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Learning CURVE

From Student  To Teacher To Advocate, Daral Mazzarella’s Everyman Education Has Taught Him How To Win Big For Clients.

If there’s one thing that Daral Mazzarella wants his clients to know it’s that “I wasn’t always a lawyer.”  No, the Martindale-Hubbell AV-rated attorney never had childhood dreams of trying groundbreaking cases before a jury, wherein he was the star of the courtroom, presenting closing statements which left the judge and jury breathless. His dreams were humbler in scope.  He simply wanted to teach.

However, the more education (both formal and of the experiential variety) this “regular guy” received in regards to how others process information, the more he found himself wanting to teach them in the specific ways that made sense to them.  Indeed, his own learning curve led him to an extraordinarily successful career as a trial attorney, during which he’s found tremendous satisfaction in providing service to clients, who are, like himself, “regular people.”

Familial Education
“I came from a family of teachers, and always saw teaching as an important and rewarding profession.  My older brother was a phenomenal teacher and coach, my mom was a teacher and my dad spent part of his adult life as a teacher,” says Mazzarella. “I was actually in the Future Teachers of America chapter at my high school, and began university studies with the intent to teach.”

An innate interest in animals, plants and the environment and the effect of a particularly influential biology teacher inspired Mazzarella to pursue a degree in Biological Science, with a minor in Chemistry. Immediately following graduation, he undertook formal teacher training, following in the footsteps of his family to become a professional educator.  “The training to become a teacher included a year of course work in the science of how people learn, and how best to assist people in the process of learning,” he explains.  Mazzarella was fascinated.

That initial formal training, followed by completion of a Masters Degree in Education several years later and relentless self-study of the research in learning and brain function, was complemented by hands-on testing of what he learned in the classroom.  “As a candidate for a California teaching credential, I spent a year in the classroom under the guidance of experienced mentor teachers, actually learning to teach and learning how best to put learning theory and teaching techniques into practice.  I became a teacher in 1975, and loved the job, the interaction with colleagues, kids and parents,” he reflects.

Over the next 11 years, Mazzarella would teach middle and high school students in fields of science ranging from biology to chemistry to oceanography.  With an average of 35 students per class, teaching five classes a day, Mazzarella applied his formal training in the field of learning theory to educating 175 students each day.  Additionally, Mazzarella spent five years as the head wrestling coach for some of his students, and two years as an assistant football coach to others.

The cumulative experience he gained working with lab-science students who were generally well-motivated, college bound kids, non-lab sciences students who generally had no particular interest in college, and a variety of athletes, exposed Mazzarella to students and parents from all walks of life, with widely divergent goals, expectations and abilities.  Though he didn’t know it at the time, this experience would uniquely prepare him for a future of educating an entirely different pool of “students,” replete with their own ways of learning and processing information; namely judges and jurors.

Experiential Education
As a teacher, Mazzarella dreaded summer vacation.  “I always looked at it as an involuntary layoff.  While it was available, I always taught summer school to stay active and challenged and to earn money over the summer,” he says.  However, the change in school funding brought about by the passage of Prop. 13 in 1978 eliminated Mazzarella’s opportunity to teach science year round.  Disappointed that he wasn’t able to use his skills as an educator during the summer, his diverse background and ingenuity prompted him to continue his own education in a completely different field; construction.

“I had fairly extensive experience in the construction trades.  I had, since age 15-with the help of a formal work permit-and throughout high school and college, worked for a Nursery and Landscape company,” he says.  In fact, he’d earned the designation of “California Certified Nurseryman (now known as the California Certified Nursery Professional) soon after the certification became available, and at one time was the youngest California Certified Nurseryman in the state.

In this field, Mazzarella worked his way up the ladder from landscape labor to landscape foreman.  The progression gave him experience in everything from soil preparation, grading and drainage, to the construction of gazebos, patio covers and decks, to the installation of sprinkler and plumbing systems to basic electrical systems, concrete walks, patios and walls.  By 1978, his experience had lent itself to Mazzarella’s qualification to sit for the California Contractors’ Exam.  He became a General Contractor in 1978.

“My plan was to generally construct projects of limited scope, such as room additions, kitchen remodels, etc., that could be planned and ready to go when school let out in June and could be wrapped up before school resumed in September,” Mazzarella says.

Much like his teaching experience, Mazzarella’s contracting experience would ultimately prove invaluable for his future as an attorney, but to Mazzarella, the skills he acquired, were just ‘regular guy’ skills.  It was only in hindsight that he realized that the ability to plan projects and arrange components in appropriate sequences, as required by a contractor, were also skills that would serve as a benefit to his clients when presenting a case.    “As a contractor you start with a general anticipated goal.  Actual attainment of that goal begins with development of a detailed plan.  Implementation of that plan, however, requires careful attention to detail and coordination of lots of people and information in the correct sequence. You have a number of balls in the air at the same time,” he says.

Still, the skill set he was acquiring as part of his experiential education never appeared to be any sort of foreshadowing of the future that was to come as an advocate for others.  He was happy and fulfilled educating others. But that all changed once Mazzarella became a Grievance Representative at the school where he was teaching.  “It was my job to help teachers confront administrators when they felt their rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement were being violated. I found the process interesting and occasionally found myself peripherally involved in administrative law labor relations matters.  The small role I played in helping fellow teachers with their contract concerns was very satisfying.  Intellectually, understanding and analyzing the provisions of the agreements at issue and the impact of the facts on those provisions was stimulating.  I decided I would like to become a lawyer.”

Everyman Education
Mazzarella couldn’t afford to quit teaching to attend law school. He was about to become a father, and needed to support his family.  So he sought his legal education in the evenings, attending law school at the University Of San Diego School Of Law.  “It was hectic to say the least,” Mazzarella recalls.  Teaching all day, clerking in the afternoon, attending law classes in the evening and then returning home to study, grade papers and prepare lessons for the next day were all in a days’ work for Mazzarella.  That, coupled with his own self-imposed requirements that he be a member of Law Review and graduate within the top 10% of his class, had him drawing from his experience as a contractor, wherein he’d learned to juggle multiple balls at once.  The skills came in handy to say the least. He achieved each of his goals.

By the time he graduated, he’d earned a position as an associate at the law firm where he’d clerked during law school.  After 7 years, he made partner, a position he held with the same San Diego firm for more than a decade.  For three of those years, he also served as Managing Partner.   “Obviously, it was a wonderful experience for me.  Including my years as a law clerk, I was with that firm for 24 years.  I would not have stayed so long if I did not consider it personally satisfying and valuable,” he says of his tenure with the prominent firm.  But in 2007, he made the determination that “ultimately there was another approach I wanted to take.”

“The high overhead and continual focus on the need to financially justify every case selection and every business decision within a larger firm became distracting.  I hoped to gain the freedom to select cases of interest to me and attend to clients more personally on my own than I could within the structure of a larger firm,” he explains about his decision to open his solo practice.  Specifically, Mazzarella wanted to work with clients who, like himself, are just regular people. “The layers of people the bigger law firm had often separated me from clients more than I liked,” recalls Mazzarella.

“No matter who they are, my clients all have one thing in common.  Whether individuals or corporations; they have been injured, financially or physically, by the dishonesty or carelessness of someone else, and they need help.  Every client is important to me on a personal level.  I get to know each one of them well, and consider the majority of them to be good friends.  My case load includes mostly personal injury and wrongful death cases including truck collisions, products liability, automobile collisions, injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists and medical malpractice cases.  I also prosecute insurance bad faith, business cases, imminent domain and inverse condemnation cases and construction defects cases,” he states.  Mazzarella is a trial lawyer at heart, and is willing to take every case through trial if necessary.  He says, “There are many advantages to settlement and I seek that for every client.  When, however, a fair and reasonable settlement cannot be achieved, every client deserves a lawyer who is willing and able to take their case to court.  I have a reputation for doing that.”

Tools of The Trade
Clearly, Mazzarella’s own experience in construction is directly applicable in construction defects cases, but the skill set it imported is valuable in every case.  Bar none, however, the experience and training he received to become an educator has been the most beneficial to his clients.  “Essentially, a trial is an exercise through which the trial lawyer must teach vitally important subject matter to students sitting in the jury box,” he says.  “In every case, the facts are unique and previously unknown to the ‘students,’ whether that is a jury or as in the case of a bench trial, the judge,” he says.  “The law is generally unknown to jurors and sometimes even judges are confronted with specific laws with which they are relatively unfamiliar.  To receive my California teaching credential, I studied the process through which people progress to learn and hopefully retain new information.  As I approach any trial, and long before my client and I reach the courtroom, I think about what essential facts and law must be presented, and how that presentation will be most effective.”

Continuing, he says “Research shows that people learn best when they are motivated to learn.  They need to appreciate the importance to them of the information presented, before they are likely to willingly assimilate it.  Therefore, I spend significant time helping the jury understand the importance of the case to them.  Unfortunately, they may not care how important it is to my client.”  In addition, “knowing that people learn differently, some by what they hear, others by what they see, and a few by opportunities to touch and feel things, I try to present every piece of important evidence through each modality-auditory, visual, kinesthetic.  Of course, for some evidence one method works better than another, but attention to all learning pathways is considered throughout the case.”

Mazzarella’s teaching background has also proved helpful in underscoring the need to teach new facts in simple logical progression. “One must never assume that the student has the knowledge necessary to understand the material.  Every important bit of necessary information must be presented. One must also be ever-attuned to cues that the person to whom he is speaking, ‘doesn’t get it.’ Simple, everyday language rather than ‘talking like a lawyer,’ presentation of new information in manageable bits, building logically from a solid foundation and repetition are necessary skills whether teaching science to a high school student or helping a juror understand why  they must find for my client,” he says.

As a solo practitioner, Mazzarella is delighted with the opportunity to speak one-on-one with every client and to be completely responsible for every aspect of their case, from pre-filing investigation to discovery, to trial.  “People want to know – and deserve to know- what is going on and why it is going on throughout their case.  They need simple, ‘plain English’ answers and explanations and I try my best to provide them.  I explain major strategies and decisions to every client.  I encourage questions and I answer them.  Undoubtedly, it takes extra time, but it is the luxury of spending that extra time that caused me to leave the big firm and strike out on my own.” Mazzarella also says, “A large percentage of my cases come through referrals from other lawyers.  I personally call every person referred to me and I discuss their situation in detail with them.  Referral sources often tell me how much they appreciate the time I spend with people, because it reflects well on them as well.”

Jack Of All Trades
For Mazzarella, the successes that he’s achieved as a trial attorney are simply the result of hard work, not because he considers himself to be some kind of superstar (although he has consistently earned Martindale-Hubbell’s highest peer review rating, has been listed among the Top Attorneys in San Diego and has been named a San Diego Super Lawyer).  “I believe that hard work and integrity are rewarded.  I simply do the best I can for every client.  I am straightforward and honest with clients, the court, opposing counsel, juries, and everyone else I have contact with.  As a result, I am blessed with a good reputation, and I am considered to be, I believe, a good trial lawyer, a hard worker and an honest man.”

Contact:
Law Offices of Daral B. Mazzarella, APC
655 W. Broadway, Suite 900
San Diego, CA 92101
619-291-1222

daral@mazzarellalaw.com
www.mazzarellalaw.com

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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