Coffee and Photocopying, that's how we got started. Our father had picked himself up by the bootstraps, putting himself though South Western Law School at night while raising a family, including four kids, and working as a Roughnecker, a laborer, during the day (and night when things broke down) on the oil fields in Redondo Beach California. Passing the Bar on his first attempt, he began practicing law in 1960, and once we were old enough, that's around five years old, our Saturday outing consisted of a trip to the office with Dad.
Our first assignment: get him a cup of coffee, and another and another and another. But as he would drink that coffee, he would interview clients, talk on the phone, and direct the office. At that age, we observed his actions, and they became a part of who we were. Eventually we were taught to staple, find files, and of course, once printers were inexpensive enough to purchase, photocopy - cutting edge technology at the time. By age 13 we were doing the client interviews ourselves, drafting pleadings for the court, and yes - still getting the coffee and making photocopies.
Shortly thereafter, our older brother having passed the bar himself, the stage was set. There would be no family dinner without the discussion of law. Torts, Criminal, Divorce, and Work Injury. No Sunday Brunch without discussion of Mr. Gregory's accident or Mrs. Rodriguez's divorce. As time passed, Saturdays with Dad of course turned to full time employment with Dad, and eventually - after Herbert graduated South Western Law School and I graduated Loyola Law School - we went into practice with our Dad and older brother.
Our older brother eventually spun off into Criminal Law with such notable cases as Bobby Joe Maxwell, the accused Skid Row Stabber (after over 20 years, his right to a new trial was recently granted). Our father retired in 1994, and we have had our own practice since then.
So why Law? It seemed natural. We sat for years, every Saturday, watching people come to our father for help. These were people in need. They were all injured. Some physically, some financially, all emotionally. Of particular note was someone else's father who came for help. Mr. Ruiz was a poor Hispanic worker who lived just around the corner from our office in Downtown Los Angeles in 1968. We were not yet even in our teens. He had had two children and a wife. In order for his children to go outside and play, they had to exit their apartment, walk down a poorly lit hall, wait for an old dilapidated elevator to take them downstairs, and exit to the street. While we were not well off, we did not have to endure such a problem. We merely opened the door and went outside. One day Mr. Ruiz's children did exactly as described, they exited the apartment, walked down the poorly lit hall, waited for the dilapidated elevator, exited to the street and played. But when it was time to go home they had a problem. His son entered the elevator, which then malfunctioned, decapitating him, and leaving him hanging with no head in front of his younger sister. Hearing Mr. Ruiz tell his story, seeing his daughter in shock and his wife crying hysterically, was mortifying. Mr. Ruiz was not only upset for his own loss, but the possibility that it could happen to his daughter or his neighbors just as easily. They were poor: there was no option to move, there was no option to not play. There was no option without devastating risk. But, my father was there to help. Emotionally, he gave them hope; financially, he gave them the ability to move and secure some mental health assistance; for the neighbors, the Slum Lord finally found it financially beneficial to repair his building. For us, we learned at an early age how to help others through the legal system.
We learned not just how to make coffee and photocopies, we were learning how to care about people. We were learning how help people, to fight the windmills as Don Quixote did - but to do it effectively with the great equalizer in our society, the legal system.
And yes, it is not unusual for one of us to pass the other's office and ask, "Can I get you a cup of coffee?"