Taking What Comes: The Ever Adaptable Warren Pulley
Children of military members transferred from station to station through highly mobile childhoods often reflect on the difficulties presented by such a migratory early life. Problems of resistance to change, feelings of rootlessness, hesitation to commit to friendships they fear will be gone with the parent’s next duty transfer.
Boxer & Gerson Associate Attorney Warren Pulley, son of a career naval chief, reports no such feelings.
Born in the naval town of Annapolis, Maryland, Pulley went to 10 different schools before he graduated from high school in San Diego. That was his father’s last stop on a 25-year career, where he then retired during his youngest son’s senior year. (Pulley has an older brother and sister and a younger sister.) The multiple youthful locales (Maryland, Florida, South Carolina, California) left Pulley with no scars, psychic or otherwise, he reports. “Mostly, I just learned to make the best of every situation, and adapt to what is in front of me.”
That skill set seems to have served him well throughout his life, including a legal career that now sees him solidly rooted with his third firm over three decades.
Pulley joined Boxer & Gerson on New Year’s Day, 2016, an occasion he marked by leaving the football games to others while he came into the firm’s home office at a nearly deserted Ogawa Plaza in Oakland to get himself oriented to his new post. The day before, he officially ended his 15-year partnership in the well-regarded Pulley & Cohen, a workers’ compensation firm working the defense side of the table, where he occasionally squared off against Boxer & Gerson attorneys.
Those attorneys had long noted Pulley’s preparation and work ethic, and the workers’ comp community being small and collegial as it is, they would sometimes only half-jokingly tell him over lunch or a chance meeting at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, “You should come over to our side.”
Pulley, however, was secure as a founder of his own firm who had been named the State Bar Workers’ Compensation Defense Attorney of the Year in 2012. Having carved out a reputation and huge swath of business for his firm with school districts and other public agencies by winning a landmark 2008 case, he would not have been considered ripe for being lured away.
So for years, Boxer & Gerson attorneys mostly limited their invitations to occasional banter.
What they weren’t so much aware of was Pulley’s growing unease with defending against workers’ comp claims from individuals he could clearly see were not in the best of circumstances. And then there were the administrative burdens of running a small firm with some half dozen or so attorneys.
I had all the headaches of running a business, but I really just wanted to be an attorney.
“I was carrying a full caseload but also dealing with employee benefits, which health insurance to go with, payroll services, 401K programs, you name it,” he says. “I had all the headaches of running a business, but I really just wanted to be an attorney.”
Cue forward to a day when Pulley was enjoying a lunch with Boxer & Gerson Partners Gary Lee and Julius Young, the talk momentarily turning again to how Pulley should consider swinging over to the applicant side. Instead of the usual demurrals, Pulley remembers asking, “So O.K.—what would that look like? Let’s talk about this.”
Eyebrows shot up.
“I think I kind of shocked them,” Pulley chuckles. “But we talked some, then I went to visit John Harrigan (managing partner at the time) to see what it would take. The firm was very accommodating. After a meeting with my partner Marc Cohen, we hammered out the details of our split and left on good terms.”
It’s not that Pulley grew up with visions of prowling a courtroom stirring his imagination. His earliest career goal followed from a part-time job in high school job assisting a San Diego dentist in whatever needed doing around the office and adjacent lab.
“I didn’t like dentistry all that much; I just liked the dentist I worked for,” he remembers. “He was a cool dude, so when I graduated from high school and headed north to USF, I decided to major in biology and then go to dental school.”
Things were proceeding on that track when Pulley came to a revelation in his senior year: “I realized I didn’t like science all that much.”
Knowing that would pose something of a problem through dental school and a subsequent career in the field, he began considering alternatives. Then something else appeared in front of him: a casual group conversation with other students discussing post-graduate plans.
“One guy said he was going to law school. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, that sounds fine.’ I’d had an English teacher who really encouraged my writing, and I knew there would be plenty of that in the law.”
So within a few figurative blinks of an eye, he started applying to law schools near and far, with Creighton University in Nebraska, a noted Jesuit school like USF, offering him a scholarship package that was “just too good to pass up.”
As it happened, he had also grown to like San Francisco just fine during his undergrad years, so during his second year of law school be began searching for internship opportunities in the Bay Area. He landed one with Mullen & Fillippi, a large national firm specializing in worker’s compensation defense, with an office in San Francisco.
A year later, law degree in hand, he accepted a job offer from the firm, contingent upon his passing the bar exam, which he did a few months later.
Pulley stayed just over a decade with the firm, ascending to associate partner after only two years, senior partner after five, and crossing the bay to help open the firm’s Oakland office in 1995. By the time the new millennium came around, however, he and his colleague Marc Cohen saw no reason why they shouldn’t hang a shingle bearing their names and explore the merits of running their own firm.
The rest is the history that eventually led Pulley to Boxer & Gerson.
“I tell people I didn’t find workers’ comp—workers’ comp found me,” Pulley muses during an interview from his office where he usually spends at least a part of most Saturdays trying to clear his desk and keep up with the 200+ cases on his docket at any given time.
“What I did find is that I had a passion for the law. And one of the great things about being on the applicant side is that when you’re working for the defense, you might touch five files in a day. But here, I can dip in and out of 20 files a day. I like being busy.”
Once he does manage to look up from those files, Pulley can often be found prowling music stores to feed an acknowledged weakness for adding to his ever-growing CD collection. (Fellow music aficionados may be sympathetic to his continuing grief over the closure of the Tower Records store on Bay and Columbus, a San Francisco fixture from 1968-2006, where Pulley was known to spend many a Friday evening.)
He collects across all genres, he says, though more of it is shaded toward ‘80s and ‘90s R&B, hip hop, and new wave. He was pleased recently to be alighting for a Janet Jackson concert at the Warriors’ new arena in San Francisco after his Saturday stint at the office.
“Boxer & Gerson is a much more collegial environment than I have ever experienced before,” he relates. “My door here is always open, and I enjoy the atmosphere of being able to discuss different strategies in handling a case. It’s nice to be talking about those things rather than having employees walk in to complain about someone else having a bigger desk. It adds up to this being a very cool gig.”