The practice of law is ultimately about relationships

A Conversation On Life In The Legal Profession With Attorney Joseph Zimmerl

In this week’s leadership profile, we headed to California’s Central Valley to talk with attorney Joseph Zimmerl in our Fresno office!

You’ve recently been named one of our Northern California Super Lawyers Rising Stars® – congratulations and what does this mean to you at this juncture in your career?
I am very thankful for the recognition I am receiving from my peers. It is always an honor to be recognized by in-house attorneys and attorneys at other firms for the work you do. 

What would you tell your younger self, or a 1L at the Georgetown University Law Center currently contemplating a career in the legal profession?

I would tell a 1L at Georgetown University Law Center to do as many internships as possible. A law student should seek opportunities to get real experience as a lawyer.

Unless you have someone in your family in the legal profession, what lawyers do daily will be a mystery. Shadowing various attorneys in different practices will allow you to decide which type of legal practice fits your personality and interests best.    

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

I am fortunate to work with many great clients. One that stands out as intriguing is a family that is slowly transitioning more and more of their businesses over to their children.

While the family is doing this partially for estate tax reasons, the client also wants to see how their children will respond to the added responsibilities of managing successful businesses. The ability to guide the client through this transition is an excellent example of my practice’s hybrid nature. While the actual transfer of the business to the family’s children is estate planning, we are also putting transactional safeguards in place, like shareholder agreements, that protect the parent’s ownership of the business. 

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

My hero would definitely be my grandmother. She played a massive role in raising me. She was born in 1915 in Slovenia and saw first-hand World War II. When she came to the U.S., she had no money and had to work at a drill factory in Cleveland. She instilled in me the need to work hard and persevere through difficult times. This is something I carried with me in my legal practice. 

Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn? And how did you pick up the pieces and move forward?

My biggest failure was early in my career; I took over a litigation matter when an attorney working on the case had left the firm. At the time, I worked at a small firm, and that is what needed to be done. I had no experience in litigation and had to appear at the hearing. At the hearing, I presented an argument that I thought was winnable. The judge completely disagreed and more or less eviscerated me at the hearing. It was embarrassing both because this happened in front of opposing counsel and because there was a room full of litigants and other attorneys. 

From this experience, I learned there would be some days that would be more challenging than others. It is important to remember that not all days would be like that, and as an attorney, it is important to not hold onto those types of experiences and dwell on them.

What’s the best piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?
The best legal advice I received was from another attorney when I just started practicing. He told me that the practice of law is ultimately about relationships. While doing excellent work is essential, building lasting relationships with your clients is paramount. Building relationships with your clients allows you to provide advice that best fits their needs. What may work for one client may not work for another one.  

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

I am currently listening to the Pat McAfee podcast, which is a sports podcast that focuses on discussing football. This podcast lets me shut my brain from thinking about work and focus on less stressful things. I am also involved in two fantasy football leagues, and, despite how poorly I do in them, I feel that listening to these podcasts gives me a leg-up on knowing who the up-and-coming players are and who I should draft or start in the upcoming week. 

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

The first person I would invite is my grandmother. She unfortunately, passed away before she could meet my children. I know this is a lavish dinner party, but I would bring out the kids for a second.

The second person I would invite is Barack Obama. I was lucky to be in Washington, D.C., for his second inauguration and heard him speak. He delivered a great speech.  He would be a great dinner party guest with all the stories I am sure he has.

Finally, the third person I would invite is Daniel Day-Lewis. Daniel Day-Lewis is in some of my favorite movies, and I would be interested to hear about how he prepares for his roles.  

Many thanks to Joseph for his provocative insights!

And for more information about Joseph and the outstanding attorneys in our Fresno office, please visit: .