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REAPING WHAT HE SOWS… AND THEN SOME

‘Ordinary Guy’ Christopher Walton Reaps Extraordinary Personal and Professional Rewards By Doing What He Loves.

AttorneyoftheMonth_2013“I absolutely love what I do,” Christopher Walton says, with a smile in his voice.  “I represent the clients I want, I run my own business, I’m as close as I’ve been to finding the ever elusive work/life balance, I’m able to take on volunteering projects and I can give back to my community.” Continuing, he adds that “sometimes I feel guilty about being so excited on the elevator in the morning, but the truth is, I can’t wait to get to work.”

For Walton, who dedicates his practice exclusively to helping people who have suffered catastrophic injuries or loss due to the negligent or intentional acts of others, running a solo practice with a specialization in elder abuse has proven to be even more rewarding than he thought possible. His enthusiasm is absolutely palpable.

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Sowing The Seeds: The Neighborhood Lawyer
“When I was 12 years old, my friend Jeremy got in trouble and had some of his privileges withheld.  We felt the punishment was overly harsh, but he was too afraid to discuss it with his parents,” Walton recalls.  “I convinced him to allow me to ‘represent him.’  I recall interviewing his siblings to learn more about their prior punishments and then we arranged it so I was strategically invited to dinner, where I very delicately presented our position,” he laughs.  “It was an entertaining dinner to say the least.  His parents laughed but the next day they reduced his punishment.  The word spread quickly and I was invited to a couple more dinners over the next year or two.  In the process I was nicknamed “the neighborhood lawyer,” Walton continues.  “As silly as it was, I will never forget the thrill of speaking on behalf of my friend that night.  It cemented my desire to be a lawyer and help people.”

Once the seeds of service to others had been planted, Walton went after his dream with gusto.  “I developed an intense work ethic at an early age.  I got my first job when I was 14 years old, and have had a job ever since.  The reality was a lot of my friends were given things that I had to work, save and pay for myself.  I recall having to sign my checks over to my parents in high school to cover the cost of my car,” he says.  Working 30-50 hours a week throughout high school, college and law school, Walton got his first legal job his first year of law school.

“I convinced somebody in career services to slip my resume into a pile that looked over a foot tall.  The position was for third year law students only.  I recall her telling me I would never get the job as a first year.  A couple of days later, I called the managing partner Keith Greer, and told him he only needed to pull one resume out of the pile,” he remembers.  “I was hired during the interview and a month later, he offered me a job for two years down the road after graduation.”

Walton didn’t waste any time getting to work.  He graduated with honors from California Western School of Law in just 2.5 years, and continued his work at Greer & Associates, primarily defending doctors in medical malpractice and some elder abuse cases.  “As much as I enjoyed it, on some level I yearned for what I felt when I was 12 years old ‘representing’ my friend.  My firm would take an occasional plaintiffs case and the enjoyment I felt working on those cases was too great to ignore.  I realized I needed to represent and fight for the little guy,” he adds.

After a particularly contentious and hard-fought case in 2007, “I honestly thought opposing counsel, Bill Berman probably disliked me,” Walton says.  Instead, Berman offered Walton a job, and he accepted after 6 years with Greer & Associates.  “As I look back, I was offered a job by opposing counsel following the three most contentious cases in my career,” Walton recalls.  “I consider that a direct reflection of the mentorship I received from Keith.  He’s a great trial lawyer and taught me how to go about my business the right way and practice with confidence and civility.”

For the next two years, Walton worked as a senior associate for Berman & Reidel, LLP where he honed his skills handling catastrophic personal injury and elder abuses cases.  “I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Bill and still consider him a good friend.  Bill is aggressive and very thorough and taught me the intricacies of working up a plaintiffs case,” Walton adds.

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Labor of Love
In January of 2010, Walton opened the doors to his own personal injury firm, dedicating a large portion of his practice to elder abuse.  “Elder abuse cases are unique and much different from any other type of personal injury case, including medical malpractice.  They are often very emotional, time consuming, expensive and require a specific understanding of how multiple bodies of law co-exist,” says Walton.  Fortunately, his previous experience handling both defense and plaintiffs cases lent itself to a thorough understanding of this niche area. “Our elderly deserve to live their final years with dignity, and feel safe, loved and cared for,” he explains.  “They are extremely vulnerable and I am honored that I get to stand up for them and be a voice for them when they are too afraid, or simply don’t have the means or opportunity,” he adds.

As one of only a handful of attorneys in San Diego who litigate elder abuse cases in the trenches on a day-to-day-basis, Walton derives endless rewards from the niche practice. “I run a very low volume practice. I am very selective in the cases I take, which allows me to be very accessible to my clients,” he says.  “I personally handle their entire case. I know each one of my cases inside and out.  That’s how I prefer to practice, and the way I’ve set things up intentionally.”

Walton’s love for what he does has not gone unnoticed by clients or the legal community as a whole.  Although as much as 50% of his practice involves elder abuse cases (with a large portion of his work stemming from attorneys requesting Walton as co-counsel); he also receives numerous referrals to personal injury cases from former clients.

“I focus on running a client-first practice.  I personally take and return all phone calls.  I work hard to treat every client like they are my most important client, regardless of the size of their case.  I keep them updated in all aspects of the case, and I take time to thoroughly explain everything to clients.  They are entrusting me with something very important and I don’t take that lightly,” Walton adds.

“Even if I do not take a case, those who refer me cases really appreciate the time I take with potential clients,” he says.  Continuing he says that it is not “unusual for me to walk a potential client through a full investigation that takes months and spend hours with the client,” even if he won’t ultimately take the case.  “I’ve found that as a general rule, focusing my energy on ways I can help others is always reciprocated,” he says.  “It really is a small legal community and the way you conduct yourself and the way you treat others, matters,” he says before adding, “your reputation lasts forever.”

Walton’s principles are certainly paying off.  He has recovered millions on behalf of his injured clients, and over the last 3 years, nearly 100% of Walton’s cases have been referrals from former clients, attorneys he’s litigated against, and attorneys he’s worked with. Further testament that honestly trying to help others has its own rewards is evident in Walton’s practice doubling its revenue each year since opening his doors, without advertising at all.  “When I went out on my own, the economy was struggling, I had a family, school loans and a mortgage.  It was a little scary, but I managed to stay calm, confident and most important, I wasn’t afraid to fail.  At the end of the day, I never made a penny less than I made working in a law firm and I get to run my own show. Sometimes I pinch myself,” he adds.

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Helping to Harvest The Next Crop
For Walton, giving back to others is not only a way of life, but it is the way to happiness.  “I love teaching, I love mentoring,” he says.  To that end, Walton is diligent about giving back to his alma mater, and more specifically, paying forward what he’s learned in his nearly ten years to the next generation of attorneys.

In 2012, Walton was contacted by Professor Robert Seibel, who was a visiting professor at California Western School of Law.  “He knew me from my work as a supervising attorney in the California Western School of Law Internship Program.  He sat me down and explained his vision for launching the Access to Law Initiative (ALI).”  As a legal incubator program, ALI is designed to bring affordable legal services to the San Diego community through associated attorneys in solo or small firm practice.  Walton was intrigued and immediately agreed to help spearhead the program with Seibel.  “It was certainly an honor that he selected me,” Walton says.

“ALI fulfills two main objectives that I am passionate about:  helping newer lawyers open and build their own practices, and helping to ensure that even those less fortunate have access to justice,” he says.

Beginning with 8 attorneys, ALI was the first program of its kind on the West Coast, and has now grown to 14 attorneys, all California Western graduates who practice in a variety of legal disciples, and offer a significant amount of free and reduced price legal services to the community.  Moreover, the program offers young attorneys mentorship in order for them to discover the rewards of economically viable careers while helping underserved communities and citizens.  Walton placed the first incubator office down the hall from his and acts as an on site mentor.  He also serves as the President of the Board of Advisors, of ALI, and loves the responsibility.

“Every community service organization that ALI works with is faced with large unmet needs for legal services and we believe the lawyers can make a substantial contribution to helping those people while also establishing sustainable law practices,” he says.

“Opening my own practice has given me the most career satisfaction I’ve ever had.  It has allowed me to take on projects that I want to be involved with including ALI,” he remarks of hoping to encourage emerging attorneys to consider the benefits of a solo practice.

Reaping the Personal Rewards
For Walton, “fighting the urge to take everything that came in the door,” while starting out has proven a sound strategy for creating a legal career that he loves.  “So many lawyers I talk to feel that something is missing or keeping them from feeling the career satisfaction they desire.  I was never unhappy [in what I was doing before], I’m just lucky to have found this much fulfillment.  There are so many areas of law and so many things we can do to help people.  I found those that I love, and now practice only in those areas,” he adds.  “I realized that I get the most satisfaction from representing ordinary people, like myself.”

Family

In order to ensure that he continues to enjoy his work as much as he does, Walton plans to grow his firm slowly.  “If the referrals continue to increase at the present pace, both in numbers and quality, I expect to hire in the next two years.  However my long term goal is to remain very small, with no more than 4 employees.”  Laughing he adds, “I’m in no hurry to get there.”

Walton’s determination to keep his practice small, focus only on those clients he believes he can help, and only those cases which he can devote his all to, stems in large part to his refusal to let life pass him by, stuck in an office for 12 hours at a time.  As the father to 4 year old Kayla and nearly 2 year old Caden, family time is not optional for Walton.

“As a solo practitioner, I work harder than I ever have but enjoy a tremendous amount of flexibility.  I can drop off or pick up my daughter from school, have dinner with my family, give the kids a bath, put the kids to bed, and get back to work by 8:30 pm,” he says.  “Family is very important to me and I firmly believe you can be a successful lawyer without putting your family second,” he adds.  In fact, he says that the same excitement he feels going into the office, is repeated at the end of the work day when he can’t wait to get home to his wife and children.

From his compassion for his elderly and injured clients to his belief in doing what you love and the success following, it sure seems clear that Walton has reaped what he began sowing as a 12 year old neighborhood lawyer, standing up for his friends.  And he’s not shy about talking about how grateful he is that he launched his own firm.  “Opening my own firm has provided me with everything I dreamed of and the most job satisfaction I’ve ever had.”

Contact:

Christopher Walton, Walton Law APC
cwalton@waltonlawapc.com | waltonlawapc.com
(619) 233-0011 | 750 B Street, Suite 3300
San Diego, CA 92101

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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