“You’ve got to think ahead and be proactive. Sometimes the most important work you do on a case happens before it’s even a case.”
Partner Laurel Headley is widely respected as a tenacious, dedicated, and compassionate advocate with a devoted following of extremely satisfied clients. She doesn’t walk away from a case until she has achieved the absolute best result for her client, one that always takes the client’s whole situation—job, family, and future—into account.
Laurel has a broad-based practice, ranging from complex federal white-collar and environmental crimes to state court misdemeanor and juvenile delinquency proceedings. She plays a vital role in the firm’s investigation and preparation of large, complex cases, where her painstaking research and strong people skills have given the firm an edge with clients and prosecutors time and again. Laurel also handles a wide variety of other cases, in both state and federal court, and she is a member of the Federal Indigent Defense Panel in the Northern District of California, representing indigent defendants in cases where the federal public defender has a conflict of interest.
Laurel’s rare blend of qualities—thoroughness, persistence and unusual sensitivity toward her clients—makes her one of the firm’s most valuable assets. “Laurel knows that victory is often found in the details, and she masters them better than any attorney I have ever seen,” Ted Cassman says. “Her inspired intellect and meticulous preparation are keys to our firm’s success.” Beyond that, Laurel “makes people feel safe,” another admiring colleague says. “She is a rock.” In turn, her clients tend to be extraordinarily loyal and to stay in touch for years.
A San Francisco native, Laurel originally planned to become a teacher, earning her high school teaching credential in 1982. But when she found herself sidetracked by massive state budget cuts and teacher layoffs in the aftermath of Proposition 13, she changed course. Eventually she enrolled in the University of San Francisco Law School, where she was immediately drawn to civil rights and criminal defense law. She started working at Cooper, Arguedas, & Cassman while she was still a law student, becoming a full-time associate in 1991 and a partner in 1997.
Laurel is also a former co-chair of Women Defenders, the statewide association of women criminal defense attorneys, and on the Board of Governors of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
GET TO KNOW THE WHOLE CLIENT
“When people come to us for help,” Laurel says, “they are at the most difficult juncture in their lives. I spend a lot of time understanding the whole person, their backgrounds, their stories, their concerns. Clients don’t come to my office as blank slates. They are often complicated people with complicated lives and criminal charges that are driving them to distraction.” Laurel realizes that every case, no matter how small, is the biggest case in the world to the person facing charges, and her clients walk away knowing they have been not only well defended, but well understood. “By understanding the whole person,” she adds, “I can help figure out the best possible result for a client and how to achieve it.”
DIVE IN EARLY
Laurel puts an enormous emphasis on the early investigation of a case, with the goal not just of keeping a client out of jail, but of keeping him or her from being arrested or charged with a crime. As soon as a new client comes in, she conducts exhaustive interviews and spends time understanding the case and the issues it raises. “Sometimes the most important work you do on a case happens before it’s even a case,” she explains. “You’ve got to think ahead and be proactive, whether that means going to the scene or interviewing witnesses with investigators, hiring experts, or getting a client into therapy or a treatment program.”
The key, Laurel adds, is to take control of the case away from police and prosecutors. “When you get as much information as you can about a case upfront, it helps you understand where you want the case to go. Then you can take the bull by the horns and get there, rather than letting the system take you for a ride.”
PUT THE CLIENT’S FUTURE FIRST
Laurel stresses the importance of helping her clients avoid not only the obvious consequences of criminal convictions, like jail time and fines, but also the collateral consequences—which often have long-lasting, more serious effects. In her view, only rarely is an early plea bargain to resolve a charge and bring closure for the client the best scenario in the long run.
“You need to think about the rest of the person’s life—where are they going to apply for jobs, what professional licenses do they hold?” she says. “With the ever-expanding scope of California’s three-strikes and sex-offender registration laws, the future stakes are higher than people sometimes realize. We strive to protect our clients as best we can by avoiding convictions and, short of that, by resolving cases in whatever way will have the fewest effects on their futures.”
- U.S. District Courts: Northern District of California, Central District of California, Eastern District of California
- U.S. Court of Appeals: Ninth Circuit
- California State Bar, December 1991
- San Francisco Bar Association, member
- Alameda County Bar Association, member
- California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Board of Governors
- Women Defenders, Chairperson (2000)
- Northern District of California Federal Indigent Defense Panel
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers