Class of 1997
Attorney, The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV in Los Angeles
Area of Practice: Criminal Law
Joseph Low went to law school with plans to become a biotech patent lawyer. Instead, he became a well-known defense attorney who has represented clients in several high profile cases, including a case that was argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Gonzales-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140), cases involving crimes allegedly committed by American servicemen in Iraq, and the case against Michael Jackson's doctor, Conrad Murray.
Mr. Low served in the United States Marine Corps for eight years prior to receiving his Bachelor degree in Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He left the Marine Corps in 1993 to complete a Masters in Biophysical Chemistry at the same school. At the time, Mr. Low was conducting cancer research and working as a biotech patent agent. He decided to attend law school after a corporation appropriated an invention of his; he wanted to go to law school to learn about his legal rights against the corporation and how he could enforce them.
When Mr. Low began law school, appellate advocacy was a required course for first-year students at McGeorge. Instead of collaborating with his fellow 1Ls, Mr. Low chose to work alone to fashion his oral argument for the class. The unfortunate side effect of his decision was that he didn't understand the difference between appellate advocacy and trial advocacy. When the time came for Mr. Low to present his oral argument in front of his professor and the other members of his class, he produced something that more closely resembled a closing argument to a jury — complete with props and questions directed at the professor — than an oral argument meant for a court of appeals. At the end of class, the professor spent a considerable amount of time criticizing the form and content of Mr. Low's presentation, much to Mr. Low's embarrassment and dismay. Thus, when the professor approached Mr. Low after class and asked to have a word with him, Mr. Low was hesitant. However, the professor surprised him by saying, "That was the worst oral argument I've seen in all my years of teaching," he told Mr. Low, "but it was the best closing argument."
Recognizing Mr. Low's natural affinity for trial advocacy, the professor suggested that Mr. Low try out for the Mock Trial Competition Team, even though the team was technically limited to third-year students. As a first year, Mr. Low didn't know what the team involved, but — never one to turn down a challenge — he decided to give it a shot. He was one of only eight students chosen for the team from the dozens who tried out. Mock Trial motivated him to improve his academic performance, and he graduated from McGeorge with numerous honors in trial advocacy, including the Student Trial Advocate of the Year Award from the American Board of Trial Advocates and membership in The Order of Barristers. "Mock Trial changed everything," he notes. "Failures don't mean as much as you think they do." Mr. Low recommends that students not give up in the face of disappointment: "Find something you're passionate about. Everything else will work itself out."
Despite his success with trial advocacy at McGeorge, Mr. Low did not immediately become a trial lawyer; his first job after law school was with a patent law firm in Southern California. In his free time, he volunteered at the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender (where he also completed a summer internship during law school) to satisfy his thirst for trial work. Eventually, Mr. Low joined the law practice of Milton Grimes, the attorney who represented Rodney King in a civil suit against the City of Los Angeles based on a beating he suffered at the hands of city police officers. Some years later, Mr. Low established his own defense firm, where he has focused his practice on representing individuals in cases that involve overreaching or abuse by insurance companies, corporations, governments, and public organizations.
For Mr. Low, it's the human aspect of his practice that makes it so rewarding. "[Y]ou have a real person sitting in front of you, sharing the most intimate parts of their lives with you," he explains, "and you can fix their problem so that they can go on and recover from it. You can remove their pain. It is incredibly satisfying ... A lot of what you do is helping people deal with what they have done and make it right, so that they can continue their lives."
Mr. Low suggests that students who want to practice criminal law pursue work at the office of a district attorney, public defender, or U.S. attorney. "Dedicate yourself," he says. "Start with an internship and work hard." He points out that an internship is the best (and most common) way to get on-the-job training and to find a mentor, although it is certainly not the only way to do so. Mr. Low met his mentor, Professor Joseph Taylor, at McGeorge. Professor Taylor taught Mr. Low many valuable lessons, but among the most valuable was the insight that a trial lawyer must always strive to maintain a reputation for credibility and must not let winning get in the way of that goal. "You have to find a mentor because otherwise you get the same education as anyone else," he says. "A mentor inspires you ... Don't be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor. That's where the real learning happens."