We had the honor of sitting down with Justice Laurie D. Zelon of the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Seven to discuss her legal career and her experience after more than 16 years on the bench.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.
Zelon: I try to be a respectful and attentive listener, and to ask questions to ensure that I understand the issues in the case as fully as possible. Just as I expect the attorneys to be fully prepared, I prepare as well so that our time together is well spent.
AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff.
Zelon: I have the privilege of working with a permanent professional staff, with whom I share great fondness and mutual respect. We discuss openly, and fully, the issues in the cases in chambers. Sometimes we disagree, but when we do, the outcome is generally better than it would have been had we not explored all of the possible approaches to the problem we were confronting. We also find time to discuss family, and the issues of the day.
AALM: What drew you to a career in the law?
Zelon: The law is a challenge — it allows you to help people to solve problems, and to avoid problems by fully understanding the parameters in which they can operate. The law is also a promise that we will maintain a fair and just society. That is a combination that is hard to resist.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
Zelon: I operate in a collegial setting in which we have the luxury of considering multiple points of view in determining the outcome of an appeal. The breadth of the docket means that I confront new issues all the time, which allows me to learn continuously.
AALM: What do you miss most about being a lawyer?
Zelon: I miss the satisfaction of helping individuals and organizations solve their problems. That interaction reinforced my decision to become a lawyer to begin with, and provided opportunities for personal growth. I also miss the hands-on experience of working with organizations that serve those who have no meaningful access to representation and legal assistance, which enabled me to make my skills a part of solving a larger problem.
AALM: Are there any challenges that you believe need to be corrected in the legal community?
Zelon: I believe we need to increase the ability of lawyers to serve the middle class. We can help new lawyers understand practice models that permit them to give legal advice and representation in a manner that allows them simultaneously to support their families and provide services to those who are currently under-represented or self-represented.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
Zelon: I am a hiker. My husband and I are trying to work our way through some of the great walks of the world together, and are currently challenging ourselves with walks across countries. I have met some wonderful people, and a cow and sheep, or several, along the way, and had experiences I would have driven by otherwise.
AALM: Are there any changes in the future that you’re looking forward to?
Zelon: I believe the legal system is at the cusp of enormous change, spurred in part by the changing demographics of court users, and in part by the recognition by judicial leaders that increasing access to justice is a critical goal for the judicial branch and the profession. As we become a system that focuses more on the needs of its users, I believe we will both provide more effective service and increase the public’s confidence that the system is fair and just.
AALM: When you learned you would be receiving the Beverly Hills Bar Association 2017 Ronald M. George Award for Judicial Excellence, what was your first thought? How will this award impact you professionally and personally?
Zelon: I was shocked, but very pleased. I have enormous respect for Chief Justice George, and had the privilege of working with him on several projects. As a result, I am deeply honored to become a part of the group of recipients who share this award.