Sing, O Muse, the striving heroes humble
Who spend themselves for others to protect
Like Gideon’s small force, or Leonidas’,
With weaker force the stronger force oppose,
But strive as Portia, armed with law and wit;
Who take on hard quests unsung and many
And who persevere in the face of scorn;
Who cast not stones but justice seek for those
Accused, as did Daniel for Susana.
Such a humble hero is Michael K. Lay, this year’s winner of the San Joaquin County Bar Association’s Outstanding New Lawyer Award. A gentleman’s gentleman, and a member of the San Joaquin County Bar Association and the Judge Consuelo M. Callahan American Inn of Court, Mr. Lay is a valued member of the local legal community. He is also a tireless fighter for truth and the rights of poor people accused of having committed crimes. And, unlike Samson, another old-timey hero, he can fight on without any hair.
Mr. Lay’s Background
Mr. Lay’s road to the Outstanding New Lawyer Award was long and filled with public service. A native Stocktonian, Mr. Lay began his public service while he was a student at Stagg High School—and forged his fighting spirit on the wrestling team. He was in student government while in college at U.C. Davis, where he also served as Legislative Aide Assistant to then-California State Senator Elaine K. Alquist. He spent his summers in college as a volunteer counselor at Cal Aggie Camp, serving foster and group home youth.
After graduating from U.C. Davis, Mr. Lay worked for the San Joaquin County Department of Education in several capacities, all aimed at furthering the educational and employment prospects for at-risk youth, who include high-school dropouts, former gang members, and teenage parents. He then went to law school at University of San Francisco. While in law school, Mr. Lay interned at the Public Defenders’ Offices in San Joaquin County and San Francisco. Ever ready to help those who need it, he represented adult and juvenile clients as part of the U.S.F. Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic. He also volunteered assisting attorneys with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) requests, and taught the U.S.F. Street Law class at the City College of San Francisco. He graduated from U.S.F. with a Public Interest Certificate in addition to his Juris Doctor.
Mr. Lay’s Emerging Career
Public defense is a unique kind of law practice. As a public defender, you cannot reasonably expect most people outside the legal field to appreciate or understand what you do. You are unlikely to become rich doing the work, or to become famous, or to have your career celebrated within or without the bar. You can expect to lose many trials and motions—even those you think you should win. You cannot depend on respect or gratitude from anyone, much less the clients you are trying to help. They may not actually want your help, and frequently they do not like what you have to tell them. One thing you can expect from the work is plenty of it. Many times, the work seems long on grind and short on glory. For a chosen few like Mr. Lay, such a practice is their preferred element.
There are those who are hired to work as public defenders, and others who are born to be public defenders. Mr. Lay appears to be of the second sort. While in law school, he interned at two different Public Defender’s offices, and when he was not able to immediately secure a position in Stockton, he nonetheless served as a public defender, first in Tulare County and then in Orange County. In Orange County, Mr. Lay completed 20 misdemeanor jury trials in less than two years, seven of which resulted in acquittal for his client. In August of 2017, Mr. Lay returned home to serve in the San Joaquin County Public Defender’s Office. In his year serving as part of the misdemeanor team here, Mr. Lay completed nine jury trials, four of which resulted in acquittal for his client. After having had such success in the misdemeanor courts, Mr. Lay now serves in the felony courts in Stockton.
Mr. Lay’s Service to the Community
In addition to his heavy workload and extensive trial schedule, Mr. Lay has found time to do a significant amount of volunteer work providing service to the underserved population of San Joaquin County, as well as educating others about the legal profession and what we do.
Mr. Lay devotes a substantial amount of time as attorney coach for the award-winning U.C. Davis Mock Trial Team. He also serves as an attorney scorer for the high school students in the San Joaquin County Mock Trial competition, which is sponsored by the San Joaquin County Bar Foundation. Additionally, Mr. Lay helps introduce local fifth-grade students to the legal system as part the San Joaquin County Bar’s First Impressions Program. Mr. Lay also volunteers in the local expungement clinic.
Mr. Lay’s Future…?
Still a young person, Mr. Lay has already exhibited the characteristics of an outstanding advocate and is sure to be a future leader of the bar. We look to his career with interest. In the meantime, perhaps he will slow down long enough to savor the moment of receiving the well-deserved Outstanding New Lawyer Award.