O Coach, My Coach

What Lester J. Friedman learned from John Wooden

Published in 2015 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2015

In his mission to best represent his clients, Lester J. Friedman cites the influence of one man. It’s not another lawyer; it’s a basketball coach.

“John Wooden was my teacher, and he was a teacher,” says Friedman, who was a student-manager for the UCLA Bruins during the beginning of the team’s history-making 88-game undefeated streak in the early 1970s. “This man would have been successful in any vocation he decided to go into. It happened to be teaching, and teaching young men basketball. He coached, but he was [foremost] a teacher.”

Friedman, who heads up his eponymous workers’ compensation firm in Beverly Hills with his son Joshua, considers himself lucky to have spent time around Wooden.

“When we were leaving the arena, he would always say—and this has always guided me—‘I want that room to be left in the same condition as when we walked into it, if not better,’” says Friedman, a father of four and grandfather of five. “So whenever we would be leaving a locker room, Coach and I would be the last to leave, and he would be picking up towels and the orange peels and the trash with me. It showed me that no matter how great you are or respected you are, you’re no better than the janitor that’s coming in after you. Why shouldn’t you clean it up? Why leave it for someone else to do it?

“He would always treat everyone with the utmost respect, just absolutely courteous to any serviceperson or bus driver. In my practice I represent injured workers, and the injured workers are generally not the most affluent people in our society and need the most amount of help. And I think that’s one of the reasons I went into doing the type of work I do: because you have to take care of everyone, not just the people who are more fortunate than you are.”

Friedman hasn’t left basketball or the Bruins behind. These days, the 1976 graduate of Southwestern University School of Law is the official scorer for UCLA men’s basketball. Nights and weekends during basketball season, he can be found sitting courtside, working with the referees to make sure the game is played right.

“I’m the person that sits at center court with the striped shirt, and whenever an official makes a call, I’m the one who records it. That’s all. The real workhorses are the referees. … They all work full time and they’re officiating three, four nights a week all because they love and respect the game.”

Much like Friedman.

He’s also a board member of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, a group of attorneys who represent workers with disabilities and strive to improve the system. “The association work that I do is pro bono,” says Friedman. “I think that’s part of what Coach would have expected.”

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