Meet Pam Ortiz, a skilled criminal defense lawyer and a Bay Area native with a wealth of experience in the legal field. After years of working in employment issues as a civil litigator, she found her true calling in criminal defense. Her impressive legal career includes serving as a prosecutor for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, as well as working for the United States Attorney, the Marin County Public Defender’s Office, and the San Francisco District Attorney. In this interview, Pam discusses how practicing law in various fields can complicate matters with civil clients and affect their expectations of your work. She also highlights why it’s crucial to avoid dismissing client questions because for the client information is everything. Tune in to this episode where Pam shares her valuable insights on proper calendar management and explains why it's an essential tool for running a successful practice and avoiding missing court dates.
Pamela Ortiz Law
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
B.S. Sac State Criminal Justice
J.D. Golden Gate University
Interned at US Attorney, SF DA and Marin PD during law school
First job: Deputy DA in Contra Costa County
Been practicing exclusively criminal defense and been on CAAP panel since 2002
As a Bay Area native, Pamela is committed to fighting for her clients. She has been in private practice specializing in criminal defense exclusively since 2002. She handles all types of felonies and misdemeanors in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Pamela has a BS in Criminal Justice from CSU, Sacramento (1987 graduating with honors). She then attended law school at Golden Gate University in San Francisco during which she interned with the Marin County Public Defender’s Office, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of California. Upon her graduation in 1991, she went to work as a deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County for several years.
After working for a number of years in a law firm as a civil litigator and a large company focusing on employment law issues, she returned to the practice of criminal law as a private criminal defense attorney. In addition to her private practice, she serves as a court appointed attorney in Alameda County through the Alameda County Bar Association and handles adult serious felony matters.
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Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman / Pam Ortiz - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to attorneys about their lives and careers. I'm Louis Goodman. Today we're welcoming Pamela Ortiz to the podcast. A Bay Area native, Pamela is committed to fighting for her clients. She handles felonies and misdemeanor criminal matters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. For several years, she served as a prosecutor in the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office. She's also worked for the United States Attorney, the San Francisco District Attorney, and the Marin County Public Defender's Office as a legal intern. Before returning to the criminal law, Pam spent several years as a civil litigator, focusing on employment issues. It seems that whenever I'm in court, I see Pam, she is a true courtroom practitioner. Pamela Ortiz, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Pamela Ortiz 01:01
Thank you. Nice to be here.
Louis Goodman 01:03
It's great to have you. Where are you speaking to us from right now?
Pamela Ortiz 01:07
My home office.
Louis Goodman 01:09
Which is where?
Pamela Ortiz 01:10
In Walnut Creek.
Louis Goodman 01:12
You also have an office office, is that correct?
Pamela Ortiz 01:16
I do. My office is in Dublin.
Louis Goodman 01:18
How long have you been in Dublin?
Pamela Ortiz 01:22
Four years now. Prior to that, I had an office in Oakland for about 15 years.
Louis Goodman 01:27
How long have you been actually practicing law as an attorney?
Pamela Ortiz 01:32
Since 1991. I don't really want to say how many years that's been.
Louis Goodman 01:38
Where are you from originally?
Pamela Ortiz 01:39
Louis Goodman 01:41
Yeah, what town in Marin County?
Pamela Ortiz 01:42
I grew up primarily in Nevada. I went to Redwood High School and Larkspur. And I have a longtime Bay Area family. My grandmother went to San Rafael high school and her father was a guard at San Quentin back in the 1920s, I guess. And my father was born in a Cottage Hospital in San Rafael. And my grandfather on my dad's side grew up in San Francisco. His parents came from Europe in the late 1800s and they started the first movie theaters in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman 02:21
So you’re real Bay Area royalty?
Pamela Ortiz 02:23
I guess so.
Louis Goodman 02:24
What kind of a practice do you have?
Pamela Ortiz 02:27
It's 100% criminal defense. That's all I do. I don't practice any other type of law. That's what I've been doing for over 20 years now.
Louis Goodman 02:36
Do you think that having your practice focused on a very specific area of law is the best way to represent your clients so that they can really get the benefit of your narrowly focused practice?
Pamela Ortiz 02:52
I know lots of practitioners do other things. But for me, that's what I'm most comfortable with. I find that that's what interests me the most. It's been my focus since college. And so that's primarily why I do it. I think that for myself, having too many fingers in too many pies would be too distracting for me. I love criminal law. And I'm happy just doing that.
Louis Goodman 03:17
Well, speaking of college, where did you go?
Pamela Ortiz 03:18
I graduated from Sacramento State with a criminal justice major.
Louis Goodman 03:23
Besides the academics, was there anything else that you were interested in at Sacramento State?
Pamela Ortiz 03:28
No, I worked outside of going to school. I basically worked in offices, real estate office. Prior to going to law school, I pretty much had been an office staff type of person. I think that's what drove me to want to have a professional career.
Louis Goodman 03:47
So after you graduated from Sac State, you went to law school. Did you take some time off between Sac State and law school? Or do you just go straight through?
Pamela Ortiz 03:53
I did. I did one year, I worked a couple of different jobs in San Francisco, I worked at what is now I think, a defunct investment banking firm called Hambrecht and Quist. I worked in their research department, I was like a staff support person. But getting up and being at work in San Francisco at 6am was not something I liked. So I moved on from that. And I worked in a real estate firm, again, being support staff to two real estate developers. And it was during that time I decided I needed to go back to school.
Louis Goodman 04:28
This is kind of a two part question. First is, when did you first start realizing that you wanted to be a lawyer? And then when did you first decide you wanted to apply to law school?
Pamela Ortiz 04:43
So I think with a criminal justice major, so the time I was at Sac State, my classes were all focused on criminal law, primarily whether it was corrections or police, policing, or just the law itself. And I think it was during that time that I realized that I really enjoyed the law. I wasn't really sure when I graduated. I was going to go to law school, but during the year between undergraduate and law school working, basically in an office, I decided I wanted to go to law school.
Louis Goodman 05:16
Did you ever consider other criminal justice careers, for example, law enforcement or, like in your grandfather's case, corrections?
Pamela Ortiz 05:25
I really didn't. I didn't see myself as going to law enforcement. Maybe for a short period of time, I thought maybe FBI sounded exciting, but I just never really pursued that.
Louis Goodman 05:37
I could see you as an FBI agent. So you took a year off between college and law school? And where did you go to law school?
Pamela Ortiz 05:44
Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Louis Goodman 05:47
Do you think that having taken some time off, and having had that experience working in offices, in I would call it sort of legal adjacent career that that helped you focus once you actually got to law school?
Pamela Ortiz 06:03
Yes, definitely. I think that having some maturity behind you always is helpful in graduate studies. I think that it gives you a perspective on the world, maybe makes you focus a little bit more on maybe what your interests are. For me, the year off really helped me focus on moving forward with a professional career and wanting to take the next step with.
Louis Goodman 06:26
What did your friends and family think when you told them hey, I want to be a lawyer?
Pamela Ortiz 06:30
Well, after the normal ribbing people get why would you want to be a lawyer? And the jokes, I think that everybody was very supportive and happy that I was going to go onto virtually a graduate degree. Neither one of my parents had college degrees. So it's the first in my family to go to college. So that was very exciting.
Louis Goodman 06:49
What's the move like from Sacramento to San Francisco?
Pamela Ortiz 06:53
Fun, definitely a different experience. Sacramento is a small town, at least it was when I was up there in the mid 80s, kind of slow paced, and being in San Francisco, obviously, it's a small city but compared to Sacramento, big city, public transportation, living in walking distance to restaurants and to shopping. And just getting around by taking the cable car, I lived on the cable car out.
Louis Goodman 07:24
You graduated from Golden Gate. And now you have a very successful practice of your own in Dublin. And you practice in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, wondering if you could kind of walk us through the process of getting from law school, to where your practice is now.
Pamela Ortiz 07:48
So my third year of law school, I decided I wanted to go into a DA's Office. So I interviewed and I was offered a job in the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office. So prior to graduating, I had a job lined up which was really nice. I was able to study for the bar knowing I had a job. While I was waiting for my bar results, I already started working and I was able to work as a law clerk there. This was during a time when there were some DA's Offices had hiring freezes. I was fortunate to be able to get into a local Bay Area office and worked there for a few years and was caught up in layoffs. There were some layoffs that went on, I was laid off for a period of time, I was hired back and by the time I was hired back, there was a little bit of political turmoil in the office and wasn't sure prosecution was really my cup of tea. So at that point, I decided to make a switch and try other law. I wasn't really sure that's what I wanted to do. So that's when I went into civil litigation for a few years.
Louis Goodman 08:53
Okay, you've been involved in criminal law, you've been involved in civil law. And you've been involved in criminal law from both sides. What did the civil litigation feel like?
Pamela Ortiz 09:04
I did not like it. Chasing money is not very fun. It's kind of soulless work. Just trying to fight over money just was not anything that I enjoyed. I did anything from auto accidents to contract law, collections law. And none of it was really very interesting.
Louis Goodman 09:26
And you were working for another firm at this point?
Pamela Ortiz 09:29
Yes. I was working at a small law firm in San Francisco. The people are lovely, but the work didn't really float my boat.
Louis Goodman 09:36
So you came back to criminal law. Tell me about that move.
Pamela Ortiz 09:41
Yes. So about the time I left the civil law firm was when I started to have children, was looking at maybe staying home for a few years, was bored pretty quickly. I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to law at all. I ended up working at NUMMI, New United Motors auto manufacturing plant in Fremont in their HR/legal department, I worked in their investigations unit. So I conducted investigations regarding sexual harassment, discipline, trained upper management on the law, I was there for about three years. After I had my second child, the commute started to get to me. And that was the time I decided I didn't really want to be an employee anymore and to go into practice for myself.
Louis Goodman 10:29
Well, how's that gone for you?
Pamela Ortiz 10:31
Very well, I highly recommend it.
Louis Goodman 10:35
What is it that you really like about practicing law, you've been doing it for quite some time. Now you've done it in a number of different capacities. Obviously, you've had opportunities to do something other than practice law, but you practice law.
Pamela Ortiz 10:50
The law is fascinating. In some cases, it's black and white, we have a roadmap of laws, and we can look at a fact pattern and see where our situation fits. And whether we're on one side or the other, we argue our case and try to do the best for our client. I think I just enjoy the set of rules that are out there that laws provide, and really enjoy that environment to advocate for my clients.
Louis Goodman 11:24
So the young person were coming out of college and thinking about a career, would you recommend?
Pamela Ortiz 11:31
Yeah, I know a lot of people don't think highly of lawyers. I think that if somebody has a area of the law that they're passionate about, yes. I think that just to go to law school to come out and be a lawyer and a firm doing Heaven forbid, insurance defense, probably isn't the most satisfying way to spend your time. But if you find an area of the law that you really feel passionate about, I think that it's a great career and can be very satisfying.
Louis Goodman 12:04
Some people could be passionate about insurance defense, don't you think? Insurance companies need love, too?
Pamela Ortiz 12:11
They do. I'm not sure anybody's passionate about insurance defense.
Louis Goodman 12:15
How was actually practicing law either met or different from your expectations?
Pamela Ortiz 12:20
Well, I think I took a different path. I think that I was expecting to work for a firm and have to work a lot of long hours. And I learned that that isn't the case and you can carve yourself out a practice in an area that you enjoy and have a work life balance that I think isn't really typically seen in big firm.
Louis Goodman 12:49
What have you done to encourage your own work life balance for yourself?
Pamela Ortiz 12:56
Well, the big step is just working for myself. And it's all about calendar control. I make sure I take vacations, I enjoy traveling. So I take the time to carve that out for myself. So I can take several trips a year and decompress. Because it's very important to have that. I noticed that when I'm busy, and then I take a break, I come back and I feel fresh and ready to fight the good fight.
Louis Goodman 13:28
What sort of travel experiences have you had recently that you really enjoyed?
Pamela Ortiz 13:32
I just got back from Europe a couple of weeks ago, I went to Italy and Spain, serve for about two and a half weeks. And it was wonderful. They certainly know how to balance work and life, they enjoy food and they're a Café Society and just such a different experience as far as things are open late. People are taking siesta, very social, people are walking around and public transportation whereas we're in our cars running around and just really lovely, lovely cultures.
Louis Goodman 14:09
What about the business of practicing law, you're in practice for yourself and on some level, all of us who practice law who are not working for the government or a big firm, run a business. I'm wondering how that's gone for you and what you can tell us about that.
Pamela Ortiz 14:29
That can be challenging. I am fortunate that primarily my practice is through the court-appointed program. I so they provide a lot of support in the respect that the administration of my practice isn't as complicated as having a large private practice. I do everything myself, I don't have any employees. I actually don't have any support staff. It just creates, usually need to be organized, you need to be able to have QuickBooks or something and stay on top of your cases, I try to keep it really simple. I think that and that's another reason not to practice in a lot of different areas because it creates a lot more complications with particularly civil clients or some expectations of how you do that practice that are more complicated than a straightforward criminal defense practice.
Louis Goodman 15:18
What do you think's the best advice you've ever received?
Pamela Ortiz 15:22
Don't be afraid. If you think you want to do something, go out and do it. I think I was a little nervous about going to law school. It's the application process, is a little scary, it's competitive, you worry about am I going to get in the right school? I think at the end of the day, there's a lot of focus on where you went. But really, once you start practicing, it really doesn't matter where you went to law school, once you’re licensed, you’re licensed. Where you went to school doesn't really matter.
Louis Goodman 15:52
And if you are going to give some advice to a young attorney who's just starting out, what advice would you give that individual?
Pamela Ortiz 16:01
Find a mentor, or someone who you could bounce ideas off of, maybe help support you, if you're in a private practice, you certainly want someone who can help you if you're going to a courtroom coverage situation. But just having colleagues. The other thing, if you're in a private practice alone, it can get a little lonely. So if you can find office space, where maybe there's some other colleagues to share space, I think that that creates some camaraderie with people. We're fortunate in criminal law that we particularly in Alameda County, it's a pretty small universe of people, we know each other. Our defense bar is very collegial. We support each other. But it can be a little lonely if you're by yourself. So I think finding either a group of people or an office with other people there to give you that support, I think is a good way to start your practice out.
Louis Goodman 16:57
What would you change, if anything about the way the legal system works?
Pamela Ortiz 17:01
Goodness, well, given what my focus is, I think that we locked too many people up in jail. So I think that we are busy. I think that particularly in some other counties, the way that we shuffle, particularly in custody clients, through the system is really unfair. I think that we should be more focused on making sure that clients understand what they're facing, what their charges are. I think that the courtroom experience is very rushed, and it's a product of volume. But I think that it would be better serve everybody if things were slower. And clients had more time with their lawyers understanding the system, they weren't so rushed to having to be shuttled to the system along with hundreds of other people.
Louis Goodman 17:57
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Pamela Ortiz 17:59
No, I think that the government has way more money than the Public Defender's Offices, court-appointed programs. If you're lucky enough to hire a private defense attorney, you're in a very fortunate position. And but I think that just even in that situation, it's very lopsided, the government can spend lots of money on and has lots of resources, and it's very difficult to defend yourself. It's expensive, investigation. If you want to do anything in that regard, you have to pay for it out of pocket or hope that there's some resources out there. If you've with the Public Defender's Office, they have a little bit more resources. But it's nothing compared to the resources of the government. So notwithstanding that you're innocent until you're proven guilty. It's very lopsided.
Louis Goodman 18:50
What's your family life been like? And how is practicing law fit into that?
Pamela Ortiz 18:55
It was challenging with small children, my children now adults, I think that having a practice that allows you to control your schedule, definitely assists with the family life piece of it with children, it can be challenging, but I think all jobs are challenging. I think that being an employee, working for a company is challenging. We live in an area where people commute, it's a lot of time away from home. And I think that really, you have to make an effort to find that out and find that balance.
Louis Goodman 19:29
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have? Something that do to kind of get your mind off of the practice of law?
Pamela Ortiz 19:37
Hiking, walking, just getting outdoors, it's always good for the mental health to get out in nature, breathe fresh air, and look around and just take your mind off of work.
Louis Goodman 19:51
We're really fortunate that we live here in Northern California and there's all kinds of opportunities for recreation. Is there any particular parks or areas that you like getting out into?
Pamela Ortiz 20:03
Very fortunate where I live in Walnut Creek, there's lots of trails, Lafayette Reservoir is really nice to walk around. Also, the Oakland Hills has a number of nice parks.
Louis Goodman 20:12
Are there any books or movies about the law that you would recommend to somebody?
Pamela Ortiz 20:17
The Lincoln Lawyer was surprisingly accurate depiction of private defense practice. I know it seemed a little over the top with the Hells Angels rolling out. But I found that there were a lot of things in that movie that really rang true to being a criminal defense attorney.
Louis Goodman 20:36
Is there somebody living or dead that you'd like to meet? And if so, what do you think you would like to ask that person?
Pamela Ortiz 20:46
I think I would love to meet Hillary Clinton. And I would like to ask her so many questions. She's had an incredible career. I'd like to ask her how it was when she was a young lawyer working in the south in a very male dominated profession. I'd like to ask her how her experience as First Lady was an as a senator. She's a fascinating woman who has been unjustifiedly treated poorly by a lot of people in this country. And I think she's just fascinating.
Louis Goodman 21:20
Let me ask you, what do you think about being a woman and working in a male-dominated profession? I think less so now, but probably more so when you first started out.
Pamela Ortiz 21:32
It definitely was, when I started out as a lawyer. You may or may not need to cut this out but there was a unwritten rule and my prosecutor's office that women couldn't wear pants. So it's definitely changed since then. But it is hard being a woman, I think that you have to be strong and stand up for yourself. I think that some clients it's difficult with, but it's definitely way better than it was when I first started out. So I don't think the women just need to push forward. I see a lot of women practicing now. So that's great news.
Louis Goodman 22:11
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?
Pamela Ortiz 22:13
Not listening enough to their clients. I think that we're all busy. We hear the same questions over and over again, we hear questions that we know the answers to, and it's easy to brush off the client to not want to fully spend time with them, because oftentimes, their questions may be irrelevant or they may not be super important in the case, but for the client, information is everything for them. So I think that spending times with-- the most time you can with the client is really important. I think that because we're all busy sometimes we fall short in that regard.
Louis Goodman 22:55
How do you define success?
Pamela Ortiz 22:57
Just enjoying your career and enjoying your personal life. I think that's what success is. I don't think it has to do with how much money you have or where you live. I think that if you are enjoying what you're doing and happy in your life, that success.
Louis Goodman 23:12
What keeps you up at night?
Pamela Ortiz 23:14
Cases, thinking about my cases. Unfortunately, it's hard to disconnect. That's maybe a downside to private practice, or maybe even just being a lawyer. But it's not a profession that you can leave in the office and go home and not think about, at least for myself. So I'm constantly thinking about my cases, or my clients, worrying about something, thinking about defenses I can come up with or angles I can come up with. So those are the types of things that keep me up at night.
Louis Goodman 23:43
Yeah, I think that's true for most of us. I know that when I was a young lawyer, I used to keep the stack of envelopes next to my bed and I would write myself notes in the middle of the night on the envelopes. And now I pick up my iPhone and send myself an email.
Pamela Ortiz 24:00
Yes, or make yourself a voice memo or something.
Louis Goodman 24:02
Let's say you came into some real money, three or four billion dollars. What if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Pamela Ortiz 24:11
I probably would stop working. I say that now I might get bored really quick. But I'm at the age where I'm getting close to thinking about is it time to slow down, retire. And I think that I would consider moving into maybe not working and maybe volunteering, charity work, but not the hustle and bustle of having to be in court every day.
Louis Goodman 24:42
Let's say you had a magic wand and there was one thing in the world that you could change, the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Pamela Ortiz 24:50
Well, I think that we're at where we're at in the world right now or in particular in the United States, but I seeing it all over the world is there's a lot of acrimony. So if we could have a little more understanding of each other, we don't have to agree. But if we can listen a little more and have a little more understanding, I think that would go a long way to tamp down some of the anger that seems to be going on.
Louis Goodman 25:17
Let's say you had 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, Super Bowl ad. And you have this really big platform to say, whatever you wanted to a really big audience. What would you like to say to that Super Bowl audience?
Pamela Ortiz 25:35
Be kind to one another, have empathy for other human beings. We never know what somebody's experiencing in their moment. So you might have someone who seems like they're dismayed and angry, but we don't know what they've got going on. And that's the one thing that I've appreciate doing this practice working with a population of people that a lot of the world doesn't understand. How can you work with people who are charged with a crime? And what I've discovered is everybody has their own experience and you just never know what somebody's wherever somebody's coming from, and you don't walk in their shoes. So having empathy, have empathy, be kind to people.
Louis Goodman 26:24
If someone wanted to get in touch with you, Pam, to retain you as their attorney or just to speak with you as a colleague, what's the best way to get in touch with you?
Pamela Ortiz 26:37
Well, I'm always available with my phone or email or my website.
Louis Goodman 26:43
What's the website?
Pamela Ortiz 26:44
It is www.pamelaortizlaw.com.
Louis Goodman 26:49
That's www.pamelaortizlaw.com. And Pamela Ortiz law is all one word. And Ortiz is O-R-T-I-Z, is that correct?
Pamela Ortiz 27:03
That is right.
Louis Goodman 27:04
Great. Pam, is there anything you want to talk about that we haven't discussed, something that you want to bring up?
Pamela Ortiz 27:11
No, I appreciate you doing this. I just think it's a great way to hear about our other colleagues and appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Louis Goodman 27:23
Thank you. Pamela Ortiz, Thank you so much for joining me today on the love by lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Pamela Ortiz 27:31
Thank you so much.
Louis Goodman 27:32
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 from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Pamela Ortiz 28:09
Just make sure I use my calendar. Calendaring your cases is the most important thing so you don't miss a court date.