After 50 years of high-drama litigation, Santa Barbara attorney Barry Cappello knows the difference between a seasoned trial lawyer and a palooka. “The difference between attorneys in trial skill is immense,” he said. “The problem is the public doesn’t know.” The other problem, he said, is that the art and craft of trial lawyering is not taught in law school. “You’ll learn torts, you’ll learn rules of evidence, you’ll learn a lot of things,” he said. “But you won’t learn how to stand, how to address a judge, how to open a case, how to make closing remarks, and how to cross-examine a witness.”
To rectify this, Cappello donated $1 million to his alma mater, UCLA School of Law, as part of an initiative to integrate trial skills into the curriculum. After graduating from UCLA’s law school, Cappello landed a gig with the state Attorney General’s office, where he was farmed out to local governments facing unique legal challenges. That brought him to Santa Barbara, when a new arrival to town named Gus Chavalas alleged there was something crooked about the high rates then being charged by the local garbage company.
Due in part to Cappello’s interventions, that garbage company was given the boot and new vendors got the franchise. Chavalas would go on to run for mayor and win. That was the early 1970s. Since then, Cappello has tried thousands of cases, earning settlements, he estimated, in excess of $1 billion. Cappello, now pushing 75, is still practicing law. “I like it,” he said. “So why not keep doing it?”