Allison Margolin, 33, is speaking rapidly and interchangeably into two phones. Scribbling notes with her right hand and gesturing with her left, she punctuates points by emphatically tapping her 3-inch-stiletto-heeled boot on the floor.
It’s 10 a.m., and Margolin, dressedin skintight leopard-print pants, a striped T-shirt and oversize glasses, is working from home. The nanny for her 2-year-old daughter is off this week, which means the single mom is on child-care duty.
Two assistants help manage her calls. And as Los Angeles’ self-proclaimed “Dopest Attorney” — arguably one of the most recognizable local faces for criminal defense in marijuana cases — her phone lines are hardly ever quiet.
The Cultivation of a Dope Attorney
Born and raised in Southern California, Margolin comes by her specialization honestly; her father is attorney Bruce Margolin, who has been defending marijuana cases for more than 40 years. The elder Margolin also serves as the director of the Los Angeles chapter of theNational Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and his client list has included such famous drug-dabblers as Timothy Leary.
Growing up in Beverly Hills, Allison Margolin attended Temple Emanuel Academy Day School and Beverly Hills High School before heading East for Columbia University and then Harvard Law School. As an undergraduate, she edited the school newspaper and committed herself to studying. “Since I was 8 years old,” she said, “I’ve been very disciplined.”
After graduating law school and moving back to Los Angeles, Margolin worked with her father briefly before being given a case by a friend of her mother’s — also a criminal defense attorney — and in 2004, she opened a private practice operating out of the Flynt Building.
That same year, Margolin began to market herself. She took out ads in local alternative papers, describing herself as “L.A.’s Dopest Attorney,” some of which featured her wearing dark sunglasses or fishnet stockings.
The ads didn’t necessarily help her drum up business, she said, but they did make her a quasi-celebrity: “They kind of got me well-known ... and led to other press.”
Margolin remained in her Wilshire Boulevard office for six years, growing her client list and her reputation. This month, she packed it up and moved a few blocks north, to partner with her father.
Inside the Margolin Operation
The office that Allison and Bruce Margolin share with three other attorneys is in a small building, just south of the Sunset Strip. In the waiting room, a large coffee table is stacked with magazines — including High Times and SPIN, as well as “The Margolin Guide” to state and federal marijuana laws, an instructional booklet written by Bruce Margolin.
Zach Lodmer, 30, walks into the waiting room with a big grin. As one of the firm’s newer associates, he’s adjusting to the transition of working as a criminal defense attorney after having been a prosecutor for two years — a switch that he calls part of “an epiphany.”
Working with the Margolins is, Lodmer said, “a trip.” But Allison’s frenetic personal style belies what he calls an “absolutely amazing” courtroom technique.
“I’ve seen nearly 120 closing arguments [in my career],” he said. “She was the best I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Of about 12 cases that Margolin has argued in court, only two have resulted in sentences that were worse than what the district attorney originally offered. One was a client charged with identity theft, and the other was a DUI case, in which her client received community service in addition to standard DUI fines and penalties.
Margolin estimates that 60 to 70 percent of her cases are marijuana-related, and this fall, her area of expertise has become particularly topical. As an outspoken advocate of Proposition 19, which would legalize growth and possession of small amounts of marijuana, Margolin — who rattles off historical facts about prohibition and drug law as effortlessly as if she were reading the ingredients on a cereal box — has participated in several debates about the subject and has more scheduled leading up to the Nov. 2 vote.
She has yet to be impressed with the opposition’s arguments.
“This [one] guy said one of the health risks of marijuana is obesity,” she said incredulously, leaning forward and peering over the rim of her glasses, “because people get the munchies.”
Family Comes First
While her professional life has taken off, there’s no question that the central force in Margolin’s life is her family.
Back at her apartment, her 85-year-old grandmother — a Holocaust survivor — has stopped by for a visit. After letting herself in and promptly requesting a change in lighting, she sits down at the kitchen table to play with the baby and watch her granddaughter in action.
“I don’t know how she does it,” she says of Margolin’s deft juggling of work and family.
But the young attorney shows no signs of slowing down and, in fact, seems to thrive on the constant buzz of energy that surrounds her. After fielding a call from a worried client, Margolin hands off the phone before moving on to another task.
Taking the receiver from his boss, her assistant speaks calmly: “99 percent of the time,” he reassures the caller, “when she says that it will be OK, it is.”