I feel fortunate to work with such phenomenal attorneys and amazing human beings

A Conversation On Lessons Learned & Life In The Law With Attorney David Monsour

In this week’s leadership profile, we headed to California’s East Bay to talk with attorney David Monsour in our Oakland office!

You’ve recently been named one of our Northern California Super Lawyers® and also to Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch®– congratulations and what does this mean to you at this juncture in your career?

It means a lot to be included on both lists, and to be recognized by other legal professionals in my specific area of law.  Being thought of highly by your peers is always rewarding.  It also makes me thankful for all of the senior attorneys/partners and mentors who helped shape the way I practice law, and for the continued support and mentoring that I receive from our amazing Trusts & Estates group at Fennemore.  I feel fortunate to work with such phenomenal attorneys and amazing human beings.    

What would you tell your younger self, or a 1L at the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco currently contemplating a career in the legal profession?

I’m not sure I’d tell my younger self anything, except maybe to not eat out so much and put some of that money that I saved into Bitcoin?  On a serious note, I would advise a 1L to take it serious and work hard, but also don’t forget to meet people and have a little fun.

 I met the most amazing people in law school.  Smart, diverse, dedicated, passionate, you name it, they are there with you in the classroom.  Many of the people I was fortunate enough to meet in law school are my closest friends today.  In fact, one of them officiated my wedding.  It’s an incredible bond that you form through that struggle and rise.  It’s also a lot of fun celebrating each other’s successes.  Later on, your classmates will become your colleagues, opposing counsel, in-house counsel, referral sources, judges, and most importantly, many of them will become your friends (maybe even your spouse?). 

For these reasons, I think it’s important to socialize, meet people, and start building your network in law school.  For practical advice, I think the best thing you can do as a law student if you are contemplating a career in litigation is to work for a judge.  It’s eye-opening for a law student to see the work that a judge and his or her clerks do to prepare for matters and to get to observe attorneys in court.  The experience also does wonders for your legal research and writing.  Working for a judge really helped me develop into a better lawyer.  If you, as a law student, have the opportunity to work for a judge/justice, I highly recommend doing so.       

Without naming your clients, are there any intriguing current matters that you’re working on in your Trusts & Estates and Estate Litigation practice?

I find there are always intriguing matters in the practice of trusts and estates.  We get the pleasure of dealing with a wide range of clients and issues, often times intersecting in other areas of practice.

 With that said, I have one matter that intersects heavily in tax law, another dealing with community/separate property issues, thus delving into family law.  Almost all of my matters involve real property and issues will often arise involving an ownership dispute or how to divide certain real property.  It’s great being at a firm that does everything, so when a distinct issue arises in another practice area, I can always find a colleague who is happy to discuss or assist any way that they can.

 Another thing I find intriguing about practicing in trusts & estates is that it enables attorneys to get creative, as we are operating in a court of equity.  Recently, a colleague and I were able to use a novel approach to successfully assist a professionally licensed fiduciary client of ours take possession of and administer trust property that was being wrongfully possessed by a third party.  Being in probate court, we were able to make creative and equitable arguments that won the day.  Attorneys in other areas of law aren’t often afforded the opportunity to make the sort of arguments that trusts and estates practitioners are able to make.     

Who is your hero – or the person who has had the greatest impact on your life and career?

This is going to sound cliché but the person(s) who had the greatest impact on my life and career are my parents.  They taught me the importance of education and how it can help you succeed in life.  They showed me how to work hard and instilled work ethic in me at a young age.  They taught me the importance of sacrifice, but not in the meaning that most people think about when it comes to making sacrifices to advance your career.  In fact, they taught me just the opposite.  My father gave up his job as Chief of Hepatology at a gargantuan hospital, and all the prestige that came with it, to work at a rural hospital so he could be home with his family at dinner.  My mom, on the fast-track to becoming an executive in healthcare consulting, gave up her career and dedicated herself to raising her three sons (as an empty nester, my mom went back to get her doctorate, and is now a college professor). 

My parents’ sacrifice and dedication for putting family first is something I will forever appreciate. Undoubtedly, my parents being there for me and my brothers, instead of working all of the time, has had the greatest impact in our successes in life.  It’s truly a privilege that they even had the opportunity to give up career advancement for their kids, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they did indeed put their careers on pause for their family.  For that, I’m truly grateful. 

What’s the best – and worst – piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?

Best career advice I ever received was, and it may sound crude, but here it goes: “Don’t be a dick.”  It’s overly simplistic, and probably dated, but I do find myself going back to it all the time in the context of litigation.  Litigators are constantly entangled in conflict and it’s easy to get caught up in the “fight,” especially when opposing counsel is being overly aggressive or just plain mean.  It makes it really hard not to respond in kind.  It just makes matters worse when you stoop down to bad opposing counsel’s level.  I find myself coming back to that phrase before reworking an email and sending it off or before having a contentious call with opposing counsel.  Just being a nicer human, in general, is something I feel has helped my practice and quality of life.  Also, in a profession where reputation really does matter, especially in a niche practice area, it’s really a no brainer to be kind to everyone, even your adversaries.   

Not sure I can think of anyone ever giving me bad career advice.  If I have to choose something, I’ll go with my father by default.  He wanted me to be a physician, like him.  I can’t stand the sight of blood and disliked math, so that wouldn’t have really panned out.     

What are you currently listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming?

I love bouncing around different genres of music.  It’s one of the reasons I really enjoy going to music festivals.  This past weekend I attended Outside Lands, our yearly music festival in SF, so I’ve been listening to some of my favorite artists that I just got to see perform, including Kendrick Lamar, Alex G, and Janelle Monáe.

 For reading, I rotate every read between fiction and nonfiction.  I’m currently reading nonfiction author David Grann’s new work “The Wager,” and I’m really enjoying it.

 For watching, I think I’m one of the last few millennials who prefers watching films over shows.  Lately I’ve been on a Christopher Nolan kick, going back through his filmography before seeing “Oppenheimer,” which I recently caught and really liked – it may even be Nolan’s best film.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in the Barbenheimer phenomenon because “Barbie” was completely sold out, but I have tickets for this coming weekend and I’m almost as excited as my wife to finally get to see.   

You and your family are hosting a lavish dinner party, Name the three people – from any time in human history – who you’d invite.

This is a really tough question.  First, I’d host my paternal grandpa, who passed away about a decade ago. He was one of the most interesting human beings I ever got a chance to meet, and I kick myself for not spending more time with him while he was with us.  His stories are truly legendary; I’d love to hear more of them.  I’d also really enjoy introducing him to my wife and sharing my career successes with him.

 Second, I’m going to have to go with President Obama.  The man just exudes cool and he’s gotta have some incredible stories about his rise and time in office, plus my grandpa absolutely loved Obama, they’d hit it off for sure. 

Lastly, I’d host my favorite creative, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson.  I’m probably his biggest Stan. One of his films even played at my wedding.  I would love to talk film, writing, and music with him, he’s worked with the best. 

Many thanks to David for his compelling insights!

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