The work is complex, the clients are great, and my colleagues are some of the most talented lawyers I’ve met.

A Conversation With Jackson Waste About Lessons Learned & His Life In The Law

Jackson Waste is a director in our firm’s Business Litigation practice group who works out of our Fresno office. He has served as lead counsel in numerous complex, high-value cases across California.

We recently had the pleasure of talking with Jackson about his new role at Fennemore, and his life in the legal profession.

You’re new to the firm, and one of our rising stars! What drew you to Fennemore Dowling Aaron? And what’s your experience been like so far?

I never planned on leaving my old firm, but Fennemore’s growth in the past year really caught my attention.  Fennemore has a well-developed plan for the future, and it’s obvious that that plan is working.  I’m about three months in, and I love it here.  The work is complex, the clients are great, and my colleagues are some of the most talented lawyers I’ve met. 

Your broad-based litigation and financial restructuring practice is part of two of the busiest teams at the firm. Without naming clients, what legal trends are you currently seeing? And how will the rest of 2022 unfold?

Bankruptcy filing rates are historically low right now.  At some point regression to the mean will kick in and we’ll see increased activity in the bankruptcy space.  Until then, lenders are likely to focus more on workouts and other non-litigation strategies for bringing non-performing credit facilities into good standing.  That said, I think the last few years illustrate that any prediction about the future should be taken with a grain of salt.

What would you tell your younger self – or a 1L at the University of California, Davis School of Law now contemplating a career in the legal profession?

Two things:  First, always be curious and try to learn more. There is always something more to learn, whether it’s about the law or the client’s business.  Lawyers love to talk about “aggression,” but the best lawyers are the ones who aggressively acquire new knowledge. 

Second, approach every piece of writing that you do—whether it’s a brief, a memo, or an email—as if you were a craftsman.  Clear, well-organized writing is the lawyer’s best tool. Take the extra time to proofread and get the details right. 

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

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my mother. Obviously that’s true (as it is for everyone) in a literal sense, but it’s also true in a professional sense. I was a precocious kid with a tendency to irritate teachers and other authority figures by offering unsolicited feedback.  This led to a lot of parent-teacher conferences.  She encouraged me to read widely and channel that energy into productive outlets like writing and sports. 

When I was in high school, she was relentless about making me apply for scholarships.  I found the process tedious and annoying—until I was awarded full-ride scholarships for both college and law school.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be a lawyer (or, at best, would be a far more debt-burdened lawyer) without her constant love, support, and encouragement. 

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

Despite plenty of studying, I got a relatively unimpressive LSAT score.  Most of the test was easy, but I could never solve the logic puzzles.  Fortunately, this hasn’t held me back in my career.  There are a lot of high-pressure moments in the courtroom, but I’ve yet to have a judge interrupt my argument by demanding to know, immediately, what toppings are on Albert’s pizza if Bill is sitting next to Charlie, the jukebox is playing classic rock, and it isn’t a Tuesday.

Initially, though, it was a bit disheartening:  I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, and I entered law school wondering if my relative inability to solve pizza-topping-related riddles left me at an intellectual disadvantage vis-à-vis my peers.  But that was in the past, and I chose to focus on the things I could control.  I worked hard, developed my writing skills, and was ultimately able to develop a career that I’m enormously happy with. 

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

Best advice:  Judges are people too. They have their own preferences, pet peeves, and personal lives, and all of that might bear on how they view your client’s case.  Present a case to a judge like you’re telling someone a story—get them interested in the case and seeing the facts from your client’s perspective.

Worst advice: There’s no place for humor in the law. I think a lot of people are afraid to seem frivolous—and certainly the appropriateness of humor varies greatly from case to case. But in my experience, both clients and judges appreciate it when you let a little of your personality shine through. Our goal as lawyers is to effectively help clients through difficult times, and a little bit of humor can be lifesaving in times like that. 

During our ongoing pandemic – the NEXT normal, what are you listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming?

I’m currently reading Wheel of Time and I watch a lot of Chopped. 

Like many Fennemore attorneys, you’re a man of many talents – as a former teacher, you spent two years in rural New Mexico working for Teach For America. How did this experience shape your life – and career as an attorney?

Teaching was far, far more difficult than I thought it would be. Teachers do important work and are deserving of immense respect. It’s hard to say how my experience in the classroom shaped my career as an attorney, but I’m pretty sure that I decided to apply to law school after a student lit my desk on fire (or, more accurately, lit the papers atop my desk on fire—the desk itself was made of metal, if I recall correctly.)  I’m still constantly putting out fires, but at least they aren’t literal fires.

Many thanks to Jackson, and all of the attorneys in our Business Litigation practice group who put out fires for our attorneys on a daily basis!

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