Roseann Torres used to be a Deputy Counsel and a Deputy District Attorney at San Joaquin County, but left her job as a prosecutor to start her own law firm in 2004. She is a current or former member of several community organizations such as the Alameda County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Centro Legal de La Raza, Youth Movement Radio, National Women’s Political Caucus, and the East Bay La Raza Lawyers Association. Roseann talks about some of the challenges of running a law practice and managing its employees as well as how being a Buddhist has affected her views on law and life in general. She also shares about how she is an avid fan of powerboating and enjoys taking to the water to enjoy life and get away from the stress of work.
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Roseann Torres, Esq. is the founder and CEO of Torres Law Group Inc since 2004 & serves as elected official to the OUSD School Board as Trustee since January 2013.
Roseann has practiced law since January 2000 where she began her legal career in government in San Joaquin County, first as a Deputy County Counsel then as a prosecutor. She moved to Oakland in March 2004 and started Torres Law Group Inc. with a focus on serving diverse communities, especially as a bilingual attorney fluent in Spanish. The firm focuses on personal injury accident cases.
Being equally committed to the community in which she lives, Roseann makes time to give back. After becoming an attorney, she began volunteering at local alternative high schools with students competing in mock trials. She focused on schools where students were typically denied access to extracurricular programs and students faced obstacles due to poverty, serving a majority Black and Latino students. The goal was to be a role model and relatable to these students who had been kicked out of traditional schools, since she attributes much of her success in life to the effect of mentors after facing difficulty in high school due to bullying.
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Attorney at Law
Roseann Torres - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
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!
Roseann Torres is the founder and CEO of the Torres Law Group and has served as an elected official on the Oakland Unified School Board as a trustee. She works with minority students at local schools and as a committed role model. She has numerous positions of political importance, including East Bay Women's Political Caucus, Centro Legal de La Raza, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for Alameda County. She also has a fantastic power boat that she and her husband berth in Alameda, and from which they explore San Francisco Bay. Roseann Torres, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Roseann Torres 01:10
Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Louis Goodman 01:12
Thanks so much for being here. I know that you have a very busy court schedule and I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me.
Roseann Torres 01:22
That's true. And this is fun.
Louis Goodman 01:24
Where is your office located right now?
Roseann Torres 01:28
So my office currently is located at the Embarcadero and I'm a short walk over to the Brooklyn Basin, which has become a very big highlight in Oakland for live music, live dancing, opera, symphony and comedy shows. So it's an amazing time to be here at the Embarcadero because it's going through a renaissance and we have parking, we're right next to 880. Can't really miss us.
Louis Goodman 01:59
So you don't even have to go to your boat to see the water.
Roseann Torres 02:02
I'm looking at the water right now, right out the window I'm looking at some boats that are parked on the Oakland side and across the way I can see the vicinity of where my boat is parked. Exactly.
Louis Goodman 02:17
What type of practice do you have?
Roseann Torres 02:19
I have had an evolving practice. So I'm currently about 98% personal injury. And I say evolving because when I started my firm in March of 2004, I left a job as a prosecutor, in San Joaquin County, Stockton. I'm from Stockton, and I was raising my one and only child in Stockton when she was born, because I wanted to be near family, grandmothers and great-grandmothers and just the whole family, right? So I came out here to Oakland and I started doing criminal defense because I really got troubled by the criminal justice system and the lack of Spanish-speaking attorneys and the pressure put on clients to plead guilty. And pleading guilty sometimes to something they didn't really understand.
Louis Goodman 03:15
So you were originally from Stockton. Did you go to high school there?
Roseann Torres 03:19
I did. I went to Lincoln.
Louis Goodman 03:20
What was that experience like for you?
Roseann Torres 03:22
High school was not what you might think typically have someone who becomes an attorney. I would say I was a pretty bad student, that's a hard thing to define, but I didn't like school, I'm an only child, my parents divorced when I was in middle school. And then as a result of that divorce, I was a latchkey kid, like a true definition of a latchkey kid.
My mom was a stay at home mom before I was 12 and they were married. Then she became employed full-time and I took care of myself.
Louis Goodman 03:58
Did you work between high school and college?
Roseann Torres 04:01
I worked all through the last two years of high school, all through college. And then I didn't get to work for law school because law school was a whole different beast. So I worked in retail, I worked in small businesses, I worked in cosmetics, which paid the best.
Louis Goodman 04:20
Did you take time off between high school and college or were able to go to college right after you graduated from high school?
Roseann Torres 04:27
I guess you could say it took time off to the extent that I graduated high school. And I told my mother very proudly, I got a job I found in the newspaper at a printing company that was, there were three locations and it was owned by a woman. I went to community college in Stockton called Delta, and I just went part time and just kind of played around, taking a couple classes. I had no plan, I had no direction. I didn't have counselors because I never spoke with counselors in high school, so I sure as heck didn't really know how to utilize the counseling services in community college.
Louis Goodman 05:00
How long did you spend at Delta?
Roseann Torres 05:02
Too long. I spent two and a half years without even getting an AA degree, which is apparently a big problem at community colleges in California. Students aren't given much direction. I transferred, made it out to San Francisco from Stockton. I was turning 21 and I started at SF State and finally had to declare a major and I just decided to do marketing and business.
Louis Goodman 05:29
When you graduated from San Francisco State, did you immediately go to law school or did you take some time off?
Roseann Torres 05:36
I again took time off because I'd worked all through undergrad in San Francisco. I got a job in sales. I have that knack for just talking to people and I was enjoying it. But I wanted something a little more emotionally and mentally challenging and I had a lawyer friend that was a prosecutor in San Francisco and a fellow, a Buddhist, because I'm Buddhist and she was at our Buddhist meeting and sharing about her boss, Terence Hallinan, urging her to apply to be the president of the State Bar of California.
And as she talked about this story, she's an African-American woman, young, she said, you know, my mentor is the DA. And I applied and I became the president of this large organization that manages lawyers. Well, I love the story she shared and it turned a light on. So I said to her, at the end of this meeting, I said, "Can we have coffee or lunch? I'm thinking about law school because there's just more to my life than this sales jobs."
Louis Goodman 06:39
So is that when you first started really thinking about being a lawyer?
Roseann Torres 06:44
That's correct. And the reason I finally decided was that her and I talking about her career and the challenge, helping people, cause she was a prosecutor. And then talking about how to finance school, as far as loans, I had pretty much paid for college. When I graduated from SF State back then in 1992, I had about 4,000 in debt. And since I've always worked, I paid my rent, I paid my utilities and bills and I paid that off in no time, but law school was a whole other thing.
And I said, okay, well, I'll look into it. And yeah, it was, it worked out.
Louis Goodman 07:23
Where did you ultimately go to law school?
Roseann Torres 07:25
I wanted to go on the East Coast. I wanted to go far. I wanted to be away from my extended family. I wanted to have the privacy and the independence, if you will, because I was very scared of the amount of work that law school was going to entail. I knew that it would be very hard to say no to my family.
We get together a lot. We have birthdays, we have weddings, we have Easter, we have Christmas and I just, I just wanted to get the heck out of here. So I went to Albany Law in upstate New York.
Louis Goodman 07:56
Well, if nothing else, the winters must have been quite a difference from what you were used to in Northern California.
Roseann Torres 08:04
It wasn't just the winters. I couldn't believe that people in the East Coast live that life to the extent that you have such extremes and you have to respect mother nature. There isn't anything like those extreme weather patterns compared to California, where you grow up expecting sunshine all the time, expecting no rain expecting, you know, that you don't really have to wear much more than a light coat. And so it is a funny experience. It's just a funny experience to add to the whole tumultuous law school experience.
Louis Goodman 08:38
How did you navigate from Albany Law to the Stockton District Attorney's Office?
Roseann Torres 08:46
Yeah. So it's a weird story. I ended up coming back to California from law school. I started dating someone in the Bay Area because I would come home for holidays. And I began dating someone in the Bay Area and specifically Oakland, which is exactly why I live in Oakland. I moved to Oakland for a couple months with this partner and what I saw in Oakland, as opposed to the seven years I lived in San Francisco, was a more friendly place, a more diverse place, a warmer city.
It felt comfortable to be in a city that had more cultural offerings, more entertainment, more restaurants than Stockton. But when I finished school, I moved back to Stockton. I obviously had to get on my feet, right? And then there's this gap. So I did finally take what you would call a gap year. So this person and I, the relationship ended, I came back.
I ended up in Stockton briefly, and I applied to become an English teacher in Japan. And I got in and I went, I graduated law school, I went. But how I ended up back at the Prosecutor's Office is that I ended up coming back and I had a baby. And that's why, like I was saying in the beginning, I had my daughter and I wanted to be in the environment of my family to support me well in starting my career.
And prior to my prosecutor position, I was a County Counsel. And then from County Council, I jumped over to work with John Phillips, the prosecutor. And I think I liked the Prosecutor's Office better.
Louis Goodman 10:25
How long did you spend in the Stockton District Attorney's Office?
Roseann Torres 10:29
Just a little over two years.
Louis Goodman 10:31
So you left the Stockton District Attorney's Office and you came to Oakland. What did you do? How did that work?
Roseann Torres 10:38
I started my firm. I left the criminal, I left prosecution side. I cashed out my little retirement that I had accrued in those few years of government. And I was in a relationship, my partner said, look, get started, I'll pay the bills.
And I basically ran myself ragged getting to know people in the community, the business communities. I joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I joined the more general Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. I joined the Latino organizations and I volunteered my time. Centro de La Raza is a place that was started back in 1968 by two Boalt Law students.
Actually two or four, I can't remember, but they started it and they provided an array of legal services to the community. And I just went in there and said, "I'd like to volunteer. I speak Spanish." And lo and behold, they had plenty for me to do in the evenings when I didn't have my daughter with me. And I got my name out there. I got my name out there as a Spanish-speaking attorney. I got criminal clients fast. I got some family law clients fast and personal injury, little by little, but I didn't advertise, I just showed up. I was just in the place if you will.
Louis Goodman 11:56
If a young person just coming out of college had an interest in going to law school and was thinking about that as a career choice, would you recommend that?
Roseann Torres 12:07
It's tough because I've had interns in my law firm for many years, probably over 14 years. I've had interns. Some of them have been high school, but most of them have been college. And some of them have said, I would not do this work. The way you have to talk to your clients sometimes with that whole tough love, they just feel like it's too frustrating.
Why won't they listen? Why don't they just do what they said they were going to do? And then I've had other law students say, well, I mean, college students, they're usual because they're older. What they're saying is they want to help people in a particular arena and it's probably life experience. So I've had interns that wanted to do immigration, right?
And they may be immigrants themselves, or their parents were immigrants. And they know somebody who got treated not so well by an immigration attorney, paid a lot of money, didn't get very much service. So I've always told them, you know, it's really a decision that can only be made by your own life experience and personality. But really law can be for anybody because there's lawyers that go to court. There's lawyers that only write documents, there's lawyers that do appeals. There's all the different personalities in lawyers. However, it's a hard arena. It's not for people who want to do typically the same thing day in and day out because it's never the same day.
And you think, you know, clients have similar personalities, but there's always a twist in every case, right? And so it's definitely something I recommend to students because I'm also such a big believer in education. So when my meeting happened with this woman who was a prosecutor at 23 years old, 24 years old, and she said, you know, "What will happen is you'll have a JD. Maybe you won't practice law, maybe you'll go back into business, but you will have a very different way of looking at the world and problem solving and critical thinking skills", you know, those basic buckets that we tell people, and I do believe that education is what empowers us. And my interns, some of them are in law school now. These young interns, they've gone from college to law school or from high school to college on the track to law school.
And it's beautiful, right? Because if they see it up close, and I don't sugar coat anything, then that means they may very well have the ability to be a good lawyer or maybe they get a JD and they go back to something else. It just really doesn't matter.
Louis Goodman 14:34
How has actually practicing law met or different from your expectations about it?
Roseann Torres 14:39
I think that it's really difficult from the standpoint that school does not prepare you for the management of cases. You learn the law, the law is always changing. Precedent, Supreme Court decisions, whatnot, State Court, you know, judges have their own nuances and personalities and they handle their court differently.
So I think practicing is very scary and if you don't have the ability to think on your feet, if you're a person who goes to court, then it's not the proper place for you, right? Because every courtroom is different. Every District Attorney I would deal with was different. Every criminal defense attorney, when I was a prosecutor, was different.
I like that. I like variety. I like change. Some people don't. The managing of a business and getting paid is a whole ‘nother beast.
Louis Goodman 15:34
I wanted to ask you about that. What about the business of practicing law? How has that gone for you and how's that either met or different from your expectations?
Roseann Torres 15:43
Yeah. I think that I have made all the mistakes of a small business owner in the sense that hiring people is complicated. Interviewing people, hiring people, knowing when you're being misled, that's one thing, right? Your people have to be trainable, teachable, or they're experienced, then they're expensive. So when you're starting out, you really can't afford a lot. You're doing it all. But I also feel it's important to align yourself with other small businesses, other lawyers and share. This is not a business where you get to kick back a bunch of feet above the desk.
Louis Goodman 16:21
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you started practicing law?
Roseann Torres 16:28
Knowing when to say no, knowing when to say no to people who call and want your help and what your services and it's not your arena.
Louis Goodman 16:35
What do you think is the best advice you've ever received?
Roseann Torres 16:38
The best advice I've ever received? Hmm. One piece of advice I received that was great and always true, although I didn't always spot it, was that when people switch attorneys. When people switch attorneys, there is a problem you've got to figure out. So clients are desperate for representation, but if they're not following a good lawyer’s advice, why would they follow yours?
Louis Goodman 17:04
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Roseann Torres 17:07
Not most of the time. That one was easy. Not most of the time, there's too much. There's too much that goes on. You know, it's inherent in the nature of this work that it's unjust.
Louis Goodman 17:22
Let me shift gears a little bit here. What's your family life been like? And how has practicing law fit into your family life or your family life and into your practice of law?
Roseann Torres 17:34
I was raising my daughter 50-50. We had a 50-50 custody agreement, her dad and I, and I think that because I had downtime without my child, I could practice running my own business, which is a lot more work than just maybe going to work, you know, in government work where it's 45 hours a week, as opposed to a big firm is going to be way more.
But I think I made the mistakes there too. I could have worked a little less when I was married finally, in 2009, I was doing family law, pretty hot and heavy, and it affected me to be stressed out about kids, to be stressed out about domestic violence. And my spouse said, "You bring home your work, you bring home that angst and that anger and that frustration."
And for years, I wanted to get out of family law. And it's unfortunate that my daughter had to be part of that negativity. And I got out in 2018, but probably was four years too late getting out. So I started in about 2004 or 05 with a little bit of family law and I think I would have had a happier life and been a happier mom had I not been doing something so stressful, raising a child, then I added politics, which was worse in some ways.
So it just depends. And how people manage their stress. But I was happy enough that I could go to all of my daughter's school events because I worked for myself. I didn't make a lot, but I got to go to school events. I got to volunteer at school. I got to be on all the field trips, I drove. And I will not ever regret that, but I didn't realize until my husband said, you know, you really don't leave it at the office, you bring it home. And you don't know you're doing that. You know, it's hard. It's really hard to juggle all those personalities.
Louis Goodman 19:36
Now, I know that you have your boat. I'd like to either tell us a little bit about how you decided to buy a boat and what sort of value that adds to your life?
Roseann Torres 19:50
Yeah, that's funny. I'll be there in about an hour. What happened in the boat scene is that every vacation by water, I would tell my husband, or if I was with friends, I want to get on a boat. I need to get on the water besides swimming in the ocean, which I love to do. And I started reflecting that for a decade, you know, it was rent a catamaran, rent a yacht with a crew, rent whatever I could, even just a small fishing boat with a captain in Puerto Vallarta, which I did a few times with my friends and I didn't care how much it costs, cause I was like, I want to be on the boat and I want to be by myself. I don't want to be with a bunch of booze cruise, you know, people getting drunk.
Once I realized that and I started kind of putting two and two together, my husband sent me to school for powerboating and I got a captain's license when I turned 50 and I told him, "I'm not going to work forever and just work." That's what a lot of lawyers do. I've seen many lawyers pass away that I was friends with and they died very young and all they did was work, work, work, work, work, and that's not what my life is supposed to be. So when I got my boating license in 2018, it was 2018, I told my husband, I said, well, we should buy a boat.
And so we got the boat in October of 2021 because in pandemic, no one was flying. And so no one was leaving the country and they were just hanging out on their boats. And so it took us a long time to find the right boat. But we found one through a yacht club that I was participating with. We've got a Jeanneau, a 37 foot Jeanneau, and it has two bedrooms and a bath, kitchen, you know, full facilities. And we berthed it in Alameda because of our job right across the water.
Louis Goodman 21:40
I know that you have talked a little bit about Buddhism and I'm wondering if you would share a little bit about that. And when you started getting interested in Buddhism and how that has fit into your life and your law practice?
Roseann Torres 21:52
Well, Buddhism is why everything comes together for me in Law, because Law is so it's such a hard, you can be hard on yourself when something doesn't go right or, you know, decision comes down that you just didn't see it coming. Buddhism was a practice that my family engaged in when I was only five years old. My aunt was living in Stockton, my mother's sister, and she married a Buddhist.
He was Irish, he was a hippie, it was the 70's. And he introduced my aunt to Buddhism who then introduced my mom. And I was only a kid, but as I grew up, I was always around the Buddhist community. I loved what I saw because the Buddhist community was very diverse. And as human beings, we all have, in Buddhism, we believe we all have karma, right?
So sometimes a criminal client was convicted and sentenced to something that I really just didn't think was appropriate or I felt like the judge was harsh for whatever reason. I don't know the judges do things sometimes you just don't see it coming. And I would think, well, I can't take it personal. And this person also has their own karma. I did everything I could, I fought to the end and they are going to have to grow from this experience. Karma can be changed and that's what we believe in Buddhism. By being a better person, by making the right causes, not negative, but positive causes. You're always able to shift your life towards what you dream of having.
And it's the complete opposite of being a victim because when you're a victim, you're powerless and Buddhism, there's no room for that. You know, we're always going to have to look inward and no excuses.
Louis Goodman 23:55
Let's say had a magic wand that was one thing in the world that you could change the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Roseann Torres 24:00
The magic wand, I saw this question, I would say that in family law, you would have something equivalent to public defenders to the extent that the government could fund lawyers for people in need. And I think that my magic wand, that kids' parents would be represented by competent lawyers and family law so they were not sent off to have custody visitation with a parent that is abusive, that is neglectful, or that is doing something harmful to get back at the other parent.
Louis Goodman 24:36
If someone wanted to get a hold of you to talk to you, to call you to get some legal advice or representation. How does one best get in touch with you?
Roseann Torres 24:48
It's www.torreslawoffices.com. And my cell phone is (510) 910-0404.
Louis Goodman 24:58
Wow. Everything out there to everybody.
Roseann Torres 25:01
Louis Goodman 25:02
Is there anything that you want to talk about that we haven't gotten to?
Roseann Torres 25:06
Be careful of what you listen to and be careful of the support of that person who may be very unhappy. And if they're unhappy, definitely don't follow their advice.
Louis Goodman 25:17
Roseann Torres, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Roseann Torres 25:26
Thank you. I've enjoyed this tremendously. That's nice.
Louis Goodman 25:28
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, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Roseann Torres 26:05
Well, I didn't like school. I had an authority figure problem, and that continued through high school.