus “Legal’s problem” becomes anything but. Take a patent lawsuit, for instance. The suit is predicated on technology that lawyers did not create and usually do not understand, and that requires an engineer and other employees within a company to explain and defend. Borrowing from his earlier philosophical and theoretical work, Julio saw how even the language around lawyers and legal work reinforced the idea that they were somehow separate and apart from the company’s within which they sit. One “escalates” an issue to Legal, for instance, rather than move laterally, or collaboratively to one’s peers.

By using the GitHub tool and becoming a part of the software development process in much the same way as their technical colleagues, Julio created a proactive legal team that is able to learn and discuss potential legal issues before they become “legal problems.” GitHub's legal employees provide opinions on a real-time basis in a non-invasive, organic way, as part of the product’s development process. This organic approach helps to blunt a company’s legal department from being perceived as “blockers,” and provides greater job satisfaction to lawyers and “clients” alike.

GitHub has grown to approximately 600 global employees today, with a legal team of 10. Julio’s views on diversity in the legal profession are similarly innovative. For a profession that not only prides but believes itself to have a sort of monopoly on objective, analytical thinking, he finds it curious that seemingly such little thinking and attention is given to the practice of law itself. Although typical law firm diversity initiatives focus on recruiting attorneys from diverse backgrounds, Julio feels they will continue to have only limited and superficial success without a deeper, sustained examination of the environments within which these attorneys are expected to work, thrive and develop their careers. He notes that the legal industry has generally ignored scholarship involving the intersection of race and law, and that as a result, deeply problematic and systemic elements of the profession that ultimately lead to anxiety and attrition among attorneys from diverse backgrounds are treated as neutral, natural, and obvious. This might be reflected in hierarchical firm structures, communication styles, language, and even definitions of success. When making hiring decisions, Julio not only focuses on work quality and the recruit's so-called legal acumen, but also on their ability to collaborate, empathize, communicate, and to think creatively not only about their work, but on the very nature of their vocation.

Julio has bold ideas about how to improve the role of attorneys. He believes that the profession should borrow from open source models in improving the transparency and organizational context of corporate legal functions, much like what he has implemented at GitHub. It should be possible, for instance, to “open source” corporate policies, to “crowdsource” and make them visible to a larger group of individuals—within or outside the company itself—in order to “debug” and catch legal issues before a lawsuit or a complaint arises. Not only would risk be mitigated, real cost and time efficiencies would be gained by creating industry-wide “sharing cultures” where startups, emerging and mature companies alike would be able to borrow one another’s basic work rather than constantly reinventing the wheel and duplicating work that has already been done thousands of times over.

An open source legal function might also serve to increase diversity in the legal field. Through an open source model, such a GitHub, site developers may develop an online portfolio of work that makes them employable. In this regard, GitHub is a social network. Developers receive recognition if their code is merged into a large open source project. They develop followers, as on Twitter or Instagram. Developers often find work because of their profile on GitHub, and it has become the de facto tool for technical recruiters to find software developers.

Julio believes that this paradigm can be applied to the legal community in ways that would potentially increase access to legal services, increase competition, break the dependency on mega-firms, and drive down the overall cost of legal services for clients and law firms alike. Moreover, a more diverse community of attorneys will have an opportunity to propose tweaks to the language of “open source” legal and corporate projects or policies, which would help them make a name for themselves in the legal community. This may result in employers finding legal talent outside of the typical avenues such as top law schools and large firms, which may not pull from very diverse pools of attorneys.

Although many view the practice of law as neutral and objective, in Julio's opinion, it is not. According to Julio, legal work—its nature, style, and its practice—is the product of what is ultimately an incredibly narrow perspective that, through the profession’s own informal application of stare decisis, has been handed down to contemporary practitioners since the Romans or Anglo Saxons. Litigators assume that they should be arguing and yelling at one another, making “colorable” or “tenable” arguments that they otherwise would recognize as specious or just shy of bad faith, for no reason other than that it seems a natural and obvious way of practicing so-called zealous advocacy. Julio believes that lawyers should be thinking about a legal practice that is more empathetic and collaborative, which develops a true sense of community, vocation, profession, and professionalism. Julio notes that in almost no other field is there so clearly recognized a need for reform among both its practitioners and their clients and yet seemingly no way of engaging or even thinking about what such reform might look like. Julio argues that there is an almost perfect overlap between work that lawyers hate doing, clients hate paying for, and that technology or community dynamics might actually solve. And yet he remains positive and believes that a more diverse group of attorneys—particularly among so-called “millennials"—that will and should be encouraged to bring their personal, cultural, and societal values and experiences into the profession so as to move the legal profession into the twenty-first century.

Julio humbly describes his career trajectory as a somewhat haphazard and one that lacked intentionality. He never set out to be a tech lawyer or to try to invent alternate paradigms of legal or corporate practice. In tech and as an attorney, Julio has benefitted from a strong work ethic and a fundamental respect for work that he does believe has some origin in not only the Latin culture, but in the immigrant experience more generally. He was taught to find pride and a sense of purpose in vocation in whatever one does, installing ceiling fans, unloading freight on the graveyard shift, or writing briefs for a marquee client.

His advice for law students: law school is a poor indicator of what the actual practice of law is going to be. Law students should stick with law school regardless of whether they enjoy it. Since the practice of law may well go in any number of different directions, students can craft a career that suits their strengths and passion and do well to remember what those strengths and passions are.

To attorneys of diverse backgrounds: Julio encourages finding and trusting your voice and passion. Julio believes that he has been served well, ironically, by his lack of context for the industries with which he has worked. When in doubt, Julio pulled from his own sense of morals, ethics, and values, and trusted that doing so would lead him to the right answers. Julio also believes that networking and developing personal connections is important for junior lawyers and law students.

Like many before him, former Executive Director Marci Rubin introduced Julio to CMCP. Although Julio was not involved with CMCP at the time, he received an email about helping to find Marci’s replacement. Julio volunteered to help Marci with the effort, and she roped him into the organization. Shortly thereafter, GitHub became a CMCP sponsor, and Julio spoke at the CMCP Annual Meeting in Los Angeles last year.

On the personal front, Julio is married to a classmate from Columbia Law School who is a partner at a boutique litigation firm in San Francisco. Together, they have three kids under the age of seven. Julio's hobbies include time with family, lots of yoga, discovering new music, and, as always, plenty of reading and writing.

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Audra Ibarra

Posted By CMCP, Thursday, July 28, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2016
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Audra Ibarra, Counsel | California Appellate Law Group
by Tanya Eliason, Trademark and Business Law Counsel, Eliason Legal Solutions

What is a brilliant young woman with acting dreams from a family with extremely high academic expectations to do when she grows up? Become a rock star trial lawyer turned superstar appellate attorney, of course! At least, that’s what Audra Ibarra did.

Audra is a Midwestern girl who grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota as the daughter of a professor at the University of Minnesota. She says she inherited both her strong family values and her passion for public service from her parents. Lucky for all of us in California, she attended University of California, Berkeley (“Cal”). Cal is a family school of sorts, her father, mother and siblings all went there. For law school, Audra set off for the East Coast, receiving her J.D. from New York University. Although she loved living in New York, she chose to return and settle in the Bay Area.

Unsurprisingly, with an academic for a father, education was very important in Audra’s family. She irreverently chocks some of that emphasis on education up to being Asian – She is a proud Filipino-American. It was assumed that she would not just obtain a bachelor’s degree, but also earn a graduate degree. Audra, however, had other thoughts; she desperately wanted to be an actor. Ultimately, she realized that law, particularly, being a trial lawyer, could be the perfect compromise between her acting dreams and her family’s insistence on a more academic graduate education. She enjoys the theatrics and public speaking aspects of trial work. Today, she remains the only attorney in the family – her brother is an M.D. and her sister has four non-law related master’s degrees.

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Audra spent well over a decade as a prosecutor, more than seven of which was as an Assistant U.S. Attorney (“AUSA”) in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in San Francisco and San Diego. She absolutely loved being a lawyer in public service, especially an AUSA. She says it was an honor representing the United States and everyone in it. Despite that, Audra chose to not only go solo in late 2010, but to focus on appellate practice as well. She ultimately joined forces with the boutique firm California Appellate Law Group. Her appellate practice involves oral argument, brief writing, and lots of client counseling, including risk analysis regarding the likelihood of success on appeal. Admittedly, she misses the excitement of being a trial lawyer. Her decision to have a small private appellate practice was informed by the importance of her family. For her being a trial lawyer would be too rigid to allow her to spend enough time with her children. In her appellate practice, she has the required flexibility to juggle kids while continuing to develop her career and engage with her peers. Of course, flexibility doesn’t mean Audra works less, it only means she can work at odd hours to accommodate her children’s schedules. Audra’s family is her one and only hobby. In fact, the only structured non-professional extracurricular activity she participates in is taekwondo with the kids. She pushes herself tremendously hard to not miss family or professional opportunities.

A deep belief in public service drives Audra to remain very active in several community service and professional organizations, despite her career and family demands. Somehow she manages to not only participate in, but also join boards and committees of various organizations, including three-year stints on both the State Bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission and its standing Committee on Appellate Courts, as well as longer tenures on the boards of both California Women Lawyers (“CWL”) and CMCP among others. Additionally, she’s written numerous articles, particularly for San Francisco Attorney Magazine, the Daily Journal, the Recorder and State Bar publications.

Throughout her career, Audra has received many awards and recognition, but she remains most proud of the Director’s Award from the Executive Office of United States Attorneys, a national award which she received many years ago for successfully prosecuting a high profile international child molester. It is important to her to always be working to make the world a better place. It is that sense of purpose and meaning that compelled her to give her all during her tenure as an AUSA. Audra admits missing that feeling of being part of something bigger in her work life. She strives to retain that sense of purpose through her community service and by taking on important public policy cases in the United States Supreme Court, California Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit in her appellate practice and as chair of the CWL Amicus Committee.

Audra advises newer attorneys to get actively involved in organizations and community groups as soon as they can; she wishes she had done so earlier in her career. However, in the beginning she worked non-stop only participating in community activities through her job. For example, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco her extracurricular community service focused on leadership, anti-gang, anti-violence and anti-drug programs and camps for at-risk kids. She awarded and administered grants to low income communities and managed leadership programs and camps involving children from those communities. Now she understands that participating in extracurricular activities outside the office is not only good for socializing and networking, but also engaging with others can lead to unexpected breakthroughs, as one never knows when inspiration will strike. It’s a great way to learn about other sectors of the legal profession and improve the community at large.

Audra was encouraged to get involved with both CMCP and CWL by her friend, mentor, and former colleague, Kevin Fong, around the time she launched her appellate practice in late 2010. Kevin knew that she wanted to help women and minorities reach their full potential within the profession. As a former CMCP board member and current CMCP Diversity Leader Hall of Fame inductee, Kevin assured her that her goals dovetailed perfectly with CMCP’s mission. Audra loves the passion shared by everyone involved with CMCP, from members to staff to leadership. She has a distinct sense that everyone really believes in the organization’s goal of cultivating diversity and giving underrepresented groups the chance to have their dream careers within the law.

In discussing what she hopes to accomplish as a CMCP board member, Audra invoked a sentiment often espoused by immediate past Executive Director, Marci Ruben: to make it so there is no longer a need for CMCP because diversity and inclusion have become the norm. Audra is inspired by her fellow board members who (like her) spread the message to all the organizations they are a part of. She is particularly inspired by Craig Holden who served as the State Bar president last year and encouraged her to become a member of the California Judicial Council. She was recently appointed to the Council and her three-year term begins in September. She says she is grateful and honored to have the opportunity to serve the bench, bar and public in that way. We all wish her a successful and productive term.

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Mia Yamamoto

Posted By CMCP, Thursday, April 28, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2016
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Mia Yamamoto
by Noah Pérez-Silverman, Attorney, Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, PC

It is impossible to spend an hour with Mia Yamamoto without leaving inspired. She’s one of those rare people who seems to accomplish more in a year than most do in a lifetime. Over the course of one leisurely lunch, I got to pick her brain on everything from her birth in a Japanese internment camp, to her years in a rock band, to her work ending international torture, to what she describes as her proudest accomplishment so far: her transition from male to female. And with her background as a frequent news commentator on the O.J. Simpson trial, we even discussed her thoughts on the recent FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson. But what struck me most was how unimpressed Mia seemed to be with her own highly impressive life. “Don’t dwell too much on your past accomplishments,” she told me. “People who do tend to accomplish very little.” And you can tell she takes her own advice. Despite the groundbreaking and influential life she has already led, I get the definite sense that Mia’s greatest accomplishments still lie ahead.

Mia was born Michael Yamamoto, in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Her father was the first Asian-American graduate of Loyola Law School, in 1934, and he used the court system to challenge the internment of the Japanese-Americans. Mia notes that her father naively believed that the U.S. Constitution would protect his family from being needlessly imprisoned when they had done nothing criminal. But he underestimated the profound power race can have to create alliances—and divisions—and to set policy. With this origin, Mia grew up with a strong sense of justice and an understanding of the importance of breaking down racial barriers. But Mia is the first to admit that it was the Brown v. Board decision, even more so than her father’s work fighting Japanese internment, that drew her to a legal career. Hearing about that decision, which she understood even in her youth was handed down long before much of the country was ready to accept it, Mia realized that lawyers can actually take the lead on social issues—that they can change the world.

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Of course, many young people go to law school with lofty ambitions of changing the world, but how many follow through? Mia’s career charts her continuing desire to make as big a change as possible. Her public service started immediately after graduating from UCLA Law School. She spent three years at the Legal Aid Foundation, helping indigent clients with legal problems. Although she appreciated making a difference in her clients’ lives—working on landlord-tenant disputes, juvenile dependency cases, or divorces—she felt that she was not making a large enough impact. So she decided to move to the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office.

Mia loved criminal defense work, which she still practices to this day. In her ten years at the PD’s office and her years since in private practice, she has handled everything from DUIs to murder trials. But she still felt humbled by what she perceived as the relatively small scale of change she was effecting; even though she was working tirelessly and passionately for her clients and making a huge impact in their lives, she still felt impotent to correct broader societal problems. “Still today,” she emphasizes, “if you walk into a criminal courtroom you will see almost exclusively white judges, white lawyers, and minority defendants. No one can look at that and tell me we don’t have a racial problem with our criminal justice system.”

Over time, Mia began to realize that it was through organizational work that she could make the biggest impact. She got involved with a number of organizations, including the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, of which she eventually became President. Through that entity, Mia worked to achieve passage of Proposition 47, which reduced several nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors; she is still working with CACJ today towards abolishing the death penalty. The organization also offers death penalty defense training for lawyers to better serve their clients facing capital charges..

One person who took to heart Mia’s advice—that organizational work is where you can make the biggest difference—is Karen Tse, a woman Mia mentored through UCLA law school. Mia remembers vividly the night Karen graduated from UCLA. They were sitting together at dusk, and Karen suggested they make a wish on the moon, which was full that night. Mia said that since she was the mentor and Karen had just graduated, Karen should make a wish, and Mia would try to help her fulfill it. Karen replied with a bolder wish than any Mia could have anticipated: she wished they could end torture throughout the world, and she stated that now she expected Mia’s help. From law school, Karen went to divinity school and founded International Bridges to Justice (IBJ), a non-profit dedicated to ensuring that criminal defendants in developing countries have early access to counsel and to bringing an end to the use of torture as an investigative tool. If you want to be inspired and don’t have the luxury of a lunch with Mia Yamamoto, I encourage you to Google “Karen Tse” and watch her short but powerful TED talk on ending torture. In it, she points out that most victims of torture throughout the world are not political prisoners or suspected terrorists, as we might imagine. They are common people, suspected of only petty crimes, who are tortured for an easy confession. Karen notes that unfortunately, torture is common because it is the cheapest form of investigation. But Karen—and Mia—are determined to bring a stop to this practice.

Mia kept her full-moon promise, joining the founding board of IBJ and helping it get off the ground. Mia laughs, recalling that she felt a little out of place on a board made up almost entirely of clergy—Karen’s contacts from divinity school—with Mia herself being an atheist. But Mia was fully committed to IBJ’s work. As part of IBJ, Mia has traveled to China multiple times, giving trainings to Chinese leaders on how other legal systems work, including access to defense counsel, due process, and the unreliability of confessions obtained through torture. To gain access to a Chinese audience, IBJ had to characterize its presentations as concerning “rule of law” issues, rather than “human rights” issues. But once their foot was in the door, they realized how receptive the legal community in China—including the police—is to their message. Among other work, IBJ gives presentations to cops about the rights of criminal defendants, and several police departments even requested that IBJ make copies of their posters, which explain the rights of the accused, for law enforcement to display in the police stations. But obstacles still remain. Just for giving these trainings or trying to implement their teachings, lawyers have been jailed or tortured themselves. Undeterred, Mia is still an active participant in this organization 15 years later. She notes that people are still wasting away in prisons throughout the world who are completely innocent; and even those who are guilty are often serving penalties far more severe than their crime warrants. Mia has no intention of giving up on this organization any time soon.

But above all of this work, Mia tells me that her proudest life accomplishment was when, in 2003, she transitioned from male to female. Needless to say, it took an incredible amount of courage for Mia to make this transition, particularly 13 years ago, when transgender rights were not the hot topic they are today. And she feared the worst, having witnessed the offensive way some judges and prosecutors spoke to transgender criminal defendants. So she was pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of support she received. Congratulations flowed in. Judges would come down from the bench to give her a hug. The Daily Journal even wrote a front page article about her. To this day, she feels a little uncomfortable with the attention she gets. She has been given numerous awards, and she jokes that sometimes she feels like perhaps the only reason she’s getting an award is because she’s transgender. (Anyone familiar with Mia’s life and career, of course, would quickly counter that her life is praiseworthy even putting aside her transition, and that the importance and impact of her transition should not be discounted in any event.) But she accepts the accolades because she realizes how important it is for others to see trans people who are successful, who are being honored, who are esteemed in society. She hopes that maintaining a high profile will help other trans people feel more comfortable being who they are. Indeed, since Mia had her own transition, two DAs have also successfully completed a gender confirmation transition.

From there, our conversation turned to the current state of trans rights and visibility in the U.S., covering everyone from Caitlyn Jenner to Laverne Cox to Zoey Tur. Mia thinks that the obvious next battleground for the trans community concerns access to public restrooms, and she also wants to see trans people accepted in the military. But as much as she cares about and is affected by the fight for trans rights, I can tell that her true passion, her deepest calling, is for the individual rights of the accused: the right to counsel, the right to be free from torture. It is in this arena, when talking about these issues, that her face really lights up and her speech gets charged.

Mia quickly informed me that her second proudest accomplishment was the 10 years she spent at the public defender’s office. She loved her time there, and even formed a rock band with fellow PDs called “Use a Guitar, Go to Prison,” in which she played guitar and provided lead vocals, from 1978 until 2005. She has fond memories of her years in this band, which performed all around Southern California. She is a long-time fan of Bruce Springsteen, traveling all around the country to see him perform, even joining together with fellow public defenders to follow his tour to London and back in 1981. Mia is still a mega-fan; she attended all three performances the Boss gave in March at the LA Sports Arena. Although “Use a Guitar, Go to Prison” no longer performs, Mia still makes time to perform with other various musical groups.

Despite her positive experiences at the PD’s office and her bright future there, she finally decided to leave, in large part because she felt pressure not to be too political. Mia admits that she had pretty strident views during her time as a public defender, which was clear from the very beginning of her tenure there. When applying for the job, she interviewed with Mark Horton of the PD’s office, and was surprised that someone from the DA’s office participated in her interview as well. The practice at the time, unbeknownst to Mia, was to have someone from both offices interview candidates, so they could see which office would better suit the applicant. For Mia, that answer was clear: her immediate reaction to the DA’s presence was a curt “What is he doing here?,” which Mark Horton found hysterical. But it is this same spirit that made her eventually want to chart a different path. She wanted to be un-muzzled; to be able to join a protest if she wanted to, without worrying that her actions would be a reflection on the office. For instance, as president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, she wrote an anti-war piece right after 9/11 for which she took a lot of flak. She does not believe she could have written an opinion piece like that had she still been working as a PD.

One place where Mia got to spout her opinions regularly was as a commentator on the O.J. Simpson trial. Early on in the case, she was approached by Channel 9 news executives to provide television commentary. She initially declined, not wanting the spotlight in that way. But when Channel 9 pointed out that Mia herself was always saying that the news and television needed to be more diverse, and that they needed to present people of color as experts, Mia relented. (She also used that position to encourage Channel 9 to bring on several other minority commentators as well.) Indeed, Mia was a perfect candidate to provide commentary on the trial; in addition to being an accomplished criminal attorney herself, Mia was also close friends with Johnny Cochran and knew Marcia Clark well from meeting in the criminal courts. With this background, I had to ask Mia if she was watching American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson on FX, which she was. She was impressed with the level of detail the show created, and raved about Sarah Paulson’s performance as Marcia Clark—how she really captured the difficulty Marcia was facing, including the intense media scrutiny that Marcia was unprepared to handle. But Mia acknowledges that, as a criminal defender herself, her own commentary necessarily approached the case from her defense perspective.

Mia also had an acute awareness of how race impacted the O.J. case. Johnny Cochran would tell her stories that he would show up for criminal hearings impeccably groomed, dressed in his finest Armani suits, and still the judge would turn to Johnny’s white clients to ask them how their client pleads. It’s a story not unfamiliar to many female attorneys who have been mistaken for court reporters, or racial minorities such as Mia who have been mistaken for interpreters. Indeed, Mia reflects how more than half a century after the Korematsu decision upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans, people are still so quick to make assumptions based on race. “Race is so powerful,” Mia noted. “It makes people feel kinship with some people, and distanced from others.” It’s why she is so impressed with and supportive of organizations like CMCP, that help bridge racial divides. Whether it’s African-American children who need access to previously-segregated public schools, transgender people who need access to the restrooms that conform to their gender, or minority lawyers who need access to the sort of advantageous connections that for so long were available only to attorneys who were straight white men, Mia views all of these fights as part of the same broader struggle: breaking down barriers and including people who were previously excluded.

As for Mia’s own advice for the next generation of lawyers? She told me: “What you do for money supports you. But what you do for free defines you.” She hopes that everyone follows a career that allows them to serve the public interest or the common good. But, she’s also practical. To people who are primarily concerned with making money, she says, “Great! Go make lots of money! And then donate it to charity, because there are tons of organizations—such as International Bridges to Justice—that need your financial support. So if you can’t support the public good with your entire career or your time, then do it with funds.”

For those interested in criminal law, she strongly urges people to become public defenders. Mia acknowledges that she has more respect for prosecutors than she once did. In her years of criminal practice, she has seen a lot of quality litigating from prosecutors, “and you can’t hate your adversaries when you are impressed with their lawyering.” Now she tries to get to know the prosecutors as individuals. Nevertheless, she is dismayed that the prevailing sentiment seems to be that the best way to get ahead in a legal career is to become a prosecutor, and that even defense-minded people Mia knows encourage their own kids to be prosecutors. Not Mia. When she meets law students, she points out that prosecutors always have the upper hand in a case; then she asks them: “If you were learning to play poker, would you want to be the player who always has the best cards? Or would you want to be the player who plays whatever random hand she’s dealt? True, the player with the best cards will win most of the time. But the player who plays the hand she’s dealt is free to pursue any strategy she chooses—she has to be crafty about strategy. And over time, who will learn to be the better poker player? To become a really good lawyer, you have to face uphill battles.” And to those who are still reluctant, she adds, “The PDs have the best parties (and the cool DAs party with the public defenders)!”

As we finished lunch and started packing up, I looked over my notes and could not believe how much ground we had covered in an hour. More than that, I got the genuine sense that I had only scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of Mia’s life history. So I was surprised when Mia told me that her biggest regret is that she feels she has not made a large enough impact on society. It is this constant drive to make a difference—coupled with her refusal to accept the status quo—that makes me confident Mia isn’t going to stop working to change the world any time soon.

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Sharon Tomkins

Posted By CMCP, Monday, December 21, 2015
Updated: Monday, November 21, 2016
Untitled Document
Sharon Tomkins, Vice President and General Counsel | Southern California Gas Company
by Noah Pérez-Silverman, Associate, Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, PC

Sharon Tomkins, Vice President and General Counsel of Southern California Gas (“SoCalGas”), loves engaging with cutting edge issues. Indeed, she decided to focus her career on energy and regulatory work in large part because the energy sector is so dynamic: the rules and guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions are constantly changing, with both legislators and the public showing increasing interest in energy efficiency. In this energy climate, Sharon loves being in a position to make sure that SoCalGas (and its parent, Sempra Energy) is making smart choices to move the energy sector forward in a thoughtful way. Her desire to tackle cutting edge issues also led her to join the Board of the California Minority Counsel Program (“CMCP”) during a time of transition. With Executive Director Emeritus Marci Rubin handing the reins to incoming Executive Director Robert White, Sharon is excited to help the organization handle the transition smoothly and continue to be as effective and engaging as it was under Marci’s stewardship.

A brief look back at Sharon’s impressive career might give the impression that Sharon has always had a laser-like focus on energy work. She started doing regulatory energy work shortly after beginning her legal career at O’Melveny & Myers LLP. When she became a partner at O’Melveny, she focused her practice on the energy sector. She founded the firm’s Energy, Natural Resources & Environmental Practice. She taught a course on Energy Law, Policy and Climate Change at UCLA Law School. And she has published several articles on legal challenges facing the energy sector.

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In truth, however, Sharon’s path was anything but predetermined, and she acknowledges that her career has been shaped not only by her own drive but also by a number of mentors who guided her into the profession and field she now occupies. After growing up in northern Idaho and graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, Sharon initially considered pursuing a Ph.D. in the same discipline. But her sister-in-law, a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, convinced her she would enjoy being a lawyer. Sharon took this advice, thrived at USC Law School, and at the encouragement of her civil procedure professor, applied for and secured a clerkship with the Honorable Danny J. Boggs on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

After clerking, Sharon joined O’Melveny’s Los Angeles office. During the California energy crisis at the beginning of the millennium, Sharon was assigned to work on an energy matter. Although she had not taken energy courses in law school—indeed, most law schools did not offer energy courses at the time—she dived in and immersed herself in the world of regulatory energy work. She speaks with great admiration of several mentors she had at O’Melveny. John Daum, in particular, stands out. While walking to the courthouse for hearings in a case they worked on together, John would tell Sharon his strategy for the hearing, and on the walk back, he would unpack why he may have changed his strategy mid-stream. Sharon found John’s willingness to explain his strategic thinking invaluable.

By the time Sharon made partner, she had a wealth of experience in both energy regulatory work and securities fraud litigation, but she decided to focus on energy work, in large part because of the exciting challenges of the constantly changing energy landscape. Sharon took a six month secondment to SoCalGas, and when an opportunity arose to move in-house at Sempra several years later, Sharon took it. In September 2014, Sharon was elevated to General Counsel of SoCalGas.

As General Counsel, Sharon oversees a legal department that comprises 23 lawyers who are divided into four main practice areas: regulatory, litigation, commercial, and environmental. Although she practices law less than she did before becoming GC, she enjoys spending more time thinking strategically about the business side of SoCalGas: how to grow the company while also dealing with regulatory rulemaking, ratemaking procedures from the California Public Utilities Commission, and new legislation. When new legislation or agency procedures are proposed or passed, Sharon strategizes about how SoCalGas fits into the picture. With the development of more forms of renewable energy, smart meters, electrical vehicles and more, there has never been a more exciting time to be part of the energy sector. Key challenges Sharon identifies include making sure the overall energy grid remains reliable despite the introduction of renewables into the energy portfolio, and thinking about how natural gas fits into that portfolio as a base fuel to help support renewables.

Having benefitted from strong mentorship during her career, Sharon prioritizes mentoring junior attorneys. Sharon makes a point of getting to know the attorneys she supervises and providing them substantive feedback. Her first piece of advice, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to develop one’s skills as a lawyer, because at the end of the day the quality of the work is paramount. But she is also quick to acknowledge that the value of networking cannot be underestimated. With this understanding and her focus on mentorship, it should be no surprise that Sharon jumped at the opportunity to join CMCP’s Board. She was introduced to the organization by Dave Smith, former GC of both SoCalGas and San Diego Gas & Electric, who previously served on the Board. As his time on the Board was coming to an end, he suggested Sharon get involved. At the time, Sharon was not very familiar with CMCP; but after attending the annual conference and meeting Marci Rubin, Sharon knew it was an organization she could get passionate about. Sharon cares deeply about diversity in the legal profession, and she is acutely aware of the challenges facing both women and minority lawyers. She applauds CMCP’s focus on providing valuable networking opportunities to lawyers who are underrepresented in the legal profession, particularly at the partnership and executive levels. Sharon admires how CMCP manages to be relevant to both firm lawyers and in-house lawyers, and in her leadership role, she hopes to help CMCP continue that dual focus.

Sharon ardently hopes the legal profession eventually reaches a point where its membership reflects the larger society. And as the profession diversifies, she hopes lawyers do not lose sight of their individuality. Her final piece of advice for junior lawyers it to be authentic to themselves: “If you do not feel comfortable being yourself at your current job, it probably is not the right place for you.” In fact, she offers the same advice—with perhaps even more emphasis—to attorneys in senior positions, who might cast a larger shadow: “When bosses are authentic, it shows junior attorneys they can succeed by being their genuine selves, as well.”

As for the authentic Sharon Tomkins? She is an avid cyclist who also enjoys running and lifting weights. She loves spending time with her husband and four children. And she is a literature enthusiast, as well. She is currently reading The Jaguar’s Children, John Vaillant’s first piece of fiction, about immigrants who use coyotes to come to the United States and get trapped mid-route. Her love of literature also led her to serve on the Board of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, which supports the educational programming of the LA Library, including tutoring and other services. She also serves on the Board of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, which is focused on educating youth about civic engagement and democracy. As these activities demonstrate, Sharon is dedicated to helping support the next generation, a dedication that she will certainly use to enrich CMCP.

 


 

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