Criminal Defense Attorney

The depth of inquiry that Andrew Bouvier-Brown pursued at Saint Mary's prepared him well for law school and an eventual career as a criminal defense attorney.

Name: Andrew Bouvier-Brown
Name/Nickname at SMC: Re: nickname-- No way. Decline to state.
Also, at SMC, I was just Andy Brown.  My wife (Dr. Nicole Bouvier-Brown, '03) and I both hyphenated our last names.
Major(s): Communication, Philosophy
Year of Graduation: 2002
Hometown: Canyon Country, CA
Current residence: Playa del Rey, CA

What is one of your fondest memories of SMC?  Of the Communication Department?
Fond memories are wide ranging.  I am still friends with most of the people I knew best at Saint Mary's.  Memories of time spent forming those friendships are always going to be with me.  Hmm . . . if I think of one in particular, I guess I'd say that I always enjoyed a good class discussion.  I know, that's pretty nerdy, but I argue for a living now, so what'd you expect?  I remember one particular set of discussions around bell hooks' Killing Rage, a work that was extremely challenging for students in idyllic Moraga.  The discussion became an exercise in pushing the boundaries of empathy.  In retrospect, that was a good prelude for my current career, which challenges me to expand my capacity for empathy almost every day. 

What do you miss about SMC/college?
I have only fond memories of Saint Mary's, which isn't to say it was perfect, but only the fond memories stand out.  However, there's no nostalgia in it for me -- I wouldn't want to go back, even if I had the opportunity.  You can only really have those college years once. I think that's a sign that Saint Mary's was successful in helping me grow as a person; it helped me mature into adulthood.  Saint Mary's laid the groundwork for me to have a life and a career that makes me very happy and fulfilled; I'm deeply blessed.  I like today better than any other time in my life.  I am grateful Saint Mary's helped prepare me for this time. 

What was the biggest transformation you experienced at SMC?  How did you get into the situation where that transformation occurred?
I think there was a confluence of events which really helped establish my "worldview," which is a phrase I kind of hate, but I can't think of a better way to describe it at the moment.  Over the summer leading into my junior year, I had the privilege of working at a place in San Francisco called the General Assistance Advocacy Project ["GAAP"], an opportunity I found out about through SMC (of course).  The experience was overwhelming in many ways -- emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.  It exposed me to a universe of people and problems that I previously could not have imagined exist in this world, and it's just a 45 minute BART trip from Moraga!  But the key was that in the two years that followed, all of my classes and experiences really helped me put that raw experience into an intellectual and moral context.  I think it's fair to say that context now defines my perspective on the world.  The key is that it wasn't just the experience of working at GAAP that changed me; it was working at GAAP, and then studying The Brothers Karamazov with Professor Downey that transformed me.  It was working at GAAP, and then playing the Stage Manager in Our Town, that transformed me.  It was working at GAAP, and then struggling to understand thinkers as diverse as Plotinus, Martin Buber, Thomas Merton, and bell hooks, which transformed me. 

What jobs have you had since college?
I've never done anything besides what I do now, and I probably never will.  As a criminal defense attorney, in my career I've done everything from help represent alleged murderers facing the death penalty to people who are accused of violating California's medical marijuana laws.  I've represented street artists, petty thieves, hardcore gang members, and mothers accused of fraud who are struggling to feed their kids.  One of the interesting things about criminal law is that you never know what your job is going to require you to learn about next.  It's never dull. 

Talk about law school.  What does it take to get accepted?  What does it take to get through?
Law school is, unfortunately, pretty much just a numbers game when it comes to getting accepted.  You need to do well on the LSAT and keep your GPA as high as possible.  It shouldn't be that way,  but it is.  By contrast, actually succeeding at law school has nothing to do with your ability to perform on a standardized test, and nothing to do with your GPA as an undergraduate.  Succeeding requires an enthusiasm for critical thinking and a willingness to take risks to stand out.  You must be prepared to grasp arguments, not intake information.  When I arrived at law school -- and I went to a pretty good one -- I was absolutely shocked at how poorly prepared most students were for that challenge.  I think my SMC education gave me a huge advantage. 

I distinctly remember an experience I had in the first month of law school.  A professor was leading us through a lecture on some fairly basic principles of constitutional law.  He asked a question of the class, and it was one of those situations most SMC students know well -- a question that is designed to solicit a particular answer, which the professor actually hopes will be the wrong answer.  It's not a trick question, it's just one of those situations where the answer should be one thing, if you follow the logic of the argument through to its conclusion, but is actually another (because our laws, in the end, are often nonsensical).  Anyway, I answered the question, and gave the wrong answer the professor was looking for.  When he said, "Nope, that is totally wrong, actually," my classmates looked at me as if they were witnessing a scene in a horror movie.  When the professor proceeded to explain that my answer was exactly what the law should be, if it were logical, and that he was glad I gave that answer because it showed I understood the argument, my classmates looked at me in awe.  Now, in an SMC classroom, that exchange would be nothing special.  My law school classmates came up to me after class and asked me where I had gotten the guts to answer the question like that.  That's when I realized what a huge advantage SMC had given me over all of my classmates, most of whom came from big, impersonal (but prestigious) public unversities.  The fact that they thought this fairly routine encounter was so impressive revealed what a huge difference there is between an SMC education and your typical public university education.

What's your title now?  What's the best part of your current job?  What's the worst part?
I am a criminal defense attorney.  About nine months ago, I made a move I never could have imagined: I went into practice for myself.  My little law practice is tiny but growing, and is finally getting to the point where I can envision its future.  Thankfully, my wife is incredibly supportive, and she has given me the freedom to (at least try to) do things the right way from the beginning.  I love being a criminal defense attorney.  I believe it is my vocation.  The best part is the work itself -- it is a privilege to do what I do every day.  People always have their own ideas about what it might be like to do my job -- mostly drawn from television police procedurals, it seems -- but there's no way to describe what I do in a paragraph or two. 
   
The worst part about my job is that you have to make it a business, and that's always a challenge.  When you are dealing with a population that is generally disenfranchised and desperate, you don't want to become another person taking advantage of them.  On the other hand, if you don't make the right business decisions, you won't be there to help the next person who really needs it, either.  It's a balancing act that I don't care for, but it's also totally necessary. 

Other than work, what is your life about?
I've been very blessed.  My wife and I live in LA and own a little condo right near the university campus where my wife is professor.  We are in and around a university setting, so it's culturally and intellectually enriching.  We both work too many hours, but we love what we do, and these days that's pretty lucky.  I don't know that I'm a good judge on "what kind of person" I am, save to say that I'm trying my best to be a thoughtful and generous person.  I'm sure I come up short of that goal more often than not. 

"SMC, by giving me the luxury of a liberal education, has in some way informed every aspect of my life.  Just the act of trying to live life 'in context,' that is to say, with an effort to understand the broader intellectual, moral, or spiritual aspect of your life and times-- I hope that's a product of an SMC education.

What's your advice for current SMC students?
Because of my wife's work, I am around college students at various events a lot more than most people.  What consistently concerns me is the amount of stress and worry I hear these students put into what major they should be, with the notion that one major will give them more economic opportunity than another.  Nobody can fault students for being concerned about their economic future, especially these days, but I always wonder where this idea comes from.  Unless you need certain skill sets traditionally acquired in the undergraduate setting -- say, accounting skills, or a hard science background -- your major is not going to matter all that much. What's important is finding things to do that excite you and that you will do well.  Most of your economic opportunity in the future will depend entirely on your ability to demonstrate that you can be enthusiastic about a subject and that you can do something related to that subject very well.  That's why I always say, whatever you get excited about and can motivate yourself to do your very best in -- that should be your field of study.  You need to prove to the world that you are a talented, thoughtful, and enthusiastic person, not that you learned certain kinds of information once upon a time.  I think that's all most employers really care about. 

I'm reminded of my senior thesis project in the communication department, which was a student-produced film.  That project had little or nothing to do with the subject matter of anything I've done since then.  However, what it did require was sustained enthusiasm for a difficult, detail-oriented, time-consuming project.  It challenged me in all sorts of ways I hadn't been challenged before.  It also gave me an opportunity to take great pride in doing something well.  In that sense, it was a great way to prepare for everything I've done since that time. 

Anything else?
Yes.  I went to Saint Mary's when our men's basketball team was less than spectacular.  Actually, it might have been the worst in the country.  Now, I live too far away to make it to home games.  So enjoy it, current/prospective students!  You don't know how good you've got it!

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