Many attorneys work such long hours their coworkers feel like family. At Doan Law Firm, the coworkers are family.
Five brothers—Michael, Shawn, Jonathan, James and Steven—and father Greg are all attorneys at the largest family law firm in California. Thirteen offices from Chula Vista to Escondido, Orange County and Riverside keep the Doans hard at work with bankruptcy and personal injury cases.
Bankruptcy is the family's bread and butter, and what each of them enjoys most. In fact, the eldest son, Michael, is one of only 13 attorneys in California board-certified in consumer bankruptcy law. He's currently filing a writ to the U.S. Supreme Court, has taken a number of cases to the 9th Circuit Court and has changed the laws under which bankruptcy attorneys on the West Coast practice.
"It's nice to be able to help somebody who's under that burden, carrying around all that weight like a bag of bricks," says Greg. "It's a life-altering event for a lot of people."
Law practice itself was a life-altering event for Greg. For much of his career, he was a manager at Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper company. But sensing his employer had yet another major move—this time to the East Coast—in store for his family, Greg commenced law school while still working full-time and helping raise five kids ranging from grade school to high school. Son Michael attended law school full-time after college and graduated only a year after Greg did. As for the rest? "They thought I was an easy mark," Greg jokes. "‘If I go to law school, Dad'll give me a job,' and I think it just kept going down the line."
With the family in a room, the jokes come thick and fast—though the real answer always follows seconds later. "I never steered them toward law," says Greg. "I never tried to influence them one way or another."
"I think what you did do is demystify law school," James says to his father. "Seeing Dad go through law school with five boys, working a full-time job, and then watching Mike go through it—[you see] you can handle it."
Michael, Shawn and John surf nearly every day—what they refer to as their early-morning "board meetings." They take these meetings internationally as well: Shawn owns a place in Kauai, and Michael is owner of Casa Colorado, a new surf resort in Nicaragua frequented by professional surfers. He also owns a Four Seasons fractional interest in spots in Costa Rica and Mexico.
In addition to fancy resorts, the Doans have plenty of experience in roughing it. Greg was an assistant Scoutmaster, and most of his sons are Eagle Scouts, like him. He often took the family—including wife and mother Marianna—to Ward Lake in the Sierras for a week or more of camping. This discussion triggers stories of bear sightings at their campsite and tales of Michael saving James' life at the edge of a cliff.
None of these memories would exist without Marianna, who has an extraordinary story of her own. Born in Hungary, with seven siblings and a father who was an anti-communist leader, Marianna fled with her family to Austria through the Vienna forest one evening. Stakes were high and terrain was deadly, as guards either shot on sight or sent captives to coal mines in Siberia. She says guards did spot them at one point during the all-night walk but were kind enough to turn their backs on the large family. The Catholic Church of Seattle sponsored them when they arrived in America.
"None of these guys would be here if we hadn't escaped by the grace of God," Marianna says. "So our faith is very strong."
Indeed. The Doan family draws parallels to their bankruptcy work and the Holy Writ.
"Actually, debt relief and scripture go hand-in-hand in the Deuteronomy—the Jubilee year," says Michael.
"A lot of people think it's stealing, taking money and not paying it back. But it depends on the situation, and in most of our situations, we don't have debtors who are trying to take advantage of the system.
They're in over their heads in situations beyond their control: job loss, divorce, work injury, the housing market, health, medical bills. It's nice to continue with that Jubilee year and offer them what has been around for thousands of years: relief."