Sidney Kanazawa

20 Questions with California Fellow Sidney Kanazawa


1. Thank you, Sid, for spending time with us today. Outstanding trial lawyer, engaging speaker, we know those things about you. But let's start out by getting to the heart and soul of Sid Kanazawa. What can we as trial lawyers do to bring our country back together again?

a. In a word – listen. And help our fellow citizens to do the same.

b. I am deeply troubled by our current polarization. It is not just Democrats and Republicans. We seem intractably divided on so many fronts. Even in our daily interactions, headphones and the internet encourage us to tune-out “others” and tune-in only to our self-selected-like-minded tribes. In the process, we hear less, fear more, and are quick to divide into intransigent factions.

c. As trial lawyers, we know people can realign and come together when they hear us.

d. But they cannot and will not hear us if we do not listen and hear them. Persuasion begins with respectfully listening to the hopes and fears and biases shaping the other’s world view. Until the other believes we can see and feel what they see and feel, they will never give us an opportunity to reframe what they see and feel.

e. The key is to listen. To understand. To respectfully acknowledge the other’s world view. And to find common ground from which we can build a new perspective. The goal is not to kill, marginalize, or demean our enemy. Even if those options were available to us, they would not bring peace. As the #MeToo movement has dramatically shown us, disrespect only sows hurtful seeds for future revenge. The goal is to erase the lines between us. To respectfully collaborate as members of the same community who must find a way to live together as we walk forward into the future. As Abraham Lincoln once remarked, “The best way to defeat an enemy is to make him a friend.”


2. You and I are friends on Facebook, and you have posted a couple of things about the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II that have been both compelling and heartbreaking. As someone with an Asian heritage, for whom that tragedy is particularly offensive, what role do you think history should play as it relates to dealing with the multitude of xenophobic attitudes now being revealed across our country?

a. Let’s not repeat history. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which – like the travel ban of today – made no mention of its target – Japanese. Nevertheless, EO 9066 legitimized and unleashed the festering hostility toward the Japanese community on the West Coast and authorized the incarceration of 120,000 persons of “Japanese Ancestry” because they looked like the enemy and might be a sabotage or espionage threat. Incredibly, the absence of any evidence of such a threat caused even then California Attorney General Earl Warren to argue that the absence was proof that espionage and sabotage was about to occur and therefore the removal of Japanese from the West Coast was a military necessity.

b. By contrast, in Hawaii, where there was an actual attack, the non-Japanese military and civilian leadership risked their careers and military safety to stand-up for the Japanese and defy the President. Despite repeated messages from Washington DC, these brave leaders refused to round-up the 140,000 Japanese in Hawaii and, instead, extended trust and support to the Japanese in Hawaii. As an example, my Japanese American uncle (who was a police officer in a four person espionage unit at the time) was entrusted by military and civilian intelligence to conduct the most sensitive “potential enemy sympathizers” interviews before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This trust and collaboration reduced the “potential enemy sympathizer” list to about a thousand by the time Pearl Harbor was bombed. The list included Germans and Italians. This mutual respect and cooperation also led to the formation of the all-Japanese 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Battalion which fought in Europe during WWII and became the most decorated military unit in U.S. history.

c. Like lawyers, the heroes of the story in Hawaii were the non-Japanese leaders who risked their careers to stand-up for the Japanese in a time of crisis. They reminded their fellow citizens that we are all Americans and refused to succumb to scapegoating and division based on rumors, myths, and fears.

d. This is what we do as lawyers when we are at our best. We remind our fellow citizens of what we have in common – our constitution, our laws, our agreements, and our customs and practices. We stand up for others and give them a credible voice. We insist on facts and the fair application of law over the whim of political leaders or the fear of our fellow citizens. And we judge people by their actions and character and not the color of their skin or their religious beliefs or their place of birth or their gender or who they love. We are all in this together – as Americans – no matter our political affiliations or beliefs on particular issues. And we are at our best when we bring our differences together to act as one for the benefit of all.

e. Let’s not repeat history and allow ourselves to be blinded by fear. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, democracy demands courage—from all of us—and particularly from lawyers who stand up for others.


3. Diversity, along with excellence and integrity, is central to the LCA's mission and plays a fundamental role in our selection of Fellows, growth, and goals. We want to quote you on diversity in an issue of Litigation Commentary & Review, as well as in the Diversity Law Institute's website. In a word, sentence, or paragraph, what, in your opinion, is the significance or importance of furthering diversity within the profession of law and throughout our system of justice?

a. Diversity and inclusion works only if it creates relationships of respect and identification. Justice is a manmade house of safety. Its equal fairness gives us the courage to explore, create, and build without fear. Our sense of freedom and responsibility directly stem from our house of justice. But only the powerful and majorities can build that house of justice. If the powerful and majorities do not respect and identify with the weak, there is no justice for all, only for some. And if the weak do not feel protected by the conventions of the house of justice, they must seek other avenues to survive and thrive . . . threatening the very safety of our manmade house of justice. We are all in this together . . . . in the same house . . . whether we realize it or not.


4. Your courtroom successes are well-known. Among the cases you have tried, which event comes to mind most often? Put another way, what is your favorite Perry Mason moment?

a. During voir dire, a rather young looking woman reported she was on a disability retirement after being shot. The judge and I pressed her on whether she filed a claim for her injury. She did not understand. We pressed further and asked whether there was any litigation related to her injury. She did not understand. Finally, we asked whether she filed a lawsuit related to her injury. Still puzzled, she responded, “Well, I divorced him.” You never know what you’ll learn in voir dire.


5. How do you handle judges that have a predisposition opposite to your case? Or perhaps more simply, judges that simply tend to be philosophically favorable to your opponent?

a. I cannot think of a case where the judge was predisposed in my favor. I don’t often represent the popular side of the case. I am usually digging myself out of a perception hole that is being exploited by my opponent. In the past, I have handled this by embracing an underdog position (even for large multi-national companies), being respectful, focusing on a small set of irrefutable facts, and avoiding any show of frustration. This approach has worked and played to our tendency to root for the underdog. At the end of a three-month trial (decided 12-0 in my client’s favor), a juror showed me his notebook in which he wrote, “Why is everyone against Kanazawa?” Unfortunately, I am not sure today’s apparent callousness toward the powerless will continue jurors tendencies to root for the underdog.


6. Is your approach at trial to slice and dice the other side with finesse or scorch the Earth beneath their feet? Or is your style adaptable to what the other side dishes out?

a. I’m a slice and dice type. I focus on a few key facts and concepts from beginning to end.


7. Not that you would know, but how should a trial lawyer handle defeat?

a. I know defeat. It’s numbing. It’s depressing. It’s humiliating. It causes you to question everything you did and did not do and causes you to question your worth. It is also the best elixir to wash out any arrogance and return you to being a humble student of the game. There is no better learning opportunity provided you objectively debrief, remember, and apply the lessons learned in future situations.

b. In practical terms, I watch sports and drink. Nothing else numbs my mind better.


8. What book should every trial lawyer read?

a. Jonathan Shapiro, “Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling: Using Stories to Advocate, Influence, and Persuade.” It’s funny and insightful from a great storyteller, trial lawyer, and television scriptwriter.


9. What advice about practicing law would you give the younger you?

a. Be humble and cherish every opportunity presented (and every situation – good or bad – presents an opportunity).


10. How should a lawyer face his or her fears?

a. Like everyone else, embrace them. When you try to mask your fears, we can see both your fears and your lack of authenticity. We’re hoping you fail. But when you embrace your fears and admit your vulnerability, your authenticity makes us all root for your success.


11. To what destination do you go to find your own version of solace?

a. Being from Hawaii, my solace has always been the ocean. Whether in it or viewing it, there is a vastness, power, and calm that reminds me of the insignificance of the immediate problem before me. It also puts into perspective and allows me to focus on that which is in my control and to not worry about that which is beyond my control.


12. What is your greatest extravagance?

a. Books. I am dangerous in a book store, online, or in a library. There are so many interesting things to read and not enough time. I don’t necessarily read all my books but I love having them available to read . . . a stupid way of making me feel smarter.


13. What is your must-try L.A. food?

a. Littlejohn’s English Toffee, Farmers Market at Fairfax and 3rd. A tiny little shop that makes toffees right there and has been doing so since 1929.


14. If you could have a lengthy, candid conversation with anyone from history, who would it be, and why?

a. Abraham Lincoln. His humility, wisdom, and courage were remarkable. He inspired his peers with his honesty and humor. He bravely and credibly argued against the institution of slavery - a pillar of half the country’s economy. He filled his cabinet with rivals who initially had no respect for him but came to admire and respect him. He called on our better angels to be friends in the midst of a divisive conflict and had the courage to prosecute a civil war that killed 2% of the U.S. population to keep our country together. And, without a formal education, delivered and wrote some of the most memorable speeches and letters of all time.


15. Lawyers tend to travel a great deal. What are some of your favorite cities or places and what fascinates you about them?

a. Tokyo. A constantly evolving 24-hour city of 9 million with a culture that allows people to forget a passport or a purse on a subway, expect that it will be found, turned in, and returned with nothing missing.

b. New York City. A constantly evolving 24-hour city of 8.5 million with a culture that does not allow people to forget a passport or a purse on a subway, expect that it will be found, turned in, and returned with nothing missing.

c. I love them both, including the people and culture that make each vibrant and exciting in their own way. And I love to ponder what makes them so different.


16. What has been the biggest change in the way law, particularly trial law, is practiced between the time you first began until now?

a. Talking on the phone and meeting with others. Today, young attorneys are too quick to write a hostile message and are more intent on conveying their message than appreciating how those messages are being received. Ironically, in this digital age, old fashion talking on the phone and meeting in person gives you faster instant feedback on how your messages are being received than texting and emailing.


17. I once practiced under a fantastic, though legendarily difficult trial lawyer named Olin Zeanah. One of my colleagues at the firm kept a list of "Zeanahisms." They were little gems of knowledge that Zeanah would occasionally impart. Did you have a trial icon or mentor in your early years of practice who shared with you the wisdom of years of practice? If so, please tell us about them.

a. Ken Chiate was my mentor and taught me everything I know. (He says that too.) He taught me that our job as litigators and trial attorneys is to get the facts straight.

b. Gordon Wright, another mentor, taught me to appreciate my opponent. Without my opponent, I don’t have a job.


18. What object in your office serves to re-energize you when your mood needs an adjustment?

a. One of my many books. I buy so many, there is bound to be one that fits the mood.


19. How would you like to be remembered in life?

a. As a kind person who made a positive difference for others.


20. What is your motto?

a. My motto comes from my father who said: “Always try your best and do it with a good heart.”



Interviewed by G. Steven Henry, Executive Director & General Counsel, Litigation Counsel of America.


Sidney Kanazawa is a partner in the Los Angeles office of McGuireWoods LLP. He uses his extensive trial, crisis and negotiating experience to bring people together – rather than divide them. Whether it is connecting with clients, co-counsel, witnesses, opponents, judges or juries, Sid understands that persuasion begins with listening and developing trust. Sid serves as General Counsel of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), and is a frequent lecturer on mediation and litigation issues.