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A Law Unto Herself

COLUMN ONE

The criminal defense attorney is star-struck, young and unorthodox. But don't be fooled. She's also Ivy League, savvy and successful.

August 22, 2006|Maura Dolan | Times Staff Writer

Matt Farrell, a video producer, needed an attorney after he had been charged with growing marijuana. He hired Allison Margolin, "L.A.'s dopest attorney," on a friend's recommendation.

Farrell's first impression was "she was hot." His second was doubt. She looked too young to be a lawyer.

Then he saw the Ivy League degrees on her wall.

Like actress Reese Witherspoon's character in the movie "Legally Blonde" -- a rich, ditsy Beverly Hills blond who goes to Harvard Law School -- Margolin, 28, is the kind of lawyer who might be easy to dismiss. The graduate of Beverly Hills High talks like a Valley girl, preceding adjectives with "like" and using "whatever" as a period.

Her years at Columbia University and Harvard Law School failed to dim her fascination with movie stars. She is devoted to the tabloids and knows intimate details about the rich and famous.

Her husband said she used to believe whatever her clients told her, accepting preposterous explanations for crimes. There was the woman who didn't mean to stab her boyfriend. She just threw a basket that happened to contain a knife.

And there was the time Margolin burst into tears after a prosecutor told her she had only minutes to decide whether to take a deal that would put a client in prison for 17 years. The prosecutor relented and extended the deadline.

A lawyer for 3 1/2 years, Margolin has gained notoriety for unorthodox ads that proclaim her "L.A.'s dopest attorney." She even has a video publicizing her practice on the Internet site www.youtube.com.

Her self-promotions have raised eyebrows in a profession in which many lawyers still frown upon advertising as ambulance chasing. Until not quite 30 years ago, lawyer advertising was banned altogether.

"Need warrant recalled?" her radio, movie and newspaper ads ask. "Want to smoke pot on probation? All criminal defense, from drugs to murder. Harvard Law, affordable."

She is the daughter of Bruce Margolin, the widely known defense lawyer who has championed efforts to decriminalize marijuana and once ran for governor on that platform.

Farrell's case was big for her because it involved more than 100 marijuana plants. Farrell faced up to three years in prison.

Delayed by a flat tire, she had scurried into the courthouse 30 minutes after court started, clutching a pink leather briefcase and trailed by two 19-year-olds she introduced as her assistants, Daniel Samadi and Raymond Hay.

The pair of college students are Boy Fridays, answering her cellphone, fetching her food, walking her dog and soothing her when she gets tense.

Slender and small with olive coloring, her auburn hair pulled into a ponytail, Margolin was in constant motion, biting her lips, rubbing her chin, pulling at strands of hair.

She wore a black Armani pants suit and a sleeveless red top with a plunging neckline, revealing a silver-blue lacy camisole and generous cleavage. Frameless glasses perched on her nose.

At one end of the court hallway, she huddled with Farrell. Her defense was that Farrell grew marijuana for medical reasons and had a doctor's recommendation for it, as did three others who were part of his marijuana "collective."

She had five witnesses prepared to testify that the amount Farrell grew would produce an appropriate yield for his medical needs and those of the three other patients.

At the other end of the hallway, the prosecutor was meeting with the police officers who had arrested Farrell.

The prosecutor had just learned that Farrell had a current doctor's recommendation, which is similar to a prescription, for marijuana and wanted to postpone the hearing.

But Margolin, who had prepared all weekend, opposed a delay.

"It's just not cool," Margolin said.

Hours passed as Margolin shuttled back and forth between her witnesses and the prosecutor. Farrell was tense. Margolin told him she would speak to the judge.

"I am going to tell the judge they are still jerking us around," she said, flipping her ponytail.

She paused and grinned. "But I won't say it that way."

Margolin does not let hard work go to waste.

She studied relentlessly to achieve at Beverly Hills High, and the payoff was Columbia University in New York, where she said she "just felt the vibes" and fit in.

At Columbia she pulled seven-hour study stretches on Saturdays and Sundays, was an editor on the college newspaper and taught a political science class.

That helped when she applied to Harvard Law School, although her application essay was risky. She argued that drugs should be legalized, a position her father warned would doom her chance of admission.

She was admitted anyway.

Once there, "I was like the most eccentric person," she said. She remembered feeling like a neon sign in a bright yellow vest and tinted glasses in the classrooms.

"I studied a lot, and I didn't lie about it, and people would make fun of me for it," she said. "People at Harvard pretended they didn't have to work because they were geniuses. "

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