Khaldoun Baghdadi ’97 has had a keen sense of justice as long as he can remember. At age 16, while working as an usher at a movie theater, he tried to start a union to address the issue of insufficient overtime pay.
“I thought if we had some sort of organized response to it, it would go well,” he says. “Management didn’t take too kindly to that, shockingly.”
Baghdadi was fired, and the incident further fueled his concern as a first-generation Palestinian immigrant that if his family or community ever needed to advocate for themselves, they’d have a hard time finding any Palestinian or Muslim attorneys in Orange County, California to stand up for them.
“I thought part of an admission ticket to empowerment was a law degree,” he says. “I wanted to be able to know that at least one of us had access to understand the rules, know when they’re being broken, and know when they can be enforced.”
Today, a prominent trial lawyer with over $1 billion in settlements and jury verdicts, Baghdadi believes that in addition to his strong sense of justice, his sincerity also plays an important role in his success in the courtroom.
“I thought part of an admission ticket to empowerment was a law degree.”
“I think some of my best results have been when I’ve had the fortitude to admit that I just didn’t have all the answers, that I hadn’t foreseen everything, but that at least I was there with the right faith and belief in my client,” he says. “A lot of trial lawyers think you have to be almost mechanical and flawless in everything you do, from how you hold your pen to how you know the next question. But I think jurors, like everyone else, find some relief when they see you’re not always ready for the next step.”
While Baghdadi admits it can be difficult and ego-bruising to show any vulnerability in front of opposing counsel, judge, and jury, he believes the best way to cultivate genuine sincerity is to be willing to try cases even when you know you may not succeed. Although sincerity doesn’t win him the verdict every time, it still has a significant impact on his level of fulfillment in lost cases.
“It’s one thing to not be successful when the jury has felt that your facts and the law just didn’t carry your burden,” he says. “It’s another thing to be unsuccessful when the jury felt you were trying to pull something over on them.”
As Baghdadi heads into his third decade at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, he does so with both a deep level of commitment to his community and strong sense of fulfillment that he attributes in part to the sincerity and transparency at the heart of his work.
“The best thing I can do for my community,” he says, “is to continue to be a really good, credible, honest lawyer.”
In addition to his work in the courtroom and his volunteer work with organizations like the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Baghdadi hopes to eventually get back into the classroom, where he can help guide a new generation of lawyers and take inspiration from their optimism, intensity, and that fiery sense of justice they, too, carry in their hearts.
GAMECHANGER is the way our students–past and present–see the world. It’s the impact our alumni have on local, national and global policy and law. The ideas and events that come from the minds of UC Hastings Law students and faculty help transform the world. UC Hastings Law plans to celebrate its GAMECHANGERS on Thursday, May 9.