December 7, 2015
Alumni Q&A with Josh Passman ’08
Q. What prompted you to pursue a law degree?
A. I grew up with a family of lawyers: My dad (Don Passman) is a prominent music attorney in Beverly Hills and my brother (Danny Passman) is an entertainment attorney as well. My grandfather was an attorney, too. Additionally, while I was an undergraduate student at Pitzer College, I took a course called Teaching in Prison. I went to a juvenile detention center in La Verne, where I taught an English literacy course. I realized that a large number of kids in juvenile detention had learning disabilities just like me, and it was this experience that propelled me to go to law school and give back.
Q. How did Southwestern accommodate your needs as a law student?
A. I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was eight years old and struggled when I was younger. But because of my family and support system, I was later able to thrive. I was fortunate to find that support as well at Southwestern, which was very accommodating to me. I passed the bar the first time because of the help I received at Southwestern. The school provided me with more time as well as a reader on exams. Almost more importantly, they allowed me to go into the PLEAS (part-time day) program so I could have more time to read, and I finished law school in three and a half years. If people want to be a lawyer, they should pursue it, regardless of a disability, and Southwestern is a great place to do that.
Also, I think that being dyslexic has helped me as an attorney. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. It has to do with how I process information. I am more detail-oriented because I have to spend a lot of extra time reading. I am a better listener than most because I learn better through talking and hearing.
Q. Which courses or mentors were particularly helpful to you at Southwestern?
A. Southwestern really taught me how to think like a lawyer and how to do analysis. I learned more in my first year of law school than I did in any other year of school. I had Professor Ira Shafiroff for a few courses, and about a year ago, when I decided to open my own firm, I came back for his solo practitioner workshop. His best advice was to keep overhead low, and he provided good marketing tips for attorneys.
Q. What activities and organizations were you involved with while you were a law student that fostered your interest in social justice and public interest law?
A. It was my experiences at Bet Tzedek legal services. I externed there the summer after my second year of law school and stayed on as a volunteer during my third year. I also volunteered there after I graduated from Southwestern. I like to say I stuck around long enough so they would have to hire me!
Q. What was your most gratifying contribution at Bet Tzedek?
A. We ran self-help conservatorship clinics out of courthouses throughout Los Angeles County. The year before I left Bet Tzedek to go into solo practice, we executed more than 1,400 conservatorships in a year, which was over 40 percent of the cases that came through all of LA County.
Conservatorships are for disabled adults who can’t make their own decisions. Parents have to get conservatorships for their adult children with developmental disabilities to make medical and other decisions for them. The other typical Conservatorship cases are for the elderly with Alzheimer’s, dementia or strokes who had no will, trust or power of attorney in place to deal with such matters. The process of applying for conservatorship is very burdensome. It can be very expensive, and we provided this service for free to our self-represented petitioners at Bet Tzedek.
Q. What was the biggest challenge of supervising over 150 volunteer attorneys, law students and paralegals for the organization?
A. You have to really supervise and mentor them. You have to spend time with them and make sure they understand what they need to do. But I have to say, I probably learned more from my volunteers than they learned from me. My [current] paralegal was originally a volunteer for me at Bet Tzedek, and now we work together at my firm where she helps me with clients and can speak to them in Spanish.
Q. What is the e-delivery probate program that you launched in Los Angeles Superior Court?
A. It was the first court e-filing/e-delivery of conservatorships in the LA Superior Court system. We piloted this program at Bet Tzedek.
I also worked with a Senior Attorney from the Administrative Office of the Courts, where we piloted a program to automate the forms for Conservatorships; there are over 70 pages of forms. This electronic program elicits the responses to questions necessary to fill out the forms. [Read more here about the program that Passman created.]
On paper, these forms used to take five or six hours to fill out, and there often would be numerous mistakes. Through the new automating program, conservatorship applicants can complete the forms in 15 to 30 minutes with virtually no mistakes. And it has been translated into Spanish, too. I’m proud to say that this program has been replicated in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties now, and hopefully it will eventually be used in other parts of the state as well.
Q. What made you decide to transition into running your own practice in 2014?
A. I loved my work at Bet Tzedek, but I felt like I had learned everything I could learn and done what I could do, and now it was time to strike out on my own. My parents taught me that to give is to receive. I continue to stay involved with Bet Tzedek through the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council. I am the Co-Chair of the Jewish Family Service Young Leaders group and also serve on the Jewish Family Service Board of Directors. I’m happy to get any Southwestern alum or student who is interested involved in either group. These activities enable me to focus on helping others as I build my practice.
Q. What are some of the challenges of practicing in the areas of conservatorship, estate planning, trust administrations and probate?
A. With estate planning, the biggest challenge is that people don’t want to talk or think about end-of-life issues, but I reassure them that it is better to talk about it now so you are able to decide what happens and some government entity doesn’t have to step in and do it for you.
I come from legal aid where I was overseeing a really high volume of work in these areas. It was all about streamlining in order to handle the big caseload. Now, it’s all about getting the work. I network a lot. I go to lots of lunches, breakfasts and coffees. For me that’s the best way to get referrals. Plus, I’m easy to talk to, and I help put people at ease!
For more information, visit Josh Passman’s firm online.