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The Life and Career of Arturo J. Gonzalez: Partner with Morrison & Foerster, LLP, San Francisco, CA

published November 20, 2006

Kenneth Davis
( 307 votes, average: 4.3 out of 5)
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"I grew up in a low-income neighborhood and saw things that I thought were not right," Gonzalez said. "Initially I wanted to become a police officer because when people got into trouble, they would always call the police—whether someone stole your bike, or stole your car, or broke into your house. Whatever happened, you would always call the police. And I liked the idea of helping people."

However, Gonzalez eventually found that he could be of greater assistance to people by becoming an attorney.

"I wanted to be a police officer for a long time, and it wasn't until there were some people I knew who had experienced problems with the law that I came to realize that one thing a policeman could not do was to speak on someone's behalf in a court of law," he explained. "And you had to be a lawyer to do that, and that's when I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer."

From all indications, it would appear Gonzalez made the right decision. He is now a nationally recognized trial attorney and a partner with renowned international law firm Morrison & Foerster. In addition, a number of legal publications have acknowledged Gonzalez for his stellar legal work. In 2003, The American Lawyer named him one of the nation's top 45 lawyers under the age of 45. He was also selected by the National Law Journal in 1995 as one of the nation's top 40 lawyers under 40, and in 1998 by California Business Magazine as one of California's top 20 young lawyers. In 2006, the Los Angeles Daily Journal named Gonzalez one of California's top 100 leading lawyers. He was also selected as a "Leading Lawyer for Litigation in California" by the 2006 Chambers USA: Guide to America's Leading Business Lawyers.

Gonzalez said that he doesn't have a particular specialty area.

"I'm a trial lawyer," he said. "Maybe I'm old-school in that sense in that I choose not to specialize. I realize that the vast majority of lawyers in today's market are specialists and are leaning towards specializing in one area or another. I think there's still a need for people who can walk into a courtroom and try any case, and that's something I can do."

Over the years, Gonzalez has handled a number of high-profile cases. In 2003, he was involved in a case in which the Oakland Raiders sued the City of Oakland and County of Alameda for fraud (Oakland Raiders v. City of Oakland, et al.). In the suit, the team claimed it was intentionally misled when it was lured into returning to Oakland from Los Angeles by the promise of sell-outs for the 1995 season. The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, former Director of the Coliseum Ed DeSilva, and now-defunct accounting firm Arthur Andersen were also named in the suit. The Raiders sought $1 billion in damages. Gonzalez successfully defended DeSilva in the case. The jury concluded that DeSilva did not mislead the Raiders and returned a defense verdict on his behalf. Gonzalez said the team did receive a judgment against the Coliseum, which is currently on appeal.

Gonzalez was also the lead defense counsel in a race discrimination case against Bank of the West in 1998. After a three-week trial, the jury returned a defense verdict.

And in 1999, Gonzalez represented the widow and children of a farm worker who was killed by the police. The suit claimed that the police violated the Fourth Amendment by the manner in which they entered the family's home and shot the man. After a three-week trial in federal court in Fresno, the jury found various constitutional violations and awarded the widow and her children $12.5 million in damages. It was the largest verdict ever awarded in California for a police shooting.

Additionally, last year, Gonzalez represented the mother of a 19-year-old who had been sitting in a park with his girlfriend when a large branch fell out of a tree and landed on his hip. He was taken to a hospital emergency room, where he sat in the waiting room for many hours and did not receive proper care. He was conscious when he arrived at the waiting room but was bleeding internally. After awhile, he passed out; the hospital staff started scrambling and panicking and eventually transferred him to another hospital, where he died. A Fresno Superior Court jury found that the young man had not been properly cared for prior to being transferred to another hospital and that, had he been given proper care, he would not have died. The jury awarded the mother $400,000 in damages.

Before going to law school, Gonzalez received his B.A. with honors in Political Science/Public Service from the University of California, Davis, in 1982. He went on to attend Harvard Law School and earned his law degree in 1985. While he was a student at Harvard, he had the privilege of meeting esteemed labor leader and civil rights activist César Chavez, who came to speak on behalf of the Harvard Law Forum.

"I asked [Chavez] what he thought I should do with my career," Gonzalez said. "And to my surprise, he said to me in Spanish, 'You should go to one of those big firms where there are no Latino lawyers, and you should be the best lawyer at the firm.' I thought he was going to say, 'Hey, come work with us; we could use a Harvard lawyer at the UFW [United Farm Workers of America, which Chavez founded].' But he didn't. So I took it as a challenge."

After that, Gonzalez started looking at big law firms. He said he was quite surprised that there were virtually no big firms with Latino lawyers.

"And so there were lots of them to choose from," he said. "And the way I made my decision at the time is I knew that I wanted to do some public interest work. I mean, obviously, you're going to a big firm to do billable work, and everybody understands that. But I also wanted to go to a firm where I could give something back to my community, and I had heard that this firm called MoFo [Morrison & Foerster] was a firm that was progressive, and it did top-quality work but at the same time believed in the notion of giving back to your community. And so I decided that that's where I would go."

Gonzalez joined Morrison & Foerster in its San Francisco office in 1985 and became the firm's first Latino partner in 1992. When he first started at the firm, he was the only Latino out of more than 200 lawyers. However, things have changed significantly since then.

"Now I think we have nine Latino partners and about 40 Latino associates," he said.

He added that Vault, which ranks law firms and is used by law students to get information about law firms, has ranked Morrison & Foerster as the number one firm in terms of diversity for the last five years.

"We've definitely come a long way," he said. "There aren't many firms that can say that. But I realize that we've still got a ways to go."

Gonzalez discussed what he likes most about working at Morrison & Foerster:

"What I enjoy most about my job is the fact that we've got tremendous resources here that enable me to address just about any legal issue," he said. "Even if it's an area of the law that I don't know a whole lot about, there's somebody else in this firm who's a master at it, and I can immediately get up to speed on almost every area of law just by using the resources of our firm, and I just find that to be extremely helpful."

He added that he also likes the diversity of the work and the "array of legal challenges that are presented" at the firm.

"I suppose [...] probably one reason why maybe I don't specialize is I would not want to just be manufacturing widgets all day," Gonzalez explained. "I like different things, and so I learn different things all the time. And I love to learn."