Jesse Adams has been practicing law since 2003. He worked for a few private firms before starting his own practice focusing on criminal defense in 2009. Jesse also worked at the San Diego Alternate Public Defender dealing with Dependency Court cases and fighting to reunite children with parents that had them removed from their custody. He is also part of the Alameda County Bar Association’s Criminal Court Appointed Attorneys’ defense panel and has a mix of private clients and court-appointed clients. Listen to this episode to get some tips on running your own practice, including how to price your cases and knowing how much is too much when paying for advertising.
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Opened own law office to specialize in criminal defense. Member of the Alameda County Criminal Court Appointed Attorneys Program (CAAP). Represent indigent clients in all aspects of felony trial work, from discovery, pre-trial motions, investigation, and trial. Handle misdemeanor appeals of indigent clients. Represent private clients in both misdemeanor and felony proceedings.
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Attorney at Law
Jesse Adams - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:04
Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect!
Jesse M. Adams represents the criminally accused in all stages of proceedings, handling both felony and misdemeanor cases from arraignment through appeal. He's tried high profile criminal and civil matters and argued in front of the California Court of Appeal. Before narrowing his practice to criminal defense, Jesse aggressively litigated civil matters as a big firm associate. In 2013, he made the leap to opening his own office. Jesse Adams, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Jesse Adams 00:59
Thank you, Lou. I'm very happy to be here. I'm honored to be invited.
Louis Goodman 01:04
I am happy to have you. I see you in court and you're one of the people who handles a lot of cases and it's a pleasure to talk to you. Where are you speaking to us from right now?
Jesse Adams 01:18
I am actually not at the office today. I was in court this morning and I am at my home.
Louis Goodman 01:23
Which is where?
Jesse Adams 01:24
I live in Alameda, California.
Louis Goodman 01:25
Where's your office located?
Jesse Adams 01:27
My office, I moved recently. And so my new office is right by the Grand Lake Theater, just up the street on Grand Avenue. And I couldn't be happier. It's really a great neighborhood in Oakland to have my office in.
Louis Goodman 01:40
Well, it's certainly easy to go find lunch.
Jesse Adams 01:42
Yes, it's very walkable. There's all sorts of options. It's close to the lake. Really anything you need up and down on Grand Avenue is right there from dry cleaners to food. Everything's right there. It's really nice.
Louis Goodman 01:55
What type of practice do you have?
Jesse Adams 01:57
So at this point now when I practice, I can't quite say a hundred percent criminal defense because I have a few remaining immigration cases, but we're talking about three outstanding cases. So really my practice is a hundred percent criminal defense.
Louis Goodman 02:14
Is there any kind of case that you find yourself handling more than others?
Jesse Adams 02:18
I wouldn't say so. Most of my cases are felonies at this point that are not life cases, but a fairly serious matters.
Louis Goodman 02:29
Where are you from originally?
Jesse Adams 02:31
So I was born and raised in Oakland, California. I'm a local kid.
Louis Goodman 02:34
Did you go to high school in Oakland?
Jesse Adams 02:35
I actually graduated from high school in St. Mary's in Berkeley. I went to elementary school in Oakland and I went to Claremont junior high and, when it came time to go to high school my parents made some, some tough sacrifices and I went to St. Mary's and graduated from there.
Louis Goodman 02:53
What was that experience like for you?
Jesse Adams 02:56
St. Mary's was great. I actually went to both, I went to two different high schools here in Oakland. I started off at Bishop O'Dowd, which is also a great school, but I really, really enjoyed my time at St. Mary's. It was a very small class. My class in 1992, I think we had about 85 boys.
It was still, it was not co-ed at that point in time. And I really enjoyed my time there. There's something about eliminating that kind of competition for attention from the girls that I think helps try and focus a young 16 year old boys, 17 year old boys, as much as you can focus stuff. And I had a wonderful time there.
It was a special class. There's a lot, a lot of those people that I graduated high school with, I'm still friends with. A lot of them have gone on to be very successful in a variety of different walks of life. And it was incredibly diverse.
Louis Goodman 03:54
When you graduated from St. Mary's where'd you go to college?
Jesse Adams 03:57
I just started my collegiate career at the time-honored institution of Laney College. And so I went there for two and a half years. I really worked hard to make sure that I got straight A's across the board, did so, and then I was able to transfer into Cal Berkeley. So I graduated from there in 1997.
Louis Goodman 04:17
What was the difference between being at Cal and being at Laney?
Jesse Adams 04:21
You know, Laney is a true community college. It is not just 20 year olds in the class. So you have people of all ages, all walks of life that are in there. I think, you know, Laney was a little more collaborative and less competitive than Cal, but it wasn't as you know, it wasn't as rigorous, it didn't expose you to as many ideas really as Cal does, but they were both good.
Louis Goodman 04:52
When you graduated from Cal, did you immediately go to law school or did you take some time off?
Jesse Adams 04:58
I took some time off to figure out what I wanted to do. And that was in retrospect a really sweet spot in my life.
Louis Goodman 05:08
What'd you do?
Jesse Adams 05:09
I was a waiter, but I was a waiter at Scott's Seafood in Jack London Square. So it was quite a decent gig. I made good money for my age. I worked 25 to 30 hours a week. I would go up to Tahoe mid-week and Sugar Bowl used to be two for Wednesdays or two for Tuesdays and it was 20 bucks to ride all day long.
And then we would make money on the weekends. And, you know, I had a lot, I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot there, but after a while and, and that is a place where you can be a career waiter, but I thought about, you know, is that what I want to do long-term and it wasn't. So I ultimately moved on from that.
Louis Goodman 05:52
One of my best friends in law school worked his way through school as a waiter at Scott's in San Francisco. And when he took a job at a law firm, he ended up taking quite a big pay cut.
Jesse Adams 06:10
You know, it taught me a lot. It also taught me a lot about speaking in public and speaking to large groups of people and dealing with people that were upset with the experience, all of which translated to being a criminal defense lawyer.
Louis Goodman 06:25
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So when did you actually start thinking about being a lawyer and saying, you know, a lawyer is really what calls me?
Jesse Adams 06:39
You know, it was at Cal that I was, I was strongly thinking about what to do next, but I wasn't sure what area of the law. And I was a little put off by the level of competition in kind of one-upmanship about, you know, which law school where you're applying to and what else prep course were you taking. So on and so forth that I wanted to kind of take a break from that and figure out if, is that really what I want to do? Don't want to go straight through and stay on this competitive track with these really bright, really competitive kids.
So it was already in my mind. And then I think, you know, having a job after college that wasn't in the legal field made me really start thinking, maybe that's what I, maybe that's what I should do. And so that's, that's how I came to it.
Louis Goodman 07:29
So where'd you go to law school?
Jesse Adams 07:31
I went to Hastings, I applied all over the country because I'd done my undergraduate here and was from here and so maybe this is the time that I take off somewhere else and Hastings was the best school that I got into. And then I looked at the, you know, in-state tuition versus out-of-state tuition was some of the other schools that I was accepted to and then decided to stay here for law school.
Louis Goodman 07:54
What did you think of Hastings?
Jesse Adams 07:56
I actually liked it. You know, there's a lot of people who have a, for a variety of opinions about the school, but it's, it's big like Cal. So when I was in my third year, it may have been second and third. No, I think it was just in my third year. So I was a part of what they had and they had a civil justice clinic and that was really rewarding.
And you felt like a real lawyer. And I remember just being so intimidated when I had to make the phone call to opposing counsel at some settlement negotiations, but that was where I could see the rubber meeting the road, you know, and it wasn't really until, that was definitely one of the highlights of being there.
Louis Goodman 08:37
Yeah. I went to Hastings and I had a great experience there. And I think that I also got a lot out of their clinical programs. And it was really being involved in the clinical programs and the kind of hands-on work that you got a chance to do there that I ultimately got into the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. For me wanting to, you know, go into litigation and knowing, or wanting to be in court, those were great experiences that I was able to take at Hastings, so I can appreciate what you're saying there.
Jesse Adams 09:13
I should, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Moot Court Program too, because that is still a national powerhouse.
Louis Goodman 09:21
Do you think that having taken that time off between college and law school, that it allowed you to be somewhat more focused when you actually got to law school?
Jesse Adams 09:31
Yes, absolutely. Without question.
Louis Goodman 09:36
What did your friends and family think and say when you told them you wanted to be a lawyer?
Jesse Adams 09:40
You know, I didn't really get a lot of bad jokes. I get all that stuff now, but everybody was really positive about it. And, you know, I thought that it would be a good fit and I don't have a history of lawyers or anything in my family. So, you know, people were very supportive.
Louis Goodman 09:59
When you got out of law school I know you did some work at a Public Defender's Office, and I know you did some civil litigation, and I know that you ultimately ended up in criminal practice. And I'm wondering if you could briefly just kind of go through that progression and explain how you got to where you are now.
Jesse Adams 10:16
Sure. Yeah. I've definitely had a more circuitous route than many criminal lawyers. I am astonished at the number of District Attorneys and Public Defenders who have done nothing else. The vast majority are career, you know, Public Defenders or DAs. Some of them have other experience. So after law school, I moved to San Diego and moved in with a woman who's now my wife. And was looking for work down there. My very first gig was with a solo criminal defense lawyer down there. I worked with her just for a few months while I was looking for work. And then I got picked up by the San Diego Alternate Public Defender. So in that county, they have a full office that handles conflicts.
So I started there and they threw me into dependency court. I didn't know anything about it, but it was really good experience. So spent two or three years doing that, had a ton of bench trials. The judge I was before most is now a federal judge as well. One of my colleagues from there is on the bench now. But you know, in those proceedings you are fighting to reunite children with the parents who've had them removed from their custody and the vast majority of those cases are drug related. The kids are either born testing positive, or the conditions of the house are so poor that the kids are removed.
Louis Goodman 11:46
That must be kind of emotionally draining work.
Jesse Adams 11:49
It is, you know, I think it was better for me to do before I had children, you know, as a young guy. Cause I was just, I was going to fight for them no matter what. I think I would have more difficulty with it now that I have kids. But yeah, it was very emotional as well for the people involved without question so, but there were some good lawyers there taught me a lot of good stuff. And then I got home sick and I wanted to come back to the Bay and I have a good friend from law school who was at a prestigious firm here in Oakland that did construction litigation. So he's like, "Hey, I need people." So I still feel kind of bad because my buddy got me that, got that job, but it just wasn't, it wasn't for me, it was basically the, everything revolved around indemnity, but you never saw a court and I wanted to be back in court. I wanted to be dealing with people and I wanted to be on the defense side.
Louis Goodman 12:44
So what did you do?
Jesse Adams 12:46
So I left and I went to go work for Annie Beles and Bob Beles. So I did that for a few years and then I went out on my own and...
Louis Goodman 12:54
How's that going to you?
Jesse Adams 12:56
It's great. You know, at this point, my practice is getting so busy that eventually I'm going to have to bring some people on, I think to help, but I really enjoy it. I like having control of my cases. Kind of from beginning to end, I have a good mix of private clients and court-appointed clients.
Louis Goodman 13:20
What do you really like about practicing law? I mean, you've obviously are someone who could pretty much do whatever he wanted to do, but you've been in the law for a while and you've chosen to stay here. Why?
Jesse Adams 13:34
Good question. You know, basically way back when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do after being a waiter. I like reading, I like writing and I like arguing. It was all three things that I get enjoyment out of if it's done well, if it's done thoroughly. So that's kind of a technical aspect of law. In the big picture, I really enjoy helping. Once I took, when I took the day-to-day interaction with clients who needed my help out of the practice, it did not do the same thing for me.
So helping people through difficult situations, getting them out of jail, the first time you get somebody out of jail, it's just a really good feeling, hanging a jury, or getting a not guilty verdict, having a case dismissed when it's a significant case. All of those things, they feel good as a kind of professional arrow in your feather and your feather in your cap, but for your client, it's everything, you know, they get to go home that day, or you beat the case. Or if you can't beat the case, you resolve it in a way that, you know, they can accept and move on with their life.
Louis Goodman 14:50
If a young person was just coming out of college, would you recommend going into law as a career choice?
Jesse Adams 14:57
You know, that's a tricky question now because of the cost of law school, I would not discourage anybody from doing it. I would definitely suggest that they get some exposure. Don't just go to law school to become a lawyer because that doesn't, that doesn't tell me much or anybody in the profession much. Do you want to do litigation? Do you want to do corporate kind of mergers and acquisitions? Are you thinking about a big firm life, solo practitioner, government work? So get some exposure. You know, if you're thinking about it, find a place to intern. If you can't do that, find somebody who practices in the field and tag along for a day or have lunch with them.
So, you know, I enjoy it, but I know that the cost of law school has gotten so high that you really need to figure out whether that's what you want to do. It doesn't make sense to rack up three years of debt and then change careers a couple of years in. You could probably get to where you ultimately are without going through that whole process. I know some really bright people who went to law school who do not practice. So, but yeah, you know, I think it's a rewarding career. It's challenging, but it's meaningful. So yeah. I mean, it really depends, but I certainly wouldn't try and talk anybody out of it.
Louis Goodman 16:23
How has actually practicing met or differed from your expectations about it?
Jesse Adams 16:27
It's probably a little grittier, you know, then I thought in law school, when you're sitting in the back of the courtroom and you're talking to somebody in custody in a tiny little box about their options, it's not quite what I pictured.
Louis Goodman 16:42
Well, how about the business of practicing law? How has that gone for you and how has that either met or differed from your expectations about it?
Jesse Adams 16:51
I've learned a lot over the years, I'm doing a lot better at it now than when I started. I think you really need to learn how to price your cases when you're doing private work appropriately. And I think it can be intimidating in the Bay Area because there's a lot of advertising money that's spent. So I think some of the best advice that I received when I started telling people I'm going to go out on my own so I can focus on criminal defendants. They were like, don't sign up for too much advertising, cause you're just going to end up chasing your tail to pay.
So try and get some balance of court-appointed work and private work. And I feel like I'm at a pretty good, pretty good point now, but it's, you know, it's hard. It would be nice moving forward to delegate, you know, some of that stuff so that I can really just focus on trial work. Cause it's time consuming. You have to deal with, you know, trust accounting and I didn't know anything about when I started off and all the offices and overhead and insurance. And I mean, it's just, there's a lot on the business side. So I'm glad I've learned it, but it's a lot. And you know, I moving forward, I want to be more lawyer and less admin.
Louis Goodman 18:07
Yeah, in law school, they don't teach you anything about it. You've talked about some advice that you received. What advice would you give to a young person who is just starting out as an attorney?
Jesse Adams 18:19
Try and figure out what really gives you that internal satisfaction in the law so that you can focus on that area of practice. Be careful, pay attention, attention to detail, being thorough, being prepared. All those things make the difference. I remember at Hastings, one of my clinical professors telling us about the five P's of practicing law: preparation, preparation, preparation, preparation, and preparation. And that's really true because if you're not all the way prepared and you come up against an opponent who is, it can be an uncomfortable experience.
Louis Goodman 19:04
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Jesse Adams 19:05
No, it's not, you know, it favors people without question. So do I think it's a terrible system? No, but if you have the money to post bail and your cellmate doesn't, well one of you is going to stay in custody and probably going to take a deal to get out of custody and one of you is going to get out of custody and you're going to have a much better chance of beating the whole case after you post. So, yeah, and it's, you know, also the people coming through the system generally are from lower socioeconomic strata of society. So it disproportionately involves certain segments of our population.
Louis Goodman 19:49
I'm gonna shift gears here a little bit. What's your family life been like, and how has practicing law fit into or affected your family situation?
Jesse Adams 20:00
I, you know, I think I have pretty good balance as a lawyer, so I, it hasn't really negatively impacted my family life. I don't feel like I work so much that I'm missing out on my, on my family life.
Louis Goodman 20:14
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have. things that you enjoy doing to kind of unwind and get your mind off of the practice of law?
Jesse Adams 20:22
Well, so that's become much more important to me as I've gotten older, you know, the stress of the job, I think, as your responsibilities increase on the job will start manifesting on you. So I really take time to, I'm a cyclist. So I enjoy road cycling or mountain biking, getting into the gym. I try and do that as often as I can, because I just, I'm able to deal with the challenges of the job better. And I'm old enough now that I will even do try and do yoga once a week or so, but it helps. I mean, it just really helps if you can come to court with your mind already in a more relaxed place. Cause you know, like I do that, the job can, the job itself can be stressful, so.
Louis Goodman 21:13
How do you define success?
Jesse Adams 21:16
It's not about how much money you have. I think you want to have enough money so that you can take care of yourself and your family and your loved ones so that you're not stressed out by the lack of money. If you get a real internal kind of joy from completing something successful and you're making enough money to have a few nice things and not worry about the basics of life, then that to me is a successful life.
Louis Goodman 21:45
Let's say you and your wife came into some real money, 3 or 4 billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Jesse Adams 21:54
Man, that's a tough question, about 3 or 4 billion?
Louis Goodman 22:01
Yeah. I mean, we're not talking Jeff Bezos money, but we're talking about, you know, enough so that you probably wouldn't have to think about money in any serious way.
Jesse Adams 22:15
That's tough. Well, half of me says that we would get out of the States, go up and up some sort of hotel or resort getaway in the Caribbean, maybe Mexico, something like that. The other half of me says that I would find a way to get an NFL team back in Oakland. Maybe I'd be the new owner of a football team and I can buy my way back in the NFL. Yeah, no, I think I'd probably go with the resort out of the country.
Louis Goodman 22:45
Well, let's say you had that NFL team and you had a Super Bowl ad and you had 60 seconds to say whatever you wanted on the Super Bowl, what would you say to the world if you had 60 seconds on a Super Bowl?
Jesse Adams 23:02
Oh, that's so tough. Lou. I think I got a backtrack on my answer because really, if I didn't own an NFL team and they just gave me 60 seconds during the Super Bowl, I would probably tell people to stop watching the NFL. But I lived, I'm from Oakland, I lived in San Diego. There's really good people and fans in both cities. And since I graduated from law school, I've seen both of these teams relocate and just kind of devastate these communities. So I'm not on, that would probably be my message to everybody who was tuned in.
Louis Goodman 23:40
So you're sort of the Jonah of California NFL teams?
Jesse Adams 23:47
Maybe it's my personal responsibility, but yeah, it was, you know, just amazing.
Louis Goodman 23:54
Let's say you had a magic wand and there was one thing in the world, legal or otherwise that you could change. What would that be?
Jesse Adams 24:00
It's hard to say how we would fix Oakland, you know, but it's so near and dear to my heart and seeing what a sad and difficult state that it's in right now, I would try and find a way to give these kids some opportunity and to try and just shut down the violence. The violence is just so out of control. So to find a way that East Oakland and West Oakland are thriving, safe communities where people have, you know, career opportunities, good schools, and not nearly so much violence, you know, find a way to fix the city.
Louis Goodman 24:48
Jesse, how do we get in touch with you? If someone wanted to talk to you about a case that they had, or they just want to talk to you in general, what's the best way to reach you? Do you have a website that people can find you?
Jesse Adams 24:59
I do. I have a website and it's at adamsdefense.com , so you could reach me through there and then my phone number is the best way to reach me, and that's (510) 217-8600.
Louis Goodman 25:13
Jesse Adams, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Jesse Adams 25:21
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really honored to be on the podcast, and I really appreciate your time.
Louis Goodman 25:27
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz for music. Brian Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Jesse Adams 26:04
You know, it's funny, I saw that on your outline and I was like, I don't have anything that, that comes to mind.