Hey, Dude. I OBJECT.

By David J. Jefferson
(The Wall Street Journal)


People who start small law firms also like to do things their way. In Los Angeles, this can take on a California cast. When Don Howarth left a big Los Angeles law firm seven years ago to start up a trial law firm, Howarth & Smith, he brought his surfboard with him. And he wasted no time immersing his staff in California surf culture.

Copies of "Surfer" magazine are strewn about the office, and seascapes painted by Mr. Howarth's wife hang on the walls. Mr. Howarth proudly points out to visitors that the "wave action" in the paintings is technically accurate from a surfer's viewpoint. Mr. Howarth, 45, had a huge saltwater aquarium with a living reef constructed in the office.

In court, the attorney often peppers his closing arguments with surfing metaphors; one recent courtroom speech about a missed opportunity became the tale of "a wave that passed you by," he says. And the firm's 22 lawyers and their spouses attend an annual retreat in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where Mr. Howarth arranges group surfing activities and shows beginners how to hang 10. "I tried surfing with him once and I almost got killed," says partner Suzelle Smith.