Joel W. Baruch
With an established reputation for being tough and aggressive, Joel Baruch has always done what it takes to get results. In fact, his track record shows over four decades of successful personal injury, employment law, business litigation, general tort, criminal defense and civil rights law practice. As the owner and president of the Law Office of Joel W. Baruch, he has led his team in winning more than 200 trials, scores of civil case victories, and millions of dollars in settlements. Recently, he sat down to talk with us about his background, what it means to be a lawyer, and his thoughts about the future.
Let’s start with the early years. Describe your life before you became an attorney.
Well, before I started my career, I spent 9 months serving in Vietnam. I would have been there longer, but I got wounded and ended up spending a year in the hospital. I served the remainder of my 4 years in the states, and then in 1972, I completed my bachelor’s degree in sociology at UCLA. From there, I enrolled in Hastings College of Law in San Francisco and graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in 1976.
How did you get your start in the field after law school?
I was admitted to the California Bar in 1979 and got my first job as a public defender for Orange County’s Public Defenders Society. I remained there for 7 years trying homicide and death penalty cases before I decided to go into private practice with Jack Earley in 1985. Jack was a well-known defender, so as his partner, I had 150 criminal cases and tried to jury 25 more homicide and death penalty cases.
Is this when you decided to stop practicing criminal defense?
Yes. By then, I was 45 years old, and I’d made up my mind not to waste any more time in that area. I wanted to do civil litigation. However, I knew that making the transition was going to come with some challenges. Doing criminal defense in Orange County was always high profile, and I was going to be representing victims that I would have cross examined in my former role.
So, how did you go about transitioning into civil litigation?
In 1992, I decided to open my own practice. I knew that transitioning to civil litigation was going to be different, but I flew under the radar and gradually made a name for myself. Over the years, I’ve been a plaintiff’s attorney and a contingent fee attorney. However, my primary practice is in employment discrimination, civil rights, some constitutional law, personal injury, and some business litigation. I’ve been doing this for 28 years as a sole practitioner and have had various attorneys working for me throughout the years. In fact, one of my paralegals, Jamie, was once a client of mine, but I still don’t join groups, and I don’t care about accolades. I’m just proud of the firm’s success because few people today can make that kind of transition.
Would you explain the major differences between criminal defense and civil litigation to give us a better understanding of the two areas of law?
Of course. The difference is that in criminal law, a person is charged with a crime and presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, as a criminal defense attorney, if you make a mistake, you could cost someone their life. However, in civil litigation, the person has already been injured or has already had their civil rights violated. Therefore, as a civil lawyer, you can’t ruin that person’s life or make it worse than it was before the case began. Essentially, civil cases are only about money. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that the process was set up by the founding fathers to figure out people’s problems.
Did gaining experience in both criminal defense law and civil litigation affect your opinion of what it means to be an attorney?
Absolutely! I was given the opportunity to take a close look at the difference between criminal and civil law as well as the Seventh Amendment. The Seventh Amendment right to a civil jury trial is one of the most important amendments as per Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and there is a reason for that; having a jury of your own peers to decide upon disputes allows for a civilized society and thus for a democracy. It makes me feel good to be a part of that process.
What do you think it takes to be a genuinely good lawyer?
I am a “good” lawyer, but there are a lot of other “good” lawyers out there, too. I think it’s really about integrity. Being a lawyer is so much more than meeting with clients, going to trial, writing a will, etc. A lawyer can do anything. That’s why learning the law should always come first. Then, being a lawyer and approaching all relationships with integrity is of the highest importance. Integrity is the key to success.
What are your thoughts about the future? Where do you see the field of law heading?
At 73 years old, I’m concerned about the next generation of lawyers because our democracy is being tested, and I see a proliferation of conservative right wing judges. It will take certain types of people coming out of law school with an intestinal fortitude to take on this government. It is always a good area of practice for anyone coming into law to go into public defense, but if they don’t want to make government law a part of their career, then I encourage them to open their own practices. Representing helpless clients has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, and I know it would be rewarding for countless others who have the strength and courage to pursue the job.
Throughout his highly esteemed 41-year career, Joel Baruch has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards. The most recent are as follows:
Super Lawyers (2013, 2015-2020)
National Associate of Distinguished Counsel (2015-2018)
Top Lawyers of Southern California (2015)
Top Attorneys of Orange County (2017)
American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys (2017-2019)
National Trial Lawyers Top 100 (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018)
American Top 100 Personal Injury Attorneys (2019)
Martindale Hubbell AV Preeminent Rated (2000-2020)
The National Trial Lawyers Association (2017)
Top 100 Registry of Lawyers in America (2020)
Joel W. Baruch, Attorney at Law
Owner and President
Law Office of Joel W. Baruch, P.C.
9900 Research Drive, Irvine CA 92618