How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

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supery00n

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How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by supery00n » Tue Mar 23, 2021 1:03 am

I've always been interested in how Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Clippers, was able to start a firm right out of law school that was successful enough for him to build a massive real estate portfolio even though he didn't attend a prestigious law school (Southwestern in LA), didn't have any connections or privileges.

He also started a diversified practice that included cases in personal injury, divorce, criminal defense, and business law. He claimed to have personally tried 10,000 cases in his legal career and was regarded as a tough negotiator who won large settlements from the very beginning of his career. He started his practice in Boyle Heights, which is in East LA, and then moved to Beverly Hills after a few years. He worked with several high-profile and wealthy clients from the start. I sourced this information from several LA Times articles written in the 80s and 90s that I found by googling.

Conventional wisdom advises against new lawyers starting a firm right out of law school and to work as an associate at an established firm to get experience before making the jump. There's a consensus that attending a lower-ranked law school is not a financially astute decision, and that if lawyers choose to hang a shingle, they should specialize and find a niche instead of starting a general practice.

Sterling seemed to have broken all of the rules. Maybe the rules were different then. Maybe there were fewer lawyers at the time per capita and less competition for a small practice at the time. He didn’t have any special connections, wasn’t born into wealth, started his practice on the poor side of town, and was rejected by the most prestigious law firms in LA at the time. Maybe this is a case of the exception proving the rule.

But it makes me wonder. Why was Sterling so successful when he broke all the rules?

nixy

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by nixy » Tue Mar 23, 2021 8:22 am

Because he graduated law school in 1960.

stupididiot

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by stupididiot » Tue Mar 23, 2021 8:30 am

nixy wrote:
Tue Mar 23, 2021 8:22 am
Because he graduated law school in 1960.
I mean, michael cohen graduated cooley in 1991 and managed to work his way up to owning a $60M building on the UES.

Its mostly getting very lucky, working very hard, taking a lot of risk, and probably being willing to do stuff (shady or not) that other people wont. It is not a good decision, but that doesnt mean it doesnt work for very few people.

nixy

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by nixy » Tue Mar 23, 2021 8:52 am

1991 and 1960 were both a long time ago now.

That said, I agree that there are always going to be individuals who create great careers for themselves out ability and hustle rather than pedigree. (I'd also argue that these two guys getting into real estate wasn't really due to legal expertise, law was just the job that gave them the money to start investing.) There are doubtless a couple of proto-Sterlings and Cohens floating around Southwestern and Cooley even now. But that doesn't make going to those schools a good decision for the average person. (Also, look up how much law school tuition has increased since even 1991 - it's a lot.)

And all that said, I'm not sure Sterling or Cohen are who I'd pick as personal role models.

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cavalier1138

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by cavalier1138 » Tue Mar 23, 2021 10:30 am

Yeah, the OP seems to have a definition of "success" that doesn't necessarily include being a good lawyer who works on interesting matters. Or being a halfway-decent human being.

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Elston Gunn

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by Elston Gunn » Tue Mar 23, 2021 11:16 am

Donald Sterling sure did break all the rules, including those barring racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

gekko

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by gekko » Fri Mar 26, 2021 6:43 am

I'll bite on this. It's not that he was "in real estate" which can mean many different things. He purchased income generating properties and held indefinitely. (He's known for saying "I never sell.") If one has income from RE (or any other source) they are not affected nearly as much by the peculiarities of when income will hit from their legal activities. Someone out of a "good" school with a pedigree has the same opportunity to pursue lucrative activities as a sole prop and wait for them to take years to pay off, but that person has the option to say the heck with it and instead make 200k as someone else's bitch knowing what happens every 1st and 15th until they burn out after three years and look for a lower paying "quality of life" job. That said, this person may also consider themselves "successful" if that is their objective.

motojir

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by motojir » Fri Mar 26, 2021 8:11 am

The problem is that most lawyers don't advertise their salary like biglawyers do. It's really cringeworthily insecure if you think of it. Being insecure and having all of their self-worth tied to their prestigious biglaw job (rofl, literally no lay prestige, maybe negative lay prestige), they will also shout you down if you dare claim that any lawyer outside of biglaw makes as much or *gasp* more.

There is one exception to the rule about not advertising what you make, a very insecure and vain poster who goes by "CSLG" or "calishitlawguru" on the forum xoxohth.com. He has a small PI shop and he posts literally every settlement check and profit statement. I know his actual name as he as effectively outed himself numerous times, but I won't post it here. He is worth about $10 million now after, I think, five years of practicing. https://www.google.com/search?as_q=cslg ... type=&tbs=

Of course anecdotes are just that and they prove nothing, but you should maintain a healthy level of skepticism when accepting anything anyone tells you, including what people tell you on TLS.

nixy

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Re: How was Donald Sterling so successful as a lawyer when he broke all of the rules?

Post by nixy » Fri Mar 26, 2021 8:56 am

No one claims that biglaw attorneys make the most money of all attorneys out there; everyone agrees that a successful PI shop can make more. That doesn’t have anything to do with whether Donald Sterling - who graduated law school in 1960 and whose money comes from real estate - shows that conventional wisdom on this site is wrong.

I agree that people can succeed as solos/in small shops (though I’m not going to read xoxohth to get details). I think getting experience first is wiser, but some people will do fine coming right out of law school (if that’s what your shitlaw god did). But I also think that the majority of people deciding whether to apply to law school aren’t likely to fall into that category.

The other issue with attending a low-ranked school is that they cost a shitload more money now than they did when Sterling went to school.

In any case, I don’t think anyone disagrees that the TLS conventional wisdom about how to get to biglaw is absolutely not the only way to money, success, and happiness. But in the absence of much information about the people who are asking for advice and what they’re capable of, it’s the safest/most widely applicable. (Of course if someone shows up wanting to be a PD or ADA they get different advice.)

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