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High-profile attorney urges law students to pursue passion

Wednesday, Sep 28, 2011

Tom Mesereau warns of career dissatisfaction

-By Kelsey Schreiberg

Attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr.’s refusal to narrowly define his career opportunities led him to his passion as a trial attorney and devotion to public interest law.

USC’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) hosted Mesereau at a lunchtime presentation Sept. 26. Best known as Michael Jackson’s defense attorney throughout the pop star's 2005 child molestation trial, Mesereau shared his personal career journey with students.

 Attorney Tom Mesereau

Mesereau admitted that there is a crisis of dissatisfaction in the legal profession. However, he believes lawyers need to take responsibility for their career fulfillment.

 “Life is a process of change with unexpected bumps,” he said. “There is no professional license that gives you more opportunities to change, reinvent yourselves, or switch gears than a law degree.”  

He encouraged students to volunteer at the Mesereau Free Legal Clinic in South Los Angeles, which is open two Saturdays per month and counsels people in all aspects of law.

“We recently gave a homeless man legal advice about how to resolve a parking ticket,” said Crystal Wammack, a recent UCLA graduate who has been volunteering at the clinic for two years. “Even the small things make a big difference.”

When Mesereau was searching for passion within his corporate career, he looked to others for inspiration. A self-proclaimed prolific reader, he read every book he could find on Clarence Darrow, corporate lawyer turned criminal lawyer. Darrow dramatically changed career paths when he began to represent African-Americans for free, taking on one seemingly hopeless cause after another around the country. Mesereau read Darrow’s powerful closing statements and asked himself, “Why should my life be any less passionate?”

“Darrow was a brilliant lawyer with the intellect, education, and pedigree to succeed, yet he knew that something was missing. The highest calling in law is to defend the vilified—to give them meaning and purpose,” Mesereau said.  

Mesereau’s initial clinic volunteer work allowed him to see the positive impact of the law first hand.

“Criminal defense lawyers are often vilified but they’ve done more to stop the abuse of power than anyone,” he said.

He explained that having an insight into people—understanding who they are, where they’re from, what is important to them—is key to arguing a successful case.

Mesereau told students to “look for the spark of good. Lawyers are much more effective if they learn about the people they’re defending. The best trial lawyers don’t need jury consultants because they understand their client and who might identify with them.”

Ultimately, despite the tough job market, “there’s always going to be devaluing of people and therefore there’s always going to be a need for lawyers, people who preserve humanity when others are sucking it out,” he said.  

He challenged students to look beyond what they think is possible, saying that, “We are in a profession with a lot of negativity associated with it but you cannot be seduced by it. Fear and selfishness contribute to the high number of dissatisfied lawyers.

“Fear stops people from making radical moves. Don’t let your imagination be dulled by the dullards.”

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