Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

September 4, 2010

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

"A good legal secretary is worth her weight in gold," Terry told me on my first day at Burnstein & Walker. It was September 4, 1990, and I was about to embark on a brand new career. A career for which I had zero experience or knowledge. A career that I fell bass ackwards into. I'd spent the last year working in a tiny home office in my neighborhood, as the secretary for a small construction company. In mid-August, 1990, he told me that he had to lay me off. I started looking for work and went on a bunch of interviews and hated every one of them.

That is until I got a bite on my resume from a law firm in downtown San Francisco, for their receptionist position. During my first interview, I really hit it off with the office manager, Pam. We laughed a lot and chatted like old friends. A day or so later, she called and said that the partners wanted to meet with me for a second interview. I was scared shitless. What the hell did I know about law? I could type, and I could answer the phone....the rest I'd have to fake. Of course the main issue they had was my lack of experience in an office. Up to that point, my entire high school, college and post-college life revolved around radio and TV production, not office work! But damn it, I wanted this job. I knew I could do it. So I laid my cards on the table and bluntly said, "If you give me the chance to get my foot in the door with you, you won't be sorry. I'm a hard worker, a fast learner and I can do this job. Just give me that chance. You won't regret it." I even offered to work for them one week for free, on a trial basis. One of the partners, Mal, really grilled me. He was somewhat terse and frightened me a little, but I held my own with him. The other partners, Catherine and Bob, were very kind and cordial and that helped put me at ease, plus Pam was in there too.

When I finally left and took the bus home, I was relieved but not optimistic. Mal seemed like a tough nut to crack. I got back home and checked the messages on the answering machine. I stood there, stunned, as Pam's voice said, "Hi Joanne, it's Pam Davis from Burnstein & Walker. I'm pleased to offer you the job! Although after that interview I wouldn't blame you if you didn't take it!" and she laughed. I listened to it a second time, then with my heart in my mouth, I called Pam and happily accepted the job.

The day after Labor Day, September 4, 1990, I boarded the 38 Geary bus, at the corner of my street in the Richmond District....

...and arrived at 685 Market Street, aka The Monadnock Building. The bus let me off right in front of the building, and I took it as a really great omen that my commute was literally door to door. The Monadnock Building has an interesting history in and of itself. Located next door to the fabled Palace Hotel, it was under construction when the 1906 quake hit. The Palace sustained extensive damage. When the fires began to ravage downtown, they tried to dynamite the Monadnock, in order to create a fire break. The building refused to come down. Needless to say, I felt very safe there. My new job was on the 6th floor, starting at the right corner and going about halfway. The Monadnock housed several law firms, the County Law Library, a modern art gallery and American Indian Museum.

This is the reception area, where I spent the next 5 years and 5 months, in Suite 690.
Suite 690 was home to Burnstein & Walker (for whom I worked), and sole practitioners Rich Pearl, Jerry Langer and Bernie Wolf, plus their staff.

Mal Burnstein is a legend, especially in Berkeley. He was a graduate of UC Berkeley's law school, Boalt Hall (as were most of the lawyers with whom I worked), and was the attorney for the Free Speech Movement in the 60's. Hillary Rodham Clinton was his law clerk in the late 60's. He was in house counsel for the Saul Zaentz Company and Fantasy Records, so they were our largest client. Imagine my utter shock the day I opened a file drawer and found all the litigation files between Fantasy Records and John Fogerty!! Being a music fanatic, I was aware that they had been suing each other for years and years, but I never thought I'd see the day when I was working in that law firm. Mal did a lot of entertainment law, so we represented Bobby Charles Guidry, the musician who passed away in January, and to whom I did a tribute blog post.

Catherine Trimbur is Mal's wife, and a brilliant lawyer in her own right. Like Mal, she is immersed in Berkeley politics and counts the movers and shakers of Berkeley as their best friends, including former mayor Loni Hancock. Brilliant authors and scientists were friends of Mal & Catherine's and I fielded many a phone call from Don Johanson, who discovered the Lucy skeleton in Ethiopia, and Richard Ofshe, an author and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Berkeley who is an expert in cults and false memory syndrome. Mal & Catherine didn't just know them, they socialized with them regularly. Catherine has 2 beautiful daughters who I also got to know over the years. Catherine did a lot of pro bono legal work for AIDS patients too.

Bob Walker is also brilliant family law attorney who also acted as a Court Appointed Attorney and Guardian Ad Litem for children. His cases were the most heartbreaking and depressing. The things he saw during his investigations were awful. He fervently advocated for his child clients. Bob had a very quiet and gentle demeanor, and he always took a half hour at the end of the day where he would meditate. He'd come out about 5 and say to me, "I'm going to hold my calls", hang the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on his door that Pam pinched from a hotel, and meditate for a half hour. Bob went to Harvard Law so we would reminisce about our fave places in Boston and Cambridge. Plus he was a NY Skankees fan and I bleed for the Red Sox, so we'd good naturedly tease each other during baseball season.

I dug into my new job with gusto, and I took on all the shit jobs no one else wanted to do: Long, tedious copying, learning how to fix the copier and fax machine, dragging the postage meter to the post office, ordering and organizing supplies, organizing the filing cabinets, cross referencing all the open and closed/stored files & tedious computer backups. I never said No to anything that was asked of me. In my spare time, I was learning to use the computer, which was still DOS based and using WordPerfect 5. I taught myself from all the program instruction books. I learned how to do all the billing stuff too. Whenever the law library updates came in during the year, I did all of them. And from doing those updates, I couldn't help but read what I was putting away and thus learned all the various Bay Area Counties' Local Court Rules. At one point I discussed going to paralegal school at night to get my certificate. Mal told me not to waste my money because I was learning everything on the job. He was right. When I saw the class list for the first year, I was lightyears ahead.

Here's the little law library in our office, which would eventually become my office too.
Janet & Terry worked for Jerry and Bernie, respectively, and they sat here. Shortly after I shot these, we busted through that back wall and Bernie had 3 new offices built there, so Terry moved into that part of the office.
This was the view from Suite 690. Here is where Market Street meets Kearney & Geary Streets. The pillar on the island is called Lotta's Fountain, named after beloved Gold Rush Era entertainer, Lotta Crabtree, and survivors of the 1906 earthquake would gather at this spot each year on April 18th.
Looking west up Market Street, towards Twin Peaks, from Suite 690.
Looking east down Market Street, towards the Ferry Building.
I have so many wonderful memories of my time at Burnstein & Walker, which became Burnstein & Trimbur when Bob & Mal decided to split up in the winter of 1991. They were all still in the same office, so things were tense for a bit. Catherine is Mal's wife, and had been their associate, so they decided to form a partnership and Bob Walker became a sole practitioner. I still worked for both of them.

There was a courtyard in the center of the building, and I spent many a lunch hour relaxing here, reading, or having lunch w/ a friend or two. There were lion-head fountains against one wall and it was a very peaceful place to unwind, in the center of San Francisco yet hidden from the street. I deeply regret not taking more photos of the courtyard and it's artwork. I guess like everything, I took it for granted.

Having access to a Market Street-facing office definitely had it's perks. We got to see the Gay Pride Parade every year from our 6th floor windows. Here's our friend Mele in the June, 1991 Pride Parade, riding with Dykes on Bykes. She put the tie dye Dead shirt on her bike so we'd recognize her, and we'd told her to look up as she got to 3rd Street. We were waiting for her and right on cue, she looked up at us and grinned.
And in January, 1995, we hung out the office windows, watching the Superbowl Champion San Francisco 49ers' Victory Parade.

There's Donnie on the balcony of the bank across the street, waving to us, at a never to be forgotten Pride Parade in the middle of the unremembered year. He was shouting my name and I didn't notice till Brian said, "Hey, I think that guy over there on that building is trying to get your attention!" Brian hadn't even met Donnie yet.
One of my dear friends that I met is Terry Freese. Here she is in August, 1992, when we got to go sailing in San Francisco Bay, on our paper supplier's sailboat. We lost touch when I moved to Washington, but her daughter is on Facebook so now we are back in contact! They live in Spain now!! I call this the "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous Photo". lol
Donnie worked for the company that did all the gardening for several buildings in the Financial District, including the Monadnock. He's a Deadhead too. Jim Carter was the building's Chief Engineer and we hit it off as well. I used to chit chat with these guys all the time in the lobby. We went sailing on the Sacramento River a couple of times on Jim & Kim's houseboat.
By 1994, I'd worked my way up to Mal & Catherine's secretary, but since they did so much of their own work, I was still the firm's receptionist in the morning, but their secretary in the afternoon. Pam had left in early 1993, so I became the De Facto Office Manager too. During these years, Brian & I moved to Marin County, bought our place in Fairfax and I was now doing a grueling commute on Golden Gate Transit, which took an hour on a good night, up to 2 on a bad. Because of this hellish commute, I vowed to never do public transportation again. The day the bus broke down in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge was the last straw.

Market Street also underwent some transformations and now old trolley cars run up and down the street. Not to be confused with Cable Cars. Never, ever refer to Cable Cars as "Trolley Cars" in front of a San Franciscan if you value your life.
In early 1996, Mal & Catherine's lease was up in SF, and they decided to move us over to West Berkeley. I was actually glad to be leaving as it was just too hard to commute on the bus anymore, and now I could get a car and cut my drive in half.

Here is my office in the law library during the packing up. Again, I regret not taking more pictures of the office before we left.
Packing up Mal's office. Hard to believe my interview took place at that round table on the left of the picture so many years ago....
That's Catherine's office. When I sat at the reception desk, this was the view to my left.
With one last glance up Market....
And a last glance down Market....
.....we moved to Fifth Street in West Berkeley.
West Berkeley is a much older, residential and somewhat rundown neighborhood, although it was undergoing revitalization at the time we moved.
A much airier office space too.
It felt like I had acres and acres of room. And honestly, I found the office space to be very 'cold' and sterile. Like you always had to be whispering. The high ceilings made everything echo.
But being in W. Berkeley, and working for the former in house counsel for Fantasy Records/SZC had it's upside too.
As part of my salary/benefits review and raise in 1996, I was given a personal tour of Fantasy/SZC.
There are many Creedence Clearwater Revival gold records on this wall. I was not allowed to take photos of the facilities, but it was a fascinating tour, and quite a treat for someone who never thought I'd get to see anything like that in my life. We watched them edit "The English Patient", and I saw all the recording suites & studios, including the Foley Arts room which was incredible and interesting.
I was still working part time for Mal & Catherine, and I had to find another part time job to make up my hours, so on a referral, I sent a resume to Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis, Larsen & Doyle, who were in downtown Berkeley. They snapped me up right away and I split my time between the 2 firms for several months. That is, till Andy made me the proverbial offer I couldn't refuse. In October, 1996, I joined GJELD full time, as Jim Larsen's (tall guy, center back row) paralegal, working his personal injury files full time. Here's the firm pic from the late fall, 1996. The senior partner (seated front center), Andy, is a Deadhead too, and I remember him calling me into his office for the sole purpose of swapping Dead Show Stories!! He and Dead drummer Billy Kreutzman knew each other and Andy was Billy's lawyer for awhile in the 1980's.
For a short while, I worked at Andy's office on Addison Street x Shattuck Avenue, in downtown Berkeley. Or "Berzerkley". Or "The People's Republic of Berkeley". Take your pick.
View from the GJELD offices, looking at the Berkeley hills.

Shattuck Avenue, in the heart of downtown. UC Berkeley (aka Cal) is a block away.
My desk at the Addison Street offices.
In February, 1997, Andy and the partners made the move from Berkeley, to Theatre Square in Orinda, which is in the East Bay, on the other side of the hills from Berkeley and Oakland, to a custom-built suite.

It was a lovely location, but my commute became ultra hellishly long.
Swanky new offices built per Andy's specifications.
My desk in Orinda.
"Team Larsen" Kate McAvoy, me and Jim Larsen. The 3 of us really clicked and worked well together. Jim is a sweetheart and we still exchange Christmas cards with his family. Jim said I reminded him a lot of one of his sisters. This was taken on my last day, in 1999, before we left for Washington. I finally located Kate on Facebook too.
And here are the lawyers that started it all for me. Mal & Catherine.
I cannot thank them enough for taking a chance on an inexperienced, computer illiterate 25 year old. For giving me a shot at a new career. For taking the time to teach me everything I needed to know, giving me valuable on the job training, and for answering my billions of questions with patience. For treating me extremely well, and treating me like family, and more than just an employee. I thank them for letting me take time off for Dead shows, and for giving me the rest of the week off when Jerry Garcia died. Thanks for the Secretaries Day gifts, birthday gifts and lunches, generous raises & bonuses and holiday lunches. Thanks for sponsoring me every year for the annual San Francisco AIDS Walkathon. I still remember the time, before the office moved to Berkeley, when there was a fire dangerously close to our home in Fairfax. Catherine came running out of her office while digging through her purse, pressed all her cash into my hand and told me that a cab would get me to West Marin faster than the bus. She was right.

I'll never forget you guys and never forget the chance you gave me to start a new career.


  1. Averie/Margaret12:51 PM

    Wow Jo-you worked hard to get where you are and certainly had lots of luck on your side! What a great blog post. You still keep in touch with Mel?

  2. Looks and sounds a good place to wrok (both versions) with good people. That's really gold dust...

  3. work not wrok. One day I'll learn to get edit and send in the right order...

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Amazing career!

    And look how mature you'd become by the time of that leaving photo, with your two fingers up behind your boss's head!

  6. I love that you asked for a chance during your first interview and laid it all on the line. That's wonderful, and they saw your sincerity and willingness and gave your that chance...I love that! Good for you! Great post, JoJo, thanx for all that hard work and details!

  7. You fell into your career the way I tended to fall into all of mine. lol Sounds like you worked hard to get where you are.

    Thanks for sharing that with all of us. :-)

  8. Wow, JoJo! Thanks for sharing. It's great to see San Francisco through your eyes.

  9. Well done you :0)

  10. Wow how cool is that! Is the woman in the tie Dye shirt you, Jo Jo? You are adorable.

  11. Thanks for your kind words everyone!

    We still exchange holiday cards w/ Mal & Catherine, and their daughter Becky is one of my FB friends. Mal's retired now.

    Val - It was a peace sign. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;p

    Dr. J - I'll get around to posting more of my SF pics eventually.

    Yes SugarMag, dat me in the tie dye.

  12. Wow, shows how alert and aware I am. I even saw Val's post and still didn't make any connection about you in the tie dye! lol Nice to see you! Love the tie dye!!!

  13. Oh my goodness JoJo, so many memories. How fortunate you were to work for such wonderful people. Your final comments gave me goosebumps. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with us.

  14. You're such a good writer Jojo.You put us right in the middle of the action.I LOVE that.Yep,peace sign.

  15. Way cool - but now that I know you've got contacts in family law, I might have to ask you to pick some brains ;-)
    Only half kidding - my BIL's marriage has self-destructed & it's a mess...

  16. Great stuff! I love this post!!!

    I used to hang out in West Berkeley in 1981 and lemme tell you, that is much improved, LOL.

    My old workplace on Fisherman's Wharf (in SF) is now long gone. I looked on Google Street Maps and there is a HOOTERS there now, of all things. (sigh)