Pamela Ross is the founder and CEO of the All for The Family Legal Clinic, a nonprofit that offers services to low income and modest means litigants, charging on a sliding scale from as low as $50 an hour. They help clients mostly with family law matters such as divorces, custody, support and restraining orders, but can also help with estate planning, guardianships, conservatorships, and more. The clinic has been operating for over 11 years, and it’s been Pamela’s vision to have a legal clinic to help lower income people since she was 16 and worked at the San Mateo Center for Domestic Violence Prevention. Pamela was the 2022 president of the Alameda County Bar Association, where she has been a board member since 2016. In this interview she explains some of the nuances and challenges of managing a nonprofit legal clinic and answers audience questions about key aspects of her work. Tune in to learn about Pamela’s passion for helping people and how it can be demanding yet fulfilling.
All For The Family Legal Clinic
All for the Family Legal Clinic
· 03/2012 – present, All For the Family Legal Clinic, Inc., CEO and Lead Attorney.
Family Law, Estate Planning, Basic Probate, and Landlord-Tenant law.
· 06/2021- Present, Pamela Ross Legal Services. Estate Planning and Uncontested Probate Services as well as Mediation and Consultation services for Family Law cases. Virtual practice working all over California.
· 08/10-12/10, Westwood College. Professor of Paralegal Ethics; Professor of English.
· 01/2006-07/2012, Senior Project Coordinator, Purchasing Management International, Dallas, TX. 40-60 hours a week reviewing and coordinating purchase orders, while maintaining customer and vendor relations. Also in charge of expediting day-to-day compliance with purchasing contracts and expediting installation of hotels and casinos.
· 06/09/10-11/04/2010, Dallas County District Attorney’s Office Family Violence Division. 24 hours per week. Intern for the Chief Deputy over Family Violence, Bobbie Villareal.
· 06/01/10-12/16/2010, SMU Civil Clinic, Dallas, TX. 20-30 hours per week, with supervising attorney representation of clients for court hearings, filing of pleadings and motions, negotiations, and representation at depositions and mediations.
· 08/10-12/10, Law Clerk. Foreman Law Firm, Tyler, TX. Research assistant.
· 06/09-08/09, Intern, Texas Lawyers for Children
Music: Joel Katz, Seaside Recording, Maui
Tech: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
Audiograms: Paul Roberts
Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman / Pamela Ross – Transcript
Louis Goodman 0:03
In collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association, this is Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with members of the ACBA about their lives and legal careers. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the LTL podcast. And yes, I'm a member of the Alameda County Bar Association. Pamela Ross is the CEO and lead attorney of the All For The Family Legal Clinic. They handle family law, estate planning, probate matters, and they also serve as mediators and consultants on family law cases. Pamela worked in several capacities in Texas, before practicing in California, including a stint at the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. She has been named a Super Lawyer rising star and has received Distinguished Service Awards. She is the 2022 president of the Alameda County Bar Association, and has been a board member since 2016. Pamela has extensive business experience in addition to her legal training. Pamela Ross, thank you for everything that you do for the Alameda County Bar Association. Welcome to the podcast, and welcome to Love Thy lawyer.
Pamela Ross 1:19
Thanks for having me.
Louis Goodman 1:20
It's a pleasure to have you. Where are you speaking to us from right now?
Pamela Ross 1:26
I am in Castro Valley,
Louis Goodman 1:27
Beautiful Castro Valley. What sort of practice do you have? I've spent a little time on it on the introduction, but maybe you could tell us a little bit more specifically about what you do.
Pamela Ross 1:37
So All For The Family Legal clinic is a non-profit clinic. We're a 501(c)(3) and we offer services to low income and modest means litigants. We charge on a sliding scale. So we're actually self-funded nonprofit. We do take donations, but the donations only cover about 5% of our budget. The majority of our expenses are covered through what we charge our clients. So we start as low as $50 an hour and we go up to $150 an hour for those who qualify for our services. The bulk of what we do is in the area of family law, so divorces, custody, support, restraining orders are the bulk of our business. But we do also offer estate planning, uncontested probate, guardianships, conservatorships, those kinds of things as well.
Louis Goodman 2:27
And how long have you been running the All for the Family Legal Clinic?
Pamela Ross 2:31
I am the founder. So we opened back in 2012. So we've been open for about 11 years now.
Louis Goodman 2:39
What prompted you to open that clinic?
Pamela Ross 2:42
My background had been working with various nonprofits. I actually at the age of about 16, became a domestic violence counselor for teenagers through what was then the Center of Domestic Violence Prevention. It's now CORA for San Mateo County. And that kind of organization, as well as other organizations that I volunteered with, really got me into family law, and that type of community. But I was seeing, not only with that organization, but with others, that people were losing their jobs when grants were not renewed. And so I took it upon myself to open a different model of a clinic where we would charge something based on what we thought that they could afford. And we could help us have a self sustaining practice in the area of family law.
Louis Goodman 03:30
How many people work there?
Pamela Ross 3:31
About 11 right now including our office managers, our office assistants, our student interns, we do employ certified student attorneys as well as our contract and staff attorneys.
Louis Goodman 3:42
How many attorneys are involved?
Pamela Ross 3:43
So right now I believe we have five, that are full attorneys, and then we have two student attorneys. We have two more student attorneys starting in January. It ebbs and flows throughout the year, how many student attorneys we have, because we'll have more during the summer when they're doing summer internships. But we also have all year student attorneys as well.
Louis Goodman 4:02
Where are you from originally?
Pamela Ross 4:04
I'm from the Bay Area, born and raised. So I did kind of go off route and be in San Diego for a couple years and then Dallas for about six years. But I'm born and raised in the Bay Area.
Louis Goodman 4:15
Pamela Ross 4:16
Louis Goodman 4:17
Did you go to high school in Hayward?
Pamela Ross 4:19
I didn't actually, we moved across the bay. And so I actually went to Notre Dame Belmont, an all girls school in Belmont and Peninsula.
Louis Goodman 4:26
Yeah, that's a great school. What was that experience like being over there?
Pamela Ross 4:31
It was definitely different moving from the East Bay to the peninsula, just kind of in terms of being around communities that were more low income and modest means until I moved to San Mateo when I was 12. And then being around more upper middle class society and kind of seeing the difference and I think that has helped me in my overall practice as well. Having been exposed to lots of different diversity, economic, racially, etc and having kind of that background, I think it does help in what I do every single day and then going to the all-girls school was actually a different experience. But it was very nice, I would do it again and I would send my own daughter to an all-girls high school. So it was Notre Dame.
Louis Goodman 5:12
Pamela Ross 5:13
I think that it took some of the stuff that you get from a regular high school out of it, right? You're not worried about what the boys might think, or looking stupid in front of something like other people as much. We wear uniforms so we didn't have to worry about what we were wearing in competition for the newest clothes or designers or those kinds of things as well. But also they're really a good foundation for, especially English literature, my master's degree is in English literature. And I think a big part of that was from my teachers at Notre Dame.
Louis Goodman 5:42
And when you graduated from Notre Dame, where did you go to college?
Pamela Ross 5:45
I went to University of San Diego, the one on the hill, the private one.
Louis Goodman 5:50
What was that experience like? What sort of things did you take up there?
Pamela Ross 5:53
So I actually really love that school. It was small, it felt like home, I felt like I got to know my professors really, really well. Some of them were my recommendations for law school, of course. And at the time that I was there, they actually were building the Science Center. And I would go behind there in the evenings before class and nobody was there but me and like a bunch of bunnies, I would be surrounded by like 20 bunnies and share my lunch with them. It was very nice.
Louis Goodman 6:18
Now at some point, you graduated from college and you went to law school. Did you go straight through or did you take some time off between college and law school?
Pamela Ross 6:29
I took time off. So I graduated from everything really quickly. I worked full time while going to school since I was 13 years old. And so after USD, I took a little bit of a break and then got my master's degree in English literature from National University, also based out of San Diego. And then I went to law school about a year later at SMU in Dallas.
Louis Goodman 6:53
What sort of work experiences did you have between college and law school?
Pamela Ross 6:58
The most fun one was working for a purchasing firm. And I worked there for about six years even while I was in law school. And they did purchasing for hotels and casinos. So basically designers would say this is what I want the hotel or casino to look like. And then our job at the firm would be to find those items, work with vendors, draft the contracts. And my particular work was actually the contract enforcement, making sure that they were doing all of the samples that they were supposed to, things were getting signed off by the designers, and that items were being delivered on time and correctly.
Louis Goodman 7:30
So it was sort of a legally related job in some ways?
Pamela Ross 7:34
Most of my jobs, yes, kind of depends on what you mean by a legally related job. But even my job before that working at Rite Aid, I was there what's known as their PAC, the pricing accuracy coordinator. And that's the person who makes sure that the advertising is correct and following California laws and codes and same with making sure that like our expiration dates of products, and all those things are complying with California law. So most of my jobs had some kind of legal background. In fact, my very first job was working at a coffee shop and the coffee shop was in the same building as a law firm. And so the majority of the copies I was making work for trial binders and depositions and those kinds of things.
Louis Goodman 8:12
Do you think that having had that work in sort of legally-adjacent employment helped you focus once you got to law school?
Pamela Ross 8:22
I think it did. I think in some ways, they had already seen these kinds of paperwork or these kinds of contracts. And I know in law school, for example, we were working on a casino in Las Vegas, and there was a dispute with a vendor and attorneys were involved. And I was sitting in the room with my boss on the conference call. And I'm like the bottom of the barrel, don't say anything during this meeting, just listen person and in the room, and the attorney said something and I had, Bill Asendia, my bosses at the time muted and I said, I don't think they're right. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a lawyer yet, but I'm in law school. And at the time, I knew the UCC codes to cite, don't ask me now but at the time, I actually knew the codes to say and I cited the codes they put me off speaker, they had me say it to the attorneys and the attorneys, I actually ended up being right and it actually helped our client at the purchasing firm.
Louis Goodman 9:10
When did you first know that you wanted to be a lawyer? When did that first take root in your mind?
Pamela Ross 9:18
Kind of always, which is funny because I didn't come from a family of lawyers. My family weren't people who went to college. My dad was a cop for about 30 years. And my mom worked in networking and worked her way up from the mailroom. And so I wasn't surrounded by lawyers growing up by any stretch of the imagination. But I think I don't know if it was from TV or from my dad being a cop and explaining when you had to testify in courtrooms or those kinds of things, but pretty much always I wanted to be an attorney.
Louis Goodman 9:45
What did your friends and family say or think once you told them, yeah, I'm really doing this. I'm going to law school. I'm going to do it.
Pamela Ross 9:52
Everyone was really supportive. I don't think people thought I would open the clinic straight out of law school, but everyone was really supportive of me going to law school.
Louis Goodman 10:01
Well, at some point you graduated from law school in Texas and now you have this very successful legal clinic here in Alameda County. Can you give a brief walkthrough of how that happened?
Pamela Ross 10:16
So I graduated from law school, I studied for the bar, I worked in Texas under my student bar card at the DA's office and at the SMU civil clinic. And so I was getting a lot of hands-on experience, working on jury trials, filing motions, and lemony and arguing them in front of judges, as well as then helping out in the background at the DA's Office. So I was getting a lot of hands-on experience, I took the bar in California, I was blessed enough to pass the first time. And I get out of law school with my bar card. And I see that a lot, there's not a lot of jobs because the economy was still, hadn't fully recouped and the jobs I was being offered were really low income. And I had originally planned to work for another Bay Area, nonprofit, not necessarily a certain one, but worked for someone else for about two years before opening my clinic so that I could learn the ins and outs. And I just decided with the economy the way that it was, I was just going to open up right away. And I did and luckily it has been very successful.
Louis Goodman 11:12
Did you always have a vision of having a legal clinic for lower income less served people?
Pamela Ross 11:18
Since I was 16 years old, working at the DVP.
Louis Goodman 11:23
Now you've been practicing law for a while. And you're very involved, obviously, in the Alameda County Bar Association. What is it that you really liked about practicing?
Pamela Ross 11:32
I've had the blessing of being able to be my own boss, obviously, I answer to a board because we are a nonprofit, but more or less than my own boss. And so having kind of the flexibility to make my own schedule while helping people. And the research, when you don't know something, you go find it, I'm definitely a good personality for this job. It definitely matches with who I am.
Louis Goodman 11:53
So if a young person were coming out of college and thinking about a career, would you recommend the law?
Pamela Ross 12:00
I would tell them they have to love it and everything about it or don't do it, because it definitely takes over your life, right? There's going to be times when you're working 100 hour weeks, there's going to be if you're in family law specifically cases that are very, like emotionally draining, and that you get personally attached to, but if you are not able to handle that, then then don't do it. You’d be all in, if you're going to do it. And if you are all in, go for it.
Louis Goodman 12:26
How is actually practicing law met or differed from your expectations about it?
Pamela Ross 12:31
I think everybody goes to law school with that idea that they're going to change the world, right? And I think in many ways I have changed my little world, right? As much as I can by having the clinic and offering these services to low income people who otherwise probably wouldn't have access to an attorney. But with that said, there's definitely, when you look at the justice system, you definitely think that the courtroom is going to work a little bit differently, that the courts always gonna have time to hear your side, you're gonna be able to argue your case. And there's just efficiency reasons why that doesn't always happen. And hopefully they read your paperwork. And of course, you put the argument in your paperwork as well. But it's basically just doing the best you can and it's not always what you feel is right that the answer ends up being.
Louis Goodman 13:16
What about the business of practicing law? I mean, you run a nonprofit, you answer to a board. But there's a business aspect to any law practice. I'm wondering if you could address that a little bit.
Pamela Ross 13:28
Yeah, I think with my background, I had already run some businesses. I'm somebody who doesn't know how to sit still. And then if I see a need in the community, I try to fill it. So for example, I had already run in Texas, a LLC, where I was managing HOAs, my HOA basically had a terrible property manager and I saw a bunch of flaws, I saw ways that I could fix it. And so I took over managing it. And so I had that business experience. My parents were in real estate growing up. And so I managed their office as a child and a teenager. And so there were definitely experiences with business that I had already had that I think helped dramatically. I think a lot of attorneys have a hard time with the business side. Because you have to do marketing, you have to do networking, you have to manage budgets, you have to figure out, cutting back things when they need to be cut back. And so I think there are a lot of aspects that people don't necessarily expect. But luckily for me, I have been exposed to the business world in some form, basically, since I was born because of my parents.
Louis Goodman 14:31
What do you think's the best advice you've ever received? And then let me turn that a little bit and say also, what advice would you give to a new lawyer who's just starting out in practice?
Pamela Ross 14:44
So it's kind of like twofold, right? So I think the best advice I've ever gotten is in third grade. I learned that the saying, always go with your gut instinct. And I think that that has served me pretty well over the years. But I think that what I would tell new attorneys and what I've told myself many times over the years as well, is basically always take everything one step at a time, right? If you're looking at something like, oh, I want to have a successful nonprofit, or oh, I want to whatever your goal is, it can be really daunting if you think you're just going to get there instantly. But start thinking, what do I need to get there? Write down the steps, write down the goals, and work on them one at a time, one step at a time. And it's kind of like the saying, like, you don't eat a whole, pizza, or a whole cake with one bite, right? You take one bite at a time. And so by doing that, it's a lot more doable.
Louis Goodman 15:34
Yeah, I think that's a lesson that helps in practice as well that clients sometimes need to be educated about that this case is not going to be solved in one wave of my magic wand, that we're going to do this in little, little steps, so that's good advice in that respect as well. Do you think the legal system is fair?
Pamela Ross 15:59
I get asked this question a lot by clients. Is it fully fair? No, I think that it can't be. But I do think that some counties are better than others. I do think that most of our judges try their best, I think that they're up against a lot, they're probably given like 15 hours of reading in a day on top of their like, eight hour report schedule. And it's just not realistic that they can go through everything with a fine tooth comb. They have too many cases in front of them at once. And so I think there's like real life reasons, like budgeting reasons or whatever. And I think that they're doing the best that they can for the circumstances that they have.
Louis Goodman 16:36
I'm going to shift gears here a little bit Pamela. What's your family life like and what's it been like and how has the practice of law fit in with your personal and family life?
Pamela Ross 16:50
Well, every one of my family members will tell you to call their personal attorney and give people my number. So that definitely happens. But I'm very blessed to have a supportive husband and a wonderful daughter. And I think like most moms, I have that experience where I feel like Oh, I'm not giving 100% at home, and oh, I'm not giving 100% at the office like you feel very torn. But I'm very lucky to have a very supportive family who support not only my work with the clinic, but the work from my personal side firm and are just very supportive overall, and know that I'm doing the best that I can and that what we do every day does make a difference in people's lives. In family law, it's more obvious because we're dealing with things like restraining orders that might honestly be life or death in some situations. But I think even most areas of law that you are making a difference in a person's life, especially if you work with smaller businesses or poor individuals.
Louis Goodman 17:44
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?
Pamela Ross 17:47
So I think one of the ones that I see on a regular basis is people taking cases outside of their field without properly understanding what they're doing. Take cases in other fields, I'm not trying to put people in a box, I do it too sometimes, but go into it, knowing that you don't know everything. So in family law, what we see a lot is we see a lot of like personal injury or criminal attorneys who think that they can just pick up a family law case. And it's easy peasy. And it also makes it really difficult because especially us who have the low-income clients, they're serving us with completely unnecessary discovery, like these people don't have assets that you need all this discovery for, or they're making it way more combative, that it needs to be because they're used to a world where there's a win or a lose. And in family law, like these are real people, these are real lives, they have children, we're doing things in the best interest of the children and 99% of the time, it's not just win or lose, right? There's going to be some give on both sides, because that's what's going to be in the best interest of this family.
Louis Goodman 18:45
How do you define success?
Pamela Ross 18:47
For me, it's happiness, right? So I came, I grew up in a family where we don't really value ourselves based on how much money we have, or how many degrees we have. We kind of value ourselves and this is a pro and a con. We value ourselves based on how hard we work, how many hours did you work this week? How many cases did you do? How many people did you help? We don't know how to sit still in my family, and that definitely is a con when it comes to boundaries or self-care at times. But I think it's also really beneficial in terms of knowing to never give up and to always be focusing on what you can be doing for the world. And so for me that's my personality. And that makes me happy.
Louis Goodman 19:28
What keeps you up at night?
Pamela Ross 19:30
I think like any mom, it's anxiety. And it's from both work stress. Like if you have a big trial the next day, or it's from just worrying about your kids.
Louis Goodman 19:39
Let's say you came into some real money, let's say three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Pamela Ross 19:50
So I actually have this conversation with my husband quite often every time the lotteries are like $1.6 billion or something. He's like, what would we do? And he always kind of rolled his eyes at me because in my head, I'm like, Oh, the clinic would be set for life like I'd buy them a building. And I'd set up a trust fund that would fund the client. And we could pay people better wages and everything else. So a big bulk of it would go to the clinic. But of course, I would travel, I think most people's answer is probably travel and probably have a house overlooking the water and stuff like that. But I really have always kind of loved philanthropy, and like, I probably would set up some kind of trust, where I was giving money to different organizations, and I got to choose who got the money, and how much and where it went and stuff.
Louis Goodman 20:31
Have you had any interesting travel experience?
Pamela Ross 20:34
I've been to most countries in Central America, I've been to every country except for I haven't been to Honduras, and then I haven't been to Canada, obviously. And but once I hit Honduras, and Canada, I will have it all of North and Central America.
Louis Goodman 20:46
Let's say you had a magic wand, that was one thing in the world, you could change, the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Pamela Ross 20:53
This is a difficult question, because I feel like there's not one thing that you could wave your wand and change and maybe like world peace would happen, right? If I had to do just one thing, it probably would be like food security and clean water, because I feel like that's one thing we as a world could easily accomplish is making sure that everyone has access to food and water and those basic necessities of life.
Louis Goodman 21:14
Let's say you had a Super Bowl ad, someone gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl to say whatever you want. Big audience. What would you like to say?
Pamela Ross 21:25
Donate to All for the Family Legal Clinic. No, I mean, I know that's funny. But it's kind of true. Like, honestly, I would, because the amount that we do with our small budget that is self-funded is amazing to me. And I'm very grateful for all the attorneys who have donated their times in our lives over these 11 years. And if we could get more donations, we could accomplish so much more.
Louis Goodman 21:48
Well, this podcast gets a slightly smaller audience than the Super Bowl. But we would like to know how to get in touch with you, what's the best way if you want to get in touch with you to ask you a question or perhaps donate some money or refer someone to your organization? What is the best way for someone listening to this podcast to contact you?
Pamela Ross 22:19
So if it's a potential client or donation, definitely see our website, allforthefamilylegalclinic.org. And then if you're looking for me personally, email is the best way to get in touch. So if you are an attorney or a legal professional, and you wanted to reach out and ask me a question, my email address is my first initial P my last name Ross, R-O-S-S, at allforthefamilylegalclinic.org.
Louis Goodman 22:44
Great. Pamela before I open it up to the other people on the call, and there are quite a few. Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven't touched on yet?
Pamela Ross 22:54
No, not really. I'll just kind of want to see if anybody has any questions. I can ramble on about myself as needed thereafter. But otherwise I think that we can just we can turn it over to them.
Louis Goodman 23:05
Let me start with Jennifer Richardson, who I understand has a certain working relationship with you, Pamela.
Pamela Ross 23:12
Yes, she does.
Louis Goodman 23:14
Jennifer, do you have a question or a comment for Pamela?
Jennifer Richardson 23:17
Hello, I just have a comment. I just want to say thank you to Pamela for the organization. And for everything that you do for us here at the clinic. It's really appreciated. So thank you so much.
Pamela Ross 23:33
You're welcome. Jennifer is our office manager and paralegal, but she also is my apprentice. So she's apprenticing under me so that she can take the bar exam.
Louis Goodman 23:41
Well, Jennifer, good luck with that.
Jennifer Richardson 23:44
Louis Goodman 23:45
Thomas Butzbach is there, something that you would like to ask or comment to Pamela?
Thomas Butzbach 23:51
I would, first of all, I really admire the fact that you're helping the less fortunate in our society. I think that's an amazing thing for somebody to do. My questions are two questions. One is, you started in 2011, how long did it take you to feel like your practice was actually going? Was it a year? Was it two years, three years? My second question is, you mentioned that only 5% of your monies are received by grants, which is not a lot of money, but you still charge an average of $100 an hour. How does that affect your work compared to an attorney that charges $500 an hour?
Pamela Ross 24:37
Those are excellent questions. So the first question about how long it kept to take get things running. It was actually pretty quickly, I was able to start paying myself and I think two or three months, it wasn't a lot but I was able to start paying myself after that time. At one point in the first year. I think I was handling 90 cases. A lot of them are limited scope of course for like one hearing in the full case but we started taking off pretty quickly. People were so excited to hear about our service and refer to us. Your second question, the biggest difference that I see in terms of how much we charge our clients versus how much $500 attorneys are, is how much discovery that we do in our case, because we always have to sit down and do a cost benefit analysis with our clients. But we sit down with our client, and we're like, okay, how much do you think we're really going to find here? Is it worth doing requests for production? Is it worth doing depositions? Is it worth doing these things? And sometimes it is, right? And other times I sit them down and I basically say, okay, what is the what? Let's not focus on the why, let's not focus on why you feel that the other person owes you this money, or owes you this or owes you that. But what is the one that will make you happy? Is there a number that you're going to feel full from this divorce? Is there a situation or an answer that I can get from a judge that's going to make you happy in this situation? And what is that? And I'll try to work my way backwards to see if we can get them because lots of times the parties are arguing over the why. And I feel like our practice is a lot more settlement focused, because our clients are low income and modest means and because we try to be considerate about what type of income they have, and the fact that they can't afford even a lot of hours that are $100 an hour or $50 an hour rates depending on what needs to be done. But we're happy to do that discovery. And there's definitely cases where we do. I think, as a practicing attorney, you hear in law school all the time, like don't go to trial and ask the question you don't know the answer to. And we actually have to do that quite often. Because our clients don't have the money for the depositions and the discovery. So sometimes we just ask the question at trial.
Thomas Butzbach 26:45
That makes perfect sense. And I appreciate you and I wish you all the best.
Pamela Ross 26:50
Thank you. You too.
Louis Goodman 26:52
Daniel LaBelle, do you have a question or a comment for Pamela?
Daniel LaBelle 26:57
I represent plaintiffs and the other side is very well resourced. And so I'm used to the other side throwing money at cases and kind of being attorney driven, when they're not interested in settlement until they absolutely have to. And then and going through my own divorce, I was very disappointed to see some of that sort of attitude come through in family law, where it's really unfortunate, because it's, like you said, it's not about dollars anymore. It's about families, and it has a real impact on people inside and outside of the courtroom. And so I'm curious about any approaches that you found to be successful to break through, when the other side doesn't really think about settlement, it maybe doesn't even think about just the sort of practical aspects of over litigating things. And I wonder what approaches you've gotten to work with opposing counsel, as well as your own clients to try to keep things sort of reasonable, and actually for the best for the family.
Pamela Ross 28:04
So I think for family law, it's almost a little bit easier, because we are dealing with people on both sides, right? And sometimes the other side does have a lot more money and will just make this litigation go on for five years or more. We've seen that too. But lots of times, I can have frank conversations with opposing counsel in front of their client while their client is standing there at the courthouse. And I will say things like, do you realize how much this is costing your client? At your rate your clients going to pay $50,000 for this trial, at my rate, my clients going to pay $10,000 for this trial, right? So hearing things like that lots of times, their attorneys have not told them an estimate of how much the trial is going to cost, or they don't realize that taking a deposition is going to cost 1000s and 1000s of dollars. I had one case, for example, where the parties were literally arguing over the ashes of the dog, not even the actual dog, the ashes of the dog, and we could not get this settled because neither one would sign and so I think doing that kind of cost benefit analysis sometimes in front of the other clients, and obviously, I'm not talking to them, I'm talking to their attorney, but they're hearing this and their attorneys aren't having those conversations with them. I also will say to my clients quite frequently, you can send your kid to college or you can send my kid to college. What would you like to do today?
Louis Goodman 29:23
Thanks Daniel. Joanne, you put a question in the chat. Would you like to ask it to Pamela?
Hi, I'm Joanne ... I had been 45 years as a criminal defense attorney, domestic violence. Representing women who had been the victims of domestic violence, I have done DV construction, been successful in handling the petitions. I wanted to ask your organization if there is a way that I can volunteer or contribute and represent people who are victims of domestic violence or how do I go about that? What do I do?
Pamela Ross 29:59
So you can definitely read reach out to me by email, my email address is email@example.com. It's also on our website. And then of course, there's ways through the Alameda County Bar Association where you can volunteer as well, they have the class clinics on the first Saturday of every month, they have the Family Law Day of court. So there are definitely ways to the Alameda County Bar Association where you can volunteer for a few hours here and there and not take on an entire case. And so I think that's probably a lot more feasible for most attorneys just to fit into their own practice in their own lives.
Louis Goodman 30:00
Astkhik Levantian 30:32
Astkhik Levantian here. I'm also one of the attorneys that All for the Family Legal Clinic. I'm actually home with my daughter who's sick and wasn't at daycare today. But I just wanted to say thank you to Pamela for the opportunity to do work at the clinic. And she has mentored me and I started four years ago at the clinic. So I'm really grateful, I guess I just kind of want to hear a little bit more. I'm a new mom, I mean, two years in, but just hear more about like balancing motherhood and practicing law and having a private practice as well. Thank you.
Pamela Ross 31:05
So you will never feel like you're doing it right. I feel like I am not at home, when I should be at home, I feel like I am not at work, when I should be at work. That is a normal feeling, the feeling of overwhelm and not being good enough. You're feeling like everybody else feels. It's fine, it's normal, just breathe, take it one step at a time, one task at a time, I think that it helps to be like a really tight A personality and have a lot of to do lists and calendars. And just know that you're not going to be able to be everything for everyone. And as long as you're doing a competent job at both, you're doing well, you're doing fine. Like I guarantee you, you're doing a better job than you think inside your head.
Louis Goodman 31:46
Alex Chang 31:47
Hey, everybody. Thanks, Pamela for doing this. I'm always in awe of how much you do. Because I think very few people would think I'm a newer younger attorney, let me go and start a non-profit that really speaks to my passions and what I want to see out of the community. So can you talk a little bit more about how you make that jump? I've heard so many people even say, for starting their solo practices, for example, kind of becoming your own boss, like, it's something that you'd never regret. So how did you really come to that decision to make this leap?
So I think one part of it is being kind of an entrepreneur or having that business mindset, because I think where most people kind of fail is in the business side and how much time it takes up. I think the other part is having a really supportive partner or family, I was very blessed to always have a partner this whole time who made decent amount of money to make sure our needs were met, right? We weren't rolling in money about anything or to the imagination. But we weren't going to lose our housing situation if I didn't make money. So from the very beginning, I put about $8,000 into starting the clinic. And then from there, I just had to not drain any more money from the family. If I made money, great. If I didn't make money, that was going to be okay, too. And I kind of planned on that being the case for at least a couple of years.
I was very blessed that I was able to start making money a couple months. And I think the first year I paid myself like $15,000, but we opened in July, July 1, right? So the $15,000, but just for a couple months, not the whole year. And it's basically, I think you just have to have that jump in mindset like go big or go home. But then also, like I've said a couple times, you're taking it one step or one bite at a time, and you're not letting it overwhelm you, it can definitely be a really scary experience.
There's definitely times I'm told by many people that I'm not afraid of failure, I'm afraid of success. And so I have built the clinic very, very slowly. There's definitely things that I may have done in the past that sort of maybe been even more beneficial for the clinic to be bigger. But I am somebody who is really like focused on budgets and making sure that we're not losing money, and that we're doing what's best for the clinic long term. And so I take it really slowly. And that's okay. I think what I see a lot of new firms that fail grow too fast, right? I've seen a couple, quite a few firms actually fell over the years that I've been practicing. And I really think that it comes down to, they grew too big, too fast, you're going to have to do a lot more on your own, you're going to be working crazy hours at first, because you're going to be your own paralegal. You're going to be your own office assistant, you're making all the calls, you're doing all the proof of service, you're doing all the everything. And then once you get to a point where you can sustain hiring another person, then you do it. And I think a lot of people put a drain on their family and a drain on themselves by going too big too fast.
Louis Goodman 34:50
Hi, Pamela, I am an Open Door legal. And I know we've referred a few cases over to you guys. So I just want to make sure that process is going well for you. And if there's other criterias, or things you want to see in terms of those referrals, we'd love to hear that.
Pamela Ross 35:04
Please do refer anyone to us, really. Because we'll go ahead and we'll go through and we'll assess whether or not they qualify financially for our services. If they don't, we will refer them to some great for profit attorneys, some of which charge on a sliding scale. So definitely refer every person, we're happy to go through them and assess whether or not they're a good fit for us or should be referred to someone else.
Louis Goodman 35:30
Thank you. I'm going to take two more questions. And then I have a brief wrap up, Sherry Hatanaka. And that'll be followed by Ana. Cheri.
Cheri Hatanaka 35:39
I'm Cheri Hatanaka, one of Pamela's contract attorneys as well. We're big Pamela fans here. I want to thank you like everyone else. But my question for you is, and one thing I've appreciated working with you on is the work life balance and actually providing that for your employees and your contract attorneys. What kind of advice can you give to other firms who provide that to their staff and their employees?
Pamela Ross 36:06
Your staff is your most like valuable resource, right? They are what make or break your business, because they are who are having contact with the clients, based on their actions is whether or not you're getting referrals. So you don't want to burn out your people, right? Especially if you're burning out your people at the expense of you making more money, right. And I must say, that's what every for-profit firm is doing. But at the end of the day, if you're a for profit firm burning out, your people might make them a little bit more money. But odds are, it's making you the bulk of that money. So although when attorneys do come to us, we hope that they will stay for two years, we've been so blessed. All of our attorneys have been there much longer. So a lot of attorneys stay for six years or so before they move on.
Louis Goodman 36:49
Great. Thanks, Pamela. Ana.
Hi, Pamela, I am one of the certified law students that work for Pamela. And I do want to say one thing, that Pamela is the most genuine, kind, and loving boss ever. And I just want to encourage that if anyone has the opportunity to take on certified law students from school and give them the opportunity, they will be very thankful. And in general, the knowledge and the experience is tremendous, a tremendous start for someone who wants to practice law.
Louis Goodman 37:28
Great, thanks, Ana. One more question for you, Pamela, which is can you talk a little bit about your experience with the Alameda County Bar Association, and what being president has been like and what led you to seek that office and all that responsibility on top of everything else that you do?
Pamela Ross 37:47
I started with the Alameda County Bar Association very early on, the way that I marketed the clinic was that I sent emails to the 100 closest pastors, imams, rabbis and the 100 closest law firms and the 100 closest therapists and I said, Hey, we exist, we are here. And then the rest of my marketing has pretty much been being a member of the ACBA and being involved. I joined the family law X right away. So I would have attorneys who had practice more than five minutes to ask questions to, and they were all so willing to answer the questions at the end of meeting the Alameda County Bar Association has been so beneficial for me not just in the growth of my company that way through the X Coms. But we have hired numerous of the valley attorneys, they have the Bay Area legal incubator, and quite a few of those have been contract attorneys for our firm. So ACBA has been very good to me over the years. And I have then continued to give back. I love the volunteer opportunities that they have. So that they have the day of court, they have the walk-in clinic for family law. And I just feels like such a good organization to be a part of I would encourage everyone here to join an X Com and go to networking events and those kinds of things with the ACBA. But once you're in, once your hot, Tila will someday come to you and say you should join the board. The staff is all really appreciative. And just like I like to think that our little clinic feels like a family. And I think you can see that from the people who are here today. I feel like ACBA has that as well. Right? All of the people, Tila, Hadassah All of the people who've worked there over the years as well seem to really appreciate the organization and they're just good people.
Louis Godman 39:25
Pamela, thank you very much. Okay. I want to say thank you to everybody who has participated in today's ACBA podcast. And I want to say thank you to Pamela, for all of your work for ACBA. And thank you very much for joining us today on the Alameda County Bar Association and Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Hi, everybody. Thank you for coming.
Louis Godman 39:56
That's it for today's edition of Love Thy Lawyer in collaboration with the Alameda County Bar Association. Please visit the lovethylawyer.com website where you can find links to all of our episodes. Also, please visit the Alameda County Bar Association Website at ACBAnet.org, where you can find more information about our support of the legal profession, promoting excellence in the legal profession and facilitating equal access to justice.
Special thanks to ACBA president Pamela Ross and Criminal Justice Chair Annie Beles, staff members Cailin Dahlin, Sayeed Randall, Valerie Brown Lescroart and Hadassah Hayashi.
Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Pamela Ross 41:00
Everything, I mean, it's funny, I think I might have a different viewpoint if I had worked for someone else. I have a hard time saying no to people.