Elise Sanquinetti of Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos, LLP is a personal injury lawyer who practices in California, but handles cases nationwide. Among her many accomplishments, Elise was the Past President of the American Association of Justice, the largest trial lawyers’ organization in the country. Considered one of the top trial lawyers in California, Elise recently shifted the focus of her practice to help harmed incarcerated individuals who are sometimes overlooked. Lawyer Minds sits down with Elise to talk about her passion for organizations like AAJ and the focus of her new practice.
Lawyer Minds: Elise, thanks for joining us for an interview. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your practice first?
Elise Sanguinetti: Thank you so much, Tad. My practice is focused on representing individuals who have been harmed by corporations or other individuals. My practice has been focused for about 20 years on both product liability and individual personal injury cases.
But, in the last few years, I have been spending a lot of time focusing on representing families against jails and prisons when they’ve lost a loved one who has been incarcerated. Usually, those types of cases result from the failure to provide medical care. That’s been something of a passion project for me over the last few years and something I’ve really enjoyed doing.
Lawyer Minds: Talking about passion projects, you’ve been very involved in both AAJ. Infact, you’re a past president of AAJ and other local trial lawyer associations. Can you talk to me about your rise through these organizations and why they are important to you?
Elise Sanguinetti: When I very first started practicing law, one of the partners in the firm that I was working for brought me to my first trial lawyers association meeting. It was a local trial lawyers’ association called the Alameda Contra Costa County Trial Lawyers Association. And I remember on the way there that the partner was telling me how important it was to be involved, to network, to help in any way you can in the trial lawyer community.
He told me that being a trial lawyer is more than just representing people, it’s about trying to make an impact beyond just the individuals that you can represent.
I eventually became president of that organization and then many years later was president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, which is our statewide trial lawyers’ association. Then I eventually became president of the American Association for Justice, which is the national trial lawyers’ association.
The reason that I continue to serve and devote a lot of my time to these organizations really comes back to those words that I heard from that partner on the way to that very first meeting. I always believed that my role, what impact I could make in society, was to help as many people as I could. While I love representing individuals in court and making sure that their voices are heard, I wanted to make sure, and I still want to make sure, that everyone is able to bring those cases in front of courts and in front of juries. There are a lot of resources out there that are fighting against our ability to do that.
I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to fight on behalf of consumers and patients and individuals that are harmed by others and making sure that they have access to the courts. It is a passion and it takes a lot of time away from family and from the office, but you can make an impact by being involved.
Lawyer Minds: I love telling the story about how you’re one of the first two people I (Tad Thomas) met in AAJ, and we met when you were the incoming chair of the New Lawyers’ Division. Talk to us about why you think involvement in these associations is especially important for new lawyers and young lawyers.
Elise Sanguinetti: Well, one, I love that story too and I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it wasn’t (for readers, it was 15 years ago now). For new lawyers, there are many benefits in getting involved in your local, your state, and your national trial lawyer associations. But, I want to focus on being involved in AAJ because I think it’s a very unique place to get involved and the benefits are many. You really get to network with people from across the country and it’s different than the experience that you have locally or in your state.
As a young lawyer, it’s really important to build relationships because what often sets you apart on the partnership path is showing that you can generate cases, that you have relationships, and have built a referral system.
That’s one of the main reasons that I got very involved in AAJ — because I knew that I could build relationships with people from all over the country, and as a new lawyer, I think it’s especially important to do that.
Not only is it important for trying to generate business for the future, but it’s also important to share information and experiences with those that are having those experiences from all over the country, to really learn new skills, share ideas. You can find experts through those relationships. There’s just so many things you can do. At the same time that you’re building those relationships you’re building friendships, so it’s personally rewarding as well.
Again, coming back to trying to do more for the common good, you’re doing these things while you’re focusing on protecting access to justice. So, there are so many benefits and those are just some of them.
Lawyer Minds: One of the things that I’ve always found beneficial is the education you get in particular practice areas. You mentioned one of the things you’re working on now are cases involving inmates that have died in the result of negligence in prisons and jails. Is that something that AAJ has helped you navigate learning about?
Elise Sanguinetti: Yes, that’s actually a really good point because these cases are usually brought in federal courts because the families have federal claims and AAJ is uniquely available to provide education having to do with federal court cases.
For example, I’ve learned a lot about discovery. How to best do discovery in federal court. How to formulate what our claims and actions are going to be. I also want to make sure I point out that the education I’ve received from AAJ is not limited to my work in federal court, because there’s also so many benefits I’ve obtained from listening to the best trial lawyers across the country on numerous topics like discovery, that I can apply in my state court cases as well…particularly trial skills. I really did grow up in AAJ and it made me a better trial lawyer, because I was able to learn from literally the best across the country.
Lawyer Minds: So, if I’m a new lawyer, young lawyer, and I’m signing up for AAJ, what would you say is the best way for me to really get full advantage of my membership dues?
Elise Sanguinetti: One my first recommendations is to attend an AAJ college, because the colleges are very unique. It’s something that only AAJ offers. They’re really intensive, usually three-day programs where you have lectures during part of the day and then breakout sessions with groups.
We actually get to test out the skills we learn during the lectures. It’s a way to learn where you are not being thrown into a courtroom and trying to find your way. It’s a safe space and you’re being guided by the best lawyers in the country.
It’s the best way to really learn at an early time in your career wonderful skills that will carry you forward.
I would also highly suggest that you get active in the New Lawyers’ Division. The New Lawyers’ Division is open to anyone that has been practicing 10 years or less. It provides an opportunity to be able to become active in the organization, to network with people that are like you, that have the same experiences as you, just starting out in the legal field. You can also do things like attend membership drives or PAC drives, which is our Political Action Committee, where you can have a chance to one-on-one network with a bunch of new lawyers from across the country.
Many thanks to Elise for taking time out to interview with Lawyer Minds.