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Banker boxes & 12-step coffee

Updated: Apr 1, 2020


At the time of this writing, I am in deep reflection.  Everything around me is turned upside down.  Humanity is in the midst of a pandemic.  Children are not at school.  Grocery stores don’t have basic supplies.  People can’t get the medical care and testing they need.  Restaurants, stores and bars are closed.  Banks don’t know how or if they should lend money.

Yet when I look out my window, the sun is shining.  People I love surround me.  Dogs are playing.  Birds are singing.  I have a vision, that in years from now, we will persevere with new insights, wisdom and growth.  This is the hallmark of humanity, for if we don’t, we perish.

In reflection, I think of my life.  Who am I?  What do I want to do with the rest of my life?  What does life on earth look like, now, and into the future?  In times like these I ask … what am I grateful for? With my gratitude, I think of the people who let me into their life.  Who did I let into mine? Why do paths cross?  Who did I not get to know, that truly would have made a difference, in each of our lives? As I sit with this thought, it is easy for me to feel gratitude.  I am blessed to have many friends, and Paul Luvera is chief among them.

Paul is one of the greatest lawyers to ever grace the planet, both for his legal contributions, and for his humanity.  As I was cutting my teeth, he was a living legend.  Paul exposed the tobacco industry for its deception of death and brought the industry to its knees.  Through his lawyering, he held big tobacco accountable for their crimes and dishonesty, prying the lies from their claws and exacting retribution for the carnage they caused.  Yes, believe it or not, it was a trial lawyer that finally exposed the lie and held big tobacco accountable.

So imagine my surprise when out of the blue, I receive a Christmas card from Paul Luvera. I had written an article, talking about a recent experience in court.  It moved Paul enough to reach out with well wishes and other thoughts.  20 years later, I still have that card. Since that time, a friendship blossomed, and continues to grow.  Often, I wonder, “What does Paul see in me?”  This isn’t born of insecurity, but pride.  While I don’t know the answers to this question, I do know why I love Paul.  He is kind.  He is sincere.  He is wise.  He is curious.  What you see is what you get.  There isn’t a moment where he isn’t in tune to what is going on around him, and what is going on within him.  His intelligence knows no limits.  His faith in God and in the universe calms me.

I also owe Paul much more than friendship.  One could say I owe him my life.  There was a time in my life where I was lost.  Truth be told, I didn’t know why I was living, what I wanted, or where I was going.  What I did know is that I wanted to live.  I just didn’t know how.

All around me was the smoldering ashes of my life.  I was broke.  My kids didn’t like me.  I didn’t understand what people were saying. Worse, I didn’t know what I was saying.  Needless to say, as an attorney, this is a bad condition.  Luckily, when the wheels came off, I had been in seclusion for some time.  I stopped taking cases; intuitively I knew I couldn’t do them.  Consciously, I knew I couldn’t bluff my way through the disease.  All I could do was lie in bed, watch daytime TV, dial up Shick Shadle Hospital after I saw an ad on the Jerry Springer show, only to hang up.  When I went to the bathroom, I avoided looking in the mirror, for I hated who I saw.   I was physically, emotionally and spiritually broke.

For lack of a better way of describing it, a group of people that love me staged an intervention.  Following that, they took me to an AA meeting.  I was scared, I was ashamed, but I was opening to receiving help.  I heard things in that meeting that moved me. I just didn’t know what it was.  When I flew back to Seattle, and the wheels hit the ground, the first thing I did was turn my phone on and find an AA meeting close to the airport so that I could attend another meeting ASAP.

I found one in Kent.  I showed up in my fancy car, wearing my fancy shirt, broken, tired and ashamed. People riding bikes, wearing dirty shirts, filled with life, love and support greeted me.  In that meeting I heard even more things that struck me as profound.  Again, I didn’t understand it, but I felt something, and I was curious for more.  I started to regularly attend meetings by my house, in Gig Harbor.

After attending these meetings for a few days, I got a sponsor, I got into the big book, but within a few weeks I was becoming cynical.  This talk of God and a higher power tended to rub me the wrong way.  So while I was not using, and the program was working, I was becoming distrustful.

It just so happens around that time Paul and I were having lunch. I always felt safe around Paul, so I told him of my addiction. I told him about my struggles and that I was taking a run at sobriety through AA.  I will never, ever forget what he told me. “You know, whether you are an addict or not, the 12 steps are a wonderful way to live your life.”

At the time, I didn’t think much of it, other than if Paul Luvera says so, it must be.  With his words and support, I remained open to working the 12 steps.  Just before my lunch with Paul, I was trying to get my buddy, who was also new to the program, to drink with me.  Thank God he was stronger than I.  With the knowledge that Paul saw something “in the steps,” I went all in.  To this day, I am clean and sober.

Recently, Paul and I were talking.  I was feeling warm and fuzzy, and I wanted to thank him for that moment, years ago.  I reminded him what he told me. I told him how instrumental he was, how that conversation inspired me to keep working the 12 steps.  I thanked him, and I asked, “You know Paul, what is it about you and the 12 steps, what do you know about them?  I mean you aren’t an addict, are you?”  He confirmed what I knew, then told me he was introduced to the 12 steps when he was supporting a friend of his who was down and out due to booze.  Paul went to meetings with him, and each time he heard the steps, they inherently made sense to him.  So much so, he carried a card-sized pamphlet of the 12 steps and the serenity prayer in his wallet.  The next time I saw him, he gave me that tattered up, coffee stained print out of the 12 steps.  I still have it as a sacred possession.

So this is my friend, Paul Luvera, but what are the Luvera Files?  On more than one occasion, Paul stressed to me the importance of organizing your work, so that what you do today can be used tomorrow.  The law is surprisingly rote.  Frankly, the cases are on repeat and refeed.  The issues, processes and deadlines are the same for every case.

I happen to believe that if you can try a simple theft case, you can try a murder case.  If you can try a low-speed car crash case, you can try a med mal case.  I’m sure most lawyers would disagree with me on this point, then again I’m sure they would also say it is malpractice to do a products liability case at the same time that you are doing a murder case. Not so, say I.

While I have done a lot of trials, in varied areas of law, I can say I did not follow Paul’s advice to catalogue my work.  Frankly, I was too lazy.  It takes effort to try a case, and when it is done, to organize your thoughts.  Personally, I would rather relax, mourn or savor justice.

Paul, on the other hand, has dozens of outlines on everything you can imagine.  His structure for a closing argument for a brain injured child, or a script for a med mal opening statement, an outline for the cross examination of the hired defense lawyer, or how to take a 30(b)(6) deposition.  Every possible scenario or script that Paul has encountered, he saved.  And the information prepped and organized is far more expansive than just phases of the trial.  He has thoughts, articles and ideas on everything from communication, to what motivates groups of people to act.  He has poems, songs, obituaries and random clips from far-away places.

One day over lunch, Paul pulls out his phone and shows me pictures of binders.  Naturally, my curiosity is piqued, and he asks me if I would like to take his binders.  My excitement was only tampered by the honor of this legal giant, wanting to give me his life’s work in court.  They are so important, they could easily be at home in a law school or museums.  These binders encapsulate generations of legal thoughts, not just on the law itself, but evolving thoughts and theories on how to try cases.

You can imagine my excitement as I’m driving over to his house.  He tells me I should bring a truck or large SUV.  He wasn’t joking.  I carted out 7 banker boxes of binders.  The early binders are typed on fading paper and have case law and thoughts on criminal law.  The more recent, his “prized possession,” is his trial notebook.  In the trial notebook, there is a tool that does everything from convert inches to centimeters, fluid ounces to gallons, liters and quarts, Newtons to pounds torque, vacuum, power, and you name it.  In the back of the notebook is a brief that has every legal issue on damages, evidence and who knows what, in the event he needs to argue a crucial point, on the spot.  Here is the opening page to his Trial Notebook.

As in awe of these files, and as impossible as they are for me to replicate, there is an irony.  What I know Paul respects in me, is that I do not create my own files.  On more than one occasion, he has expressed regret that he didn’t vary the scripts of his trials more often.  At the same time, he would express respect and praise for my ability to act with “spontaneity”, be in the moment, and create trial moments that are “different.”  In this way, Paul is the greatest teacher, and student the law has ever known.   He is constantly on the edge of what can be done.  He is constantly aware of his self-imposed limitations, to only redefine what those are, by pushing his limits beyond his comfort zone.

The Luvera Files are one of the most sacred things I possess.  Born of kinship, love and responsibility, they are a lifetime of work from one of the greatest Trial Lawyers to every grace the planet.  Within these files, I have a glimpse into the brilliance of a man who made a difference in this world, and it is my responsibility to share it with anyone who cares to learn.

I hope you follow me on this journey of learning.  With respect, gratitude and love.  Eric

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3 comentários

Theodore L. Stacy
Theodore L. Stacy
11 de fev. de 2022

Eric, I found your website because I was wondering how you are able to do what you do. I am always questioning why I have been stuck in the ruts all these years. This honest appraisal and insight from Paul's masterwork is truly a key that can help any of us lost in the wilderness find a path home for ourselves and the justice our clients seek. Thanks.


Angela Blakely
Angela Blakely
01 de ago. de 2021

Beautifully written with humility and grace Mr. Fong. Thank you for sharing.


Wonderful article, Eric. Thank you. I look forward to reading more.

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