Profile in Practice: Richard M. Pearl

As part of CEB’s commitment to bringing together California’s legal community, our blog will post a short interview with one of your fellow attorneys.

This week, we profile attorney and CEB author Richard Pearl:

CEB: What is your practice area and how did you choose it?

Rich: My major practice area involves court-awarded attorneys’ fees. Mainly, that entails representing attorneys and/or their clients in actions that entitle the prevailing party to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees, in the trial and/or appellate courts. I also serve as an expert witness on attorneys’ fee issues, and have written the CEB book on this subject,  California Attorney Fee Awards, as well as its annual updates. I do a fair amount of appellate work on non-attorneys’ fee issues as well, including punitive damages issues.

I got into court-awarded attorneys’ fees in the late 1970’s when fee-shifting statutes started proliferating. I was the Director of Litigation for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a statewide legal services program for the poor, and had responsibility for making sure that it recovered any fees to which it was entitled.  When I went into private practice in 1982, court-awarded attorneys’ fees was an expertise that clients were willing to pay me for, that was crucial to my own law firm’s public interest work, and that allowed me to work with great lawyers and facilitate important public interest work.

CEB: What do you like best and least about practicing law?

Rich: The best part of practicing law is making good law that really helps people who otherwise would find it hard or impossible to obtain skilled representation, whether it’s in regard to public benefits, housing, the environment, workers’ rights, etc.  Making good fees law makes it possible for skilled attorneys to do public interest work, which I think is the best part of the legal profession; it would have been wonderful to do the fees in Brown v Board of Education had there been any available at the time (and had I been older than ten). I’ve had the good fortune of helping a lot of very talented and committed lawyers continue to do great cases that benefit the underrepresented and the public.

My least favorite part of practicing law is getting a bad decision on a case I think I should win. Like most litigators, I’m pretty competitive and don’t like to lose anything. Dealing with uncivil or unprincipled attorneys and/or their clients who misuse the legal system is another. Deadline pressures are a third, but they’re an inevitable part of the process.

CEB: What CEB book or program have you found most helpful in your practice and why?

Rich: Somewhat immodestly, I mainly use my own book (California Attorney Fee Awards); writing it really helps me organize the law in a way I can use for my clients. I’ve also found CEB’s book on appellate practice very helpful.

CEB: What is the best legal tip you ever received?

Rich: When you’re winning, shut up. (The more I get to use that one, the better I like it.)

CEB: How do you think the practice of law will change in the next 15 years?

Rich: I have no idea, except that the technology will be unrecognizable; I’ve had students in my Public Interest Law seminar who don’t know what a “Selectric” is. Also, I hope money doesn’t rule the law to the same extent it rules politics. One thing I always tell the students in my seminar is that good public interest attorneys can have a significant impact on people’s lives and effect social justice without having huge resources behind them; I hope that doesn’t change.

CEB: What is the most interesting book you have read (lately)?

Rich: Wolf Hall by Hilary Martel – I generally read non-fiction, but this was great. Willie Mays’ biography is another.

CEB: What is your contact information?

Rich: Law Offices of Richard M. Pearl, 1816 Fifth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710, (510) 649-0810;

CEB: Thank you, Rich! We are all very excited about the new edition of Attorney Fee Awards that just came out last week!

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