No Wonder You Were Afraid to Ask. Happy Birthday! Dorothy Fernandez. Legally she’s a Philanthropist.


Dorothy Fernandez was born in San Francisco – right at the Kaiser on Geary Street. She said, “I am basically almost back where I started by a roundabout path that took me to Wyoming, then Stanford, then to the East Coast (to Harvard), back to San Francisco, and then to the East Bay (Berkeley).” Dorothy added, “At some point in my adolescence, as a gay person, I realized I probably needed to come out to the San Francisco Bay Area. (Pun intended). And, after I worked at Lambda Legal Defense (in LA), during law school, there were few places I could probably get a job as an out lesbian attorney (this was in the mid-90s) — and the Bay Area was one of them. Once you live here, it’s very hard to leave. There is a lot of natural beauty, people from all over the world, a lot to do and see, and it’s still pretty casual.”

When asked what she is most proud of Dorothy said, “I have probably done a lot to be proud of, in many ways, but some of it took so much blood, sweat, and tears that after I accomplished it I didn’t really feel a sense of pride, so much as a sense of relief or exhaustion. Becoming a partner at a major law firm probably falls into that category. A small percentage of attorneys make partner at a top law firm and among those, it’s even a smaller percentage of women. So, in a lot of ways it is amazing I was able to accomplish that. And it was very financially rewarding. I feel I really earned that opportunity, but it was never something that I think, at base, I was proud of. I could never equate it with saving someone’s life or even necessarily making the world a better place. The thing I am probably prouder of, was being able to walk away from that position and lifestyle and step back, take a drastic pay cut, and start spending the second part of my career (and hopefully the rest of it, and into retirement), working on doing more to really make myself proud.”

Dorothy continued, “It’s kind of funny, but I don’t think I really have one passion. I feel strongly about a lot of things and am willing to work hard and to give of myself for different causes, but I don’t have one strong cause that just pulls me. In some ways, I think that this is a good fit for my job as a pro bono counsel at a large international law firm. Working with the other pro bono counsel, I help facilitate a myriad of different pro bono projects across the globe- ranging from working with veterans’ to get the appropriate benefits, defending people facing evictions, helping low-income inventors file for patents, advising non-profits, helping unaccompanied minor immigrants in Europe, to litigating headline cases, like our case before the U.S. Supreme Court which seeks to ensure women have safe access to abortions. Every week I might touch a couple dozen different types of matters and I think if I had a passion for just one aspect of my work, it might not be as easy to do.”

The interview ended with the following funny story Dorothy shared about her days teaching law school. She said, “I taught law school for about 9 months. I loved it. One of the classes was an online course and at one point in the semester, I arranged to meet the students one-on-one, at various locations convenient to them. I had no idea what they looked like. I went to a coffee house for one of the appointed meetings and introduced myself to one of the guys in line, who looked about the age of a law student. Turns out he indeed was a law student with the same first name as the student I was meeting. We chatted in line and then I invited him to sit with me and we must have talked for about 10 minutes- he told me how school was going, what his plans were, etc…, kind of what I would have expected and he seemed really interested in sharing what was going on in his life. He then said he had to run to a law school-related activity, so I wished him the best of luck with the rest of his semester and we had a friendly goodbye. Afterward, I walked outside, my wife was waiting in the car, and I said- “I just talked to this guy and his first name was X, just like my student, but … I know this is going to sound odd because I just had a 10-minute chat with this guy, but I’m not really sure he was my student.” Just then I got a text from my actual student telling me he was running late! This story exemplifies the randomness of my life at times. And the fact I feel like I find myself in odd situations (or situations where something is amiss or I’m a bit out of place), but often they work out fine and in the end I’m the only person who realizes there may have been something strange going on.”

What is one meal or food you could eat every day and not get tired of?

Nachos. I could pretty much eat some type of nachos every day and (I think) not get sick of it. Second on the list would probably be fried rice.

What is your favorite City?

This is a tough question. I realized recently I am not necessarily a big city person- I often prefer being in nature. But, there are a few cities I really enjoy. Internationally, I’d have to say that Rome is probably one of my favorite cities. Where else can you just be walking down the street and run into archeological sites and ancient buildings. It’s like walking through a history museum with a thousand great cafes where you can stop and get an espresso or wonderful Italian food and wine. One of the buildings I love the most is the Pantheon– it’s one of the oldest buildings in the world- it’s really remarkable to stand in it and think that almost 2000 years ago someone was standing right where you are standing now. Perhaps the most beautiful city I have visited, however, is Dubrovnik, Croatia- if you watch Game of Thrones, you know it better as — King’s Landing. Yes, it really is that beautiful and more so. Being in the city, inside the walls, with the worn and shiny cobblestones really does feel like being in a dream. In the U.S., I have to confess that I like Las Vegas. It’s really a city where you can do something any hour of the day. You can walk down The Strip in the middle of the night and it feels absolutely normal, in fact possibly expected. You can also be very anonymous there, something that is appealing to me.

Name a place you would like to visit?

I would like to visit Bhutan. Several years ago while on a work trip, I opened up an airline magazine and read an article about Bhutan that intrigued me. The idea that happiness really matters struck a chord with me. Since then I’ve wanted to visit.

Do you have a pet? What’s its name? How’d it get that name? Supply a picture.

I have 3 pets! Sarah, a cat, is the oldest- just over 20 years old. The rescue that I adopted her from had named her after Sarah Ferguson. Snoop, a cat, is the middle child. She is about 12 years old. She was named after the character Snoop from the Wire. And Fergus, the dog, is the baby of the house at about 5. He is also loosely named after Sarah Ferguson, but when we read the Yeats poem Who Goes with Fergus, we knew it was a perfect fit.



Do you think humans should be concerned about the planet?

Yes, definitely. I think we owe it to ourselves, and future generations, to care about the planet. Regardless of whether you believe in global warming, it’s illogical and inefficient to be wasteful. The more “stuff” we use and throw out, the more “stuff” needs to be produced and the more space needs to be set aside to hold the “stuff” we’ve thrown away. Reducing, reusing, and recycling is just common sense. Buying less and using fewer saves your money and re-using can save you time. I wasn’t always great at this, but living in the SF Bay Area helps bring this to the forefront and, of course, having a brother like Big T who sets an example is also super helpful too!

What is one attribute you got from your Mom? How has it been a benefit to your life? What is one attribute you got from your Dad? How has it been a benefit to your life?

I’m answering these two questions jointly because both of my parents instilled in me a love of animals. They are both very soft-hearted when it comes to animals and they find great joy in their company. Growing up, the pets in our house were treated just like family. We played with them, teased them, and grieved them upon their passing. When I see kids growing up without pets it makes me sad.

What is your favorite accent?

This is a tough one, but I think I’m going to have to go with Irish.

What is one thing you would like to learn before you die?

I’d like to be fluent in Spanish. I took classes in high school and a little in college, but then abandoned it for several years. I’m now taking regular classes, but it is slow going. While it is much harder to learn as a mature adult, I feel like I now have a greater appreciation for the language. I would encourage anyone who has something they have put on the back burner like this to just go for it.


What was the first album, cd, download you owned?

I don’t remember my first album, but my first 45 was probably something by Barry Manilow. And I saw him perform live for the first time in Vegas a year or two ago and he put on a great show.

Have you ever seen anyone perform a miracle?

I attended the birth of a baby human and that may be the closest thing to a miracle I will ever see.

What was the first concert you attended?

The first real concert I ever attended (meaning besides school and church concerts!) was seeing Sting at Red Rocks in Denver, in 1988. It was a big deal for me and my friends to drive down to Denver from Wyoming. And, I had no idea Red Rocks was so beautiful. Sting was great and I think he even sang Home on the Range!

Do you think if you left the US to live in another country that you would fear to lose the “freedoms” we have here?

No. There are several countries I would live in, at least for a while, and not worry about being “less free.” In fact, in many countries, I might have more rights and freedoms.

If you won the lottery what 3 things would you do first

Scream like crazy, figure out how to cash in the ticket, and find an appropriate wealth manager. And yes, I’ve thought about this a lot.

What’s the longest road trip you have ever taken?

I’ve taken several long road trips. The longest trip, which was solo, was San Francisco to Boston (via the southern route and then up through the East Coast). The second longest trip was the reverse, Boston back to San Francisco (via the middle-of-the-country route); and then the third longest was probably from Wheatland, Wyoming to Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico, and that was with my parents and youngest brother, Cody. I really enjoy road trips and being in the middle of nowhere with the radio playing or a CD- just looking out at a wide-open landscape and feeling a bit removed from everything for a while.

What is your favorite restaurant?

My favorite restaurant is Taco Bell. I know that will horrify many people. I think they put drugs in their food, it’s very addictive. The addiction factor, plus the fact it is inexpensive, and available 24 hours a day is dangerous. Despite my love for Taco Bell, I probably go there no more than 3 or 4 times a year.

What is your favorite game to gamble at?

I like gambling at slot machines in Las Vegas. I can zone out, relax, and have someone constantly bring me free drinks. I think this appeals to me because my work (particularly in the past, not as much now), always required constant engagement and intensity- either having to think through difficult issues and questions, being on the ball and managing several people and tasks, or having to be in control of situations like client meetings and depositions. Sitting in front of a slot machine, pushing a button (or in the old days, pulling an arm), requires none of that!

Lisa, Dorothy's wife.
Lisa, Dorothy’s wife.

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