By LARRY KANTER
There are lawyers, and then there are trial lawyers. Pete Williams is definitely one of the latter.
Rifling through an untidy stack of documents in his office at the downtown Long Beach firm of Taubman Simpson Young & Solentor, Williams runs through his caseload for the weeks ahead. It is all over the map: There's a federal racketeering case, a civil rights case, a wrongful termination suit, a couple of environmental matters, and an appeal on a contested will.
"I'm kind of the garbage man around here," he says. "When it's time to try the case, they give it to me."
He's particularly looking forward to a hearing in a pending civil dispute between two dentists. "That's going to be fun," he says gleefully. "I'm going to pluck my opponent's feathers."
With his booming voice, raucous sense of humor and folksy, down-home demeanor, Williams could almost pass as a character in a prime-time legal drama. In that regard, he is not much different from many trial attorneys, who tend to be the most flamboyant personalities in the legal profession.
"I definitely see a difference in the personality type that is attracted to trial work as opposed to appellate or corporate work," said Gerald Uelman, a professor at Santa Clara University and perhaps the most anonymous member of O.J. Simpson's fabled "Dream Team." "The trial lawyers are much more extroverted. I think a lot of them are frustrated actors."
Williams, a 30-year veteran of more than 200 trials, figures if he wasn't a "trial guy" he'd be a cowboy, or maybe a caddy. He'd certainly never retreat to the office work that characterizes most jobs in the legal profession.
"I don't get excited drafting great leases or doing acquisitions and mergers. It could mean big bucks, but it doesn't excite me," he said. "But a good, hard-fought trial? That's fun win, lose, or draw."
Williams admits to employing the occasional theatrical flourish. "I like to use humor," he said. In fact, during the pre-trial voir dire process, he asks most prospective jurors if they would take his client less seriously if he cracked a joke or two during the proceedings. Those who might be so inclined are politely dismissed.
"Most good trial folks have a good sense of humor and know how to use it. It comes out at the right time," he said.
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