Attorney at Law Magazine Los Angeles Publisher Sarah Torres sat down with Christopher Montes de Oca to discuss his career.
AALM: Of what success are you most proud?
Montes de Oca: In my life, I’d have to say my family. Professionally, I’d say it’s nice to know I’m one of the few attorneys under 30 years old who has had a million-plus dollar verdict or settlement. It feels good to know you can help your client in such a big way.
AALM: What do you like most about the practice of law? What do you like least?
Montes de Oca: I like helping out people and my day is never boring because I never know what issue my clients will need help resolving. Every day I learn something new about the practice of law, my clients and myself. I think a lot of change that has happened in this country has come about through lawyers standing next to their clients to help them voice their beliefs and convictions. On the other hand, the worst part is dealing with unfriendly opposing counsel who think it’s all about them and not the clients. Not surprisingly, this usually happens in civil!
AALM: How has the practice of law changed from when you first started?
Montes de Oca: I don’t think the practice of law has changed, but I think that I have changed how I practice law. The more cases I’ve taken on over the years, the more comfortable and confident I’ve become in myself.
AALM: What do you see as the most important/pressing issue in the legal system?
Montes de Oca: Unfortunately, some judges forget that you have a constitutional right to a trial, and no one should be punished for exercising that right. It seems like some judges sentence people harshly if they opted to go to trial. If convicted, sentences are often maximum terms, which are much more severe than they would have been had the case been plea bargained.
AALM: What advice would you offer to attorneys just entering the practice?
Montes de Oca: I think it’s really important to be kind to everyone you meet. The practice of law involves meeting and communicating with various types of people every day. Certain cases can bring out passion in attorneys, which can be good. However, passion can sometimes lead to frustration and impatience. I think we would all benefit to remember the golden rule we learned when we were younger: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”
AALM: Why do you feel it is important to do pro bono work?
Montes de Oca: I think that lawyers have a great responsibility to try and do pro bono work. The legal arena can be difficult for us attorneys to navigate after years of education and experience. For many people, justice really isn’t accessible without help from a lawyer. I believe that when lawyers volunteer their services they not only are helping the client and their family, they are bettering the community. I have seen firsthand the enormous impact a lawyer can have on person’s life and liberty. Many of the most significant injustices that have been changed have been through the help of pro bono lawyers.
AALM: How has your MBA helped you with your legal practice?
Montes de Oca: I believe that my MBA has helped me with a big part of running my law office. As with any business there are many aspects, including the service you are providing and the business aspect. I think that the knowledge I gained through my MBA classes helped to bypass a lot of business mistakes and missteps along the way and help me focus more on what I love to do, be a lawyer.