The Child was Father of the Lawyer

The birth of his first son moved Mark Teuton to become an attorney

Published in 2004 Southern California Rising Stars — September 2004

It took him longer than most lawyers, but when Mark Teuton became “curious to see what I’m capable of,” his career, indeed his life, shot off like a rocket.

Now a rising star in employment law in the firm he founded, Teuton, Loewy & Parker, Teuton took until his mid-20s to get to that moment of curiosity. Not surprising, really. No one in his family had graduated from high school, much less gone to college. In high school he thought about becoming a lawyer, but “it seemed like something for other people.”

Teuton’s grandfather was a New England shipbuilder, and his father worked in the shipyards, too. But then Hollywood beckoned and the family moved to California. Like multitudes before him, Teuton’s father never made it in the movies. Instead, he ended up working as a hod carrier on construction sites. It was hard physical labor, carrying supplies to masons and bricklayers on his shoulders. So it was a relief when he discovered he could provide a good life for his wife and five boys in Whittier by selling wholesale office furniture.

As No. 2 son, Teuton grew up in a life filled with sports and music. For baseball games, the brothers simply collected their bats and mitts and walked down the railroad tracks to the local ballfield. Basketball was no farther away than the hoop in the driveway. His father played acoustic guitar and deliberately left his instrument around. Teuton picked it up at age 6 and has never stopped playing. He has a small recording studio in his house, where he composes songs to relax and for the pleasure of family and friends.

Teuton was a smart kid, but not an intellectual. When you ask him what he liked about high school, he lists “getting more freedom, going to parties, going to the beach,” but not one academic subject. A’s and B’s came his way with little effort until his parents’ divorce, when he lost focus and his grades dropped. No big deal. He wasn’t even thinking about taking the SATs.

But when you ask him what he hated about high school, you get a preview of the lawyer to be. His driver’s ed. teacher is seared into memory as the guy who made him wait an extra year to get his learner’s permit merely because he was “two minutes late to class” that day. A whole year of getting “hauled around” by his more mobile buddies. A passion for justice was born.

He went to Colorado Mountain College for a year, and enjoyed the skiing, but not enough to stick around for a B.A.

So on to a career in sales like his dad, selling products as diverse as orthopedic supplies for sports medicine clinics and insurance and financial investments. But something happened when Teuton himself became a father. He started thinking about himself as a provider, a role model. With wife Patrice Teuton also in sales, the family was doing all right financially, but he knew he didn’t want to be selling 10 to15 years down the road. He decided on the law.

Working full-time, he took classes at night and finished his undergraduate work in a year and a half.

Then on to Loyola Law School. Now Patrice became the family’s sole financial support, and the family was growing. A second son was born during his second semester.

Teuton found himself working longer hours as a full-time student than he had while working full-time and going to school part-time. He was in his late 20s and, like many older students, was “hungry for learning.” Just completing the assignment didn’t satisfy him; he had to master the issue. He thrived on the intellectual stimulation.

And, of course, he was curious to see what he was capable of if he “studied hard.”

He was capable of graduating cum laude, in the top 5 percent of his class, with a string of honors after his name.

He practiced contracts with his 2-year-old. If it was time to play, Jonathan was to inform him of the fact. Jonathan held up his end of the bargain, and Teuton found that play breaks actually helped him study better.

Patrice, Teuton says, “was a dynamo.” The family is still thriving together. The law school babies are 13 and 10, while their youngest child, a daughter, is 4. Patrice has become a full-time mom, the anchor of the neighborhood.

After graduation, Teuton found his passion in employment law, working first at O’Melveny & Myers and then at Payne & Fears. He defended claims of sexual harassment, wage and hour violations, unfair labor practices and unfair competition.

He is drawn to “the human element” of employment law, as opposed to the issues of “a company that didn’t receive its widgets on time.” When doing a rotation between employment law and litigation departments, he noticed that he was pulled to the stack of materials in the employment case, as if it were “a book that’s a page turner.”

But he wanted to increase his scope and work for plaintiffs as well as defendants. So he left to form a one-man practice in 2003, which expanded this year with the addition of Robert G. Loewy and Kenneth G. Parker, litigators and former O’Melveny colleagues.

Teuton recently concluded a sexual-harassment case that he finds particularly intriguing because, at the beginning, the plaintiff “really didn’t want anything except an apology.” He adds, “She would have walked away if they had said, ‘We were wrong. We’re sorry.’ But they dug in their heels and we ultimately ended up with a six-figure settlement.”

People need to be heard. One connection that Teuton sees between selling and practicing law is that both require you to be an effective listener — to perceive what the speaker really wants.

Another connection between the two professions is his drive toward accomplishing goals. But sales “seemed like an endless treadmill,” he explains. “Every quarter you start over. With the law, you’re creating a base of knowledge that you build on.”

In a small firm, Teuton gets more control over the amount of time he invests in building that base: “If I want to spend a whole day to research something, I can.”

So a hard-driving achiever. But what’s he like to work with?

A good way to judge a person is to ask the opinion of his or her lowliest employee. Rachel Riggs, 16, works for Teuton after school doing filing and other office work. Here’s Rachel’s assessment: “Mark’s like my favorite person. Well, my favorite adult person. He makes you feel comfortable. He has this happiness that he sends out around him. If I ever needed any help, I’d totally go ask him for it. He’s awesome.”

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