Q&A with CCCBA President Ericka McKenna

Tell us about you and your family.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area my entire life apart from a short stint in high school as an exchange student in Germany. I’m from San Jose and went to college at Berkeley and law school at Hastings and have lived in the East Bay ever since. A true Bay Area resident! I’ve been married for six years, and I have two young children ages two and four. It’s been a fun time being a lawyer, running a law firm, having young children and living!

What made you decide to go to Germany as an exchange student?

On a whim I applied for a scholarship to go to Germany when I was a sophomore in high school. I didn’t speak any German; I had taken a couple of years of Spanish. My Spanish teacher taught all the language courses and told his classes about the scholarship, and I applied and got chosen. I told my parents I received a scholarship, and I went! I was gone my entire junior year of high school and lived in a small town near Frankfurt. There were quite a few exchange students from around the world and many of the German students had done exchange years in the US. It was a great year to learn how to survive on my own, and a lot of my character came from that year.

Why did you decide to become a lawyer?

I wanted to be a businessperson of some sort, though at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I worked at Van Heusen, the men’s dress shirt store, and that gave me a vision of business. I went to Haas School of Business for undergrad and assumed I’d do something in finance—as a financial advisor or stockbroker–something in the numbers world. Then I took a business law course and loved it. It made sense to me learning about business entities, LLC’s, corporations, and stock transactions. I decided I wanted to go to law school to be a business attorney. I think it was unique for a law student—liking numbers and focusing my legal education on business classes such as contracts and securities. I barely passed Civ Pro, and didn’t like Torts, Evidence, etc. I think that makes me different from other business attorneys because many attorneys go into general civil practice then eventually decide to stop litigation and do something else, such as being a business lawyer or do Estate Planning. I knew from the beginning I didn’t want to do anything litigation focused, as I’m not adversarial in any way. I wanted to represent business owners and entrepreneurs and help them avoid litigation.

I represent small businesses regardless of the type of business they are in. By small businesses, I mean ones that are large enough to have legal issues but not so large so they have their own in-house general counsel. My clients now are all over California, which is a product of the pandemic and going virtual. Before the pandemic my clients were in the Bay Area in general and mainly the East Bay. Once businesses became comfortable with virtual meetings, they became more comfortable with working virtually with legal counsel.

How do people learn about your firm?

I am very active online. I get most of my clients from Facebook, posting in Facebook groups and listservs. I participate in various online groups that I fit the demographic one way or the other – working moms, attorneys, other professionals. My clients find me through these groups.

How did you get involved with the CCCBA?

I was essentially ‘voluntold.’ I had the great experience that the firms I worked at previously were very supportive of their attorneys getting involved with the bar association. One of the attorneys at a prior firm, Elva Harding, a past CCCBA president, was very involved in the Women’s Section board at the time and told me I was going to a meeting with her. The partners at my firm were very supportive.

I joined the Women’s Section board, and it was just a wonderful experience. It was great to get to know and work with so many other attorneys in the area. When you are on a board you are planning events together, so you get to see how people work, and it has led to great referrals between us because we know each other’s work ethic. I served on the Women’s Section board for a few years and worked my way up to co-President. Many of these attorneys I’m still great friends with today, and we love referring clients to each other.

Then Steve Steinberg, another past president, asked me to consider joining the big board. I told Steve that I wasn’t sure if it made sense for me to apply for the board because I didn’t know much about what the BOD or what the bar association as a whole did, other than the Women’s Section and bar social events. Steve pointed out that there are many things the BOD does, and I brought a unique view based on my transactional business work. This caused me to ask who is the bar association for? It appears that the focus is on attorneys who are involved in litigation, but there are a lot of attorneys out there that don’t do litigation at all. Can we offer them programs to help their practice? Steve encouraged me to apply, and I did. It’s now my seventh year on the BOD and it’s been a great ride.

What have you done during your time on the BOD?

I am a very social person; the non-adversarial part of me wants to talk to everyone, get to know everyone. So, the first few years I was involved in committees that planned events such as the Bar Fund Benefit. I also did a lot of work with Food From the Bar in support of the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano. I also spent a lot of time on the Governance Committee, which I still serve on. This was second nature to me because of my transactional background. The largest involvement I’ve had was in the overhaul of the website, which came from my participation on the Communications Committee. The website project took almost two years, and it was a lot of work. We now have a great site to show for it.

What are your plans looking forward to 2022?

I’m really pleased with a lot of things the CCCBA has done recently with respect to reaching out to non-litigation attorneys. CCCBA PRO is one of those things – spearheaded by David Pearson, James Wu and Mika Domingo. I’m extremely proud that it gives attorneys and other professionals a chance to network with each other, learn about each other’s professional practices, law related or not. As a transactional attorney a lot of my dealings are with non-attorneys—bankers, accountants, financial advisors. I like that we now have this program to introduce our attorneys to other professionals.

In this hopefully post-Covid world, we have learned a lot from the virtual events we have offered over the past year and a half. We can expand our base, getting people coming to events that otherwise wouldn’t have, we can reach other members. Now we need to look at how we incorporate what we’ve learned while also getting back in person for our members who prefer that format as well.

The pandemic has also meant that we as professionals have realized that people have lives. What I mean by that is that we are now attending meetings virtually where our cat might walk across the screen, or your dog could walk up and want to be petted or your children’s heads would bobble in and out, and I think that is fantastic. It makes people realize that we are all human beings, not just lawyers. I’m really hoping for next year that we as a bar association continue to remember and acknowledge that. We have had recent events like the Bar Baby Halloween parade, and before the pandemic the Women’s section put on a Family Fun Day. I’m hoping events like that will help us to continue to normalize parenting as an attorney. This is near and dear to me as someone with young kids as I run my own practice.