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Fred Alvarez proves that nice guys don’t always finish last. Lawyers, judges, mediators and clients all speak of his ability and his integrity. “Fred is an honorable guy,” says one plaintiffs attorney. “He’s very knowledgeable and very experienced. I trust Fred. I trust him a lot.” Alvarez is the head of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s employment law group. When a big Silicon Valley corporation has a sticky employment issue, Alvarez says, “They call Larry [Sonsini] and say, �Get me your guy.’” Alvarez is the guy. There is a perception in some quarters that the soft-spoken, gentlemanly Alvarez isn’t interested in trial work. “Fred’s got spunk and a spirit,” said another plaintiffs lawyer, “but I don’t think he’s looking to kick anyone’s ass at trial anymore.” Actually, though, Alvarez, 54, tried two cases last year. One ended in a defense verdict, Alvarez says, and the other came out even better — a $1 million verdict for Alvarez’s client on a cross-complaint. “I won my first plaintiff’s verdict,” Alvarez beams. He does not describe it as an “ass kicking.” Alvarez, originally from Las Cruces, N.M., graduated from Stanford Law School and began his career as a National Labor Relations Board lawyer, working to protect employee rights. After leaving the government, he worked briefly as a securities lawyer, then established an employment practice in New Mexico. He served for four years as a commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Reagan and then-EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas. “I’m very proud of what I did at the EEOC,” Alvarez says. “Everyone expected us to turn out the lights. But we didn’t. We made it more efficient and enforced the law better.” Alvarez also was assistant secretary of Labor in the late 1980s, in charge of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. His work for the government had an added benefit: learning what it means to be a manager of a large organization. For example, “I got deposed five or six times while I was in government,” he says. “So I talk to clients from the point of view of having been deposed, rather than having taken depositions.” Alvarez relocated to San Francisco in 1989 and joined what was then Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro — the firm his mother had worked for as a legal secretary when Alvarez was a boy. In 1999 he was given the opportunity to launch Wilson Sonsini’s employment group. It has since grown from three lawyers to 19. Today much of Alvarez’s work involves guiding clients through audits and other regulatory work conducted by his former agencies. “His relationship with the agencies is very good,” says one client, an employment lawyer at a Fortune 500 company. “They know him and respect him. And he knows how the agencies work.” Alvarez admits, though, that he wonders sometimes if he’s too nice. “A lot of people in employment law market themselves as the baddest son of a bitch on the block,” he says. “If we end up in front of a jury, and I’m the baddest son of a bitch on the block, then my client looks like the baddest son of a bitch on the block.” In the end, his feeling is, “I’ll be the lawyer. You be the client. Look at my results.”

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