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Meet the Attorney: Derek Johnson

Attorney: Derek S. Johnson | Published 9.9.21

Welcome back to our Meet the Attorney series! Today we are introducing you to one of our partners, Derek Johnson. He works primarily in asbestos litigation and is a member of the firm’s Steering Committee and marketing team.

Derek was born and raised in Northern California; though he attended UCLA for his Bachelor’s degree, he always knew he would return to the San Francisco Bay Area. He now resides in the East Bay with his wife Dana and his 9-year-old son, Nate; he also has a stepdaughter, Camille, who just graduated from Vanderbilt! Derek held various jobs growing up including lifeguarding, working as a bank teller, and teaching at the local high school, before deciding to take the LSATs. After setting his sights on the legal field, he attended the University of San Francisco and graduated cum laude. Derek has been an attorney since 2002 and cannot believe it has almost been 20 years since the beginning of his journey.

Throughout this interview, you will learn about Derek’s journey into law, why he loves working for Walsworth, and how he spends his time outside the office.

Current Favorites:
Music: I have been listening to a lot of old Pinback and Built to Spill lately.
Film/Series: I am working through all of the Marvel movies with my son.
Book(s): My all-time favorite book is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
Quote: “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir

Why did you become a Lawyer?
In the simplest of terms, what else could I do? My grandpa was an attorney and I grew up watching him work. I majored in political science and loved participating in mock trials so making the connection to the law was seamless after that. I also thought about becoming a teacher when I worked at the high school where my mother was a counselor.

What does being a part of the Walsworth family mean to you?
It is a great thing to work with people you consider family. The people I came over to Walsworth with, Chuck Sheldon and Kate Gardiner, really have become family and I have added to that family over my 9+ years here at Walsworth. There are so many people in positions of authority here at the firm who understand life can sometimes get in the way – and once you are a part of the family you are taken care of. Acting like a close-knit family is one of my favorite things to share with others when I talk about Walsworth.

What is something unexpecting or amusing that you have encountered in law?
I met my wife at a deposition! A partner at my prior firm sent me to a deposition, and I had to fly to Los Angeles – I remember thinking at the time that the assignment was not a good fit. Another lawyer at the deposition who I had close connections with needed to leave in the middle and left his responsibilities with another lawyer – Dana, my now wife. She instantly peppered me with so many texts and emails with questions trying to get a better understanding of everything on the case. I was initially annoyed and dismissed it thinking I would follow up the next work week when I wasn’t rushing to and from the airport. But when I flew back home to my roommate and his girlfriend, I told them about the new attorney on the case, and all of the questions, and my roommate’s girlfriend insisted we look Dana up online. Well, we went on a date a few weeks later and she has been stuck with me since. We have moved several times since that deposition and during one move, we figured out that we had both kept the paperwork from that first case we shared.

How do you recharge your battery?
I love to spend time outdoors backpacking, camping, or fishing. I almost always want to be outside and away from masses of people. My nerdy area of expertise is where to camp in CA: Redwood State Park and the Sonoma Coast have some great spots, and the Sierras are breathtaking. I tend to want to stay away from big groups of people so I avoid crowded areas like Tahoe and the National Parks. Last summer, we bought a camper van while on a trip up in Oregon. Dana and I both dared each other to buy it and neither of us ever called the other’s bluff so we ended up buying it. So far, we have mostly stuck to trips on the west coast of California with the camper van but we did take a long trip to Arizona over the holidays. We have a Utah trip planned for this fall as well. The van has worked out great because it gets Dana outside and in nature with my son and me but it also provides her with a real bed and a (very small) bathroom.

If you could be an expert in anything, what would it be?
I should say something shrewd like finance or real estate, but honestly, I want to become an expert at fly fishing. I love it, but sadly I am not that good at it. I only go a few times a year with my son and because he is so young it is hard to teach him. I am hoping in a few more years we will both be able to get into it.

What was the last book you read?
Soccernomics by Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper; it is about soccer, finances and data, and how to apply modern economics and game theory to soccer. Generally, I read non-fiction books, but I used to love science fiction, fantasies, and historical fiction books. As I mentioned, my all-time favorite book is the Confederacy of Dunces. It is truly indescribable. It is about an out-of-place guy in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the 1970s and it is wild. I also really like Steinbeck.

What does working in a diverse law firm mean to you?
It is important to me to work at a place that reflects the world in which I live. We are a diverse society and it is important to me that the place I work reflects that. As a whole, most companies are making a big push for more diversity but for Walsworth it came about organically. I am proud of it and I believe it gives us a competitive advantage as it is very appealing to clients. It feels so normal and comfortable with women holding leadership roles because it is similar to my life and how I grew up; my mom always worked and so does my wife. I want us to stay one or two steps ahead of everyone else in the industry and I think we are doing a great job of that.

How do clients benefit from working with a diverse law firm?
Diversity of thought is extremely important and I think you get diverse thoughts when you have a diverse group of people. Clients need people who will bring different life experiences to the table. Our perspectives and knowledge are different and we work together to have the most holistic view, which gives our clients an advantage.