California's most potent strain of cannabis lawyers
Passion drove them to the top of their profession, yet the partners at Manzuri Law are more than just high-powered attorneys fighting for their clients, they’re advocates dedicated to changing the way the world sees cannabis justice. Heads Lifestyle talked to the 420 Attorneys about the solidarity and strength of an all-female team, seizing a trailblazing opportunity and how cannabis has defined their lives and careers.
Heads Lifestyle: We have so many questions to ask you about Manzuri Law, but first let’s start with the basics: when was the firm founded?
Meital: 2010. I chose to start the firm because I was a young woman and I knew that I wanted a family but would not be able to have the quality time I wanted with my children while working at a conventional law firm.
HL: How did you become known as the 420 Attorneys?
Meital: One day, Alexa and I were driving to court and we started talking about Instagram. I told her we had the @420attorneys Twitter account but that I wasn’t very active on it. She started looking to see if the account was available on IG, and low and behold it was, and we started growing the account from there. That was probably around 2015.
HL: How big is Manzuri Law?
Meital: Three partners, ten admin including law clerks and support staff.
Manzuri Law from left to right: Managing partner, Meital Manzuri with partners Alexa Steinberg and Michelle Mabugat
HL: Let’s talk about cannabis. What came first: cannabis or the law?
Meital: Cannabis came first but cannabis law combined all things I’m passionate about, including entrepreneurship and trailblazing.
HL: Was cannabis always part of your personal lives?
Meital: Yes. I grew up with a lot of trauma in my childhood and cannabis has always been my go-to medication for relief from anxiety or depression as they may arise.
Michelle: Cannabis has been a part of my life since I was 13 years old, when I took my first hit out of a blue plastic bong.
HL: Were you in the right place at the right time to found a niche firm dedicated to cannabis law and do you considerate it a fortunate stroke of serendipity bringing together two passions?
Meital: All of the above! Right place, right time, seized the niche opportunity, and a great stroke of serendipity bringing together the two passions!
One of the things people should know about us is that we’re more than just attorneys in this space, we’re advocates
HL: Managing partner, Meital Manzuri has a longstanding relationship with the cannabis community from working on Ed Rosenthal’s case to teaching at Oaksterdam. How did you each first enter the cannabis space?
Meital: Ed Rosenthal’s case was the first federal criminal case that I worked on, but before that I had worked at the Jerry Garcia estate helping with IP issues and transactions. I also lived in Amsterdam while I was working in The Hague so it all came together so nicely right at the time when I was making serious career choices.
Michelle: Completely by accident. During law school, I developed a passion for criminal law while I was an extern for the California Court of Appeal back in 2010. After that externship, I spammed a bunch of criminal defence attorneys in Los Angeles desperate for the chance to learn their craft. One of the criminal defence attorneys who reached back out to me happened to be one of the first cannabis attorneys to ever practice in this space. As they say, the rest is history.
HL: You are very forthcoming about your cannabis consumption, especially on Instagram. Did you ever worry it could hinder your career?
Meital: There was a moment when we seriously considered whether it would be bad to come out about being cannabis consumers and some have had negative feedback about it, but ultimately we are part of the normalization movement and thought this was essential to destigmatize the plant.
Michelle: One of the things people should know about us is that we’re more than just attorneys in this space, we’re advocates. As advocates, we wanted to make sure we did our part to break the social stigma associated with cannabis and bring it to the mainstream. We ultimately felt that it would be hypocritical of us to push every day for the de-stigmatization of the plant if we, ourselves, hid our usage for fear of being judged.
Wonder Women—Manzuri Law getting the big wins for their clients.
HL: We love busting cannabis myths. Tell us about being functional potheads?
Meital: Cannabis is different for every single person and for some it works as a motivator and for others it works as a relaxant. For me, cannabis has led to extreme personal and professional growth and has been an essential part of my evolution as a person and as an attorney. Like any substance or medication, there is a time and a place to consume and we are all responsible with our use. We love celebrating the end of the day with a communal joint.
We love celebrating the end of the day with a communal joint
HL: What do your parents think about raising daughters that became the 420 Attorneys?
Meital: I think all of us are fortunate enough to have supportive parents that recognize our hard work and accomplishments.
Michelle: When I was in middle school, my parents grounded me for weeks when they found a dime bag that I had hidden inside the slot of my VCR player. Fast forward 20 years, they now constantly brag to their friends about the groundbreaking work that I do and how proud of me they are! Keep in mind; both my parents are Filipino immigrants who were raised in strict Catholic homes. It’s also widely known that President Duterte has been hell-bent on wiping out drugs in the Philippines and has even pushed for the death penalty for cannabis traffickers. When you view it from this cultural context, my parents’ support is even more remarkable and I couldn’t be happier to make them proud. It definitely took my parents some time to become comfortable with my profession though.
HL: How does cannabis law differ from the law you were practicing before Manzuri Law? Are you considered rebel lawyers?
Meital: Cannabis law has always been a part of my career and as an early adopter I have always embraced a trailblazing professional path.
Solidarity and strength—the partners support each other which translates to their success.
HL: Why have you chosen to be an all-female law firm?
Meital: As the founder of Manzuri Law and a female CEO, I faced unique challenges, especially working in cannabis—a male dominated industry. I think I subconsciously sought out female partners to create solidarity and strength when approached with male alpha CEOs. As a minority, I found strength in numbers. We work with many male law clerks and attorneys and don’t foresee being an all-female company forever.
HL: You posted the following quote: “The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.” ~ Adrienne Rich. Tell us how this is true in your daily lives and careers at Manzuri Law?
Meital: I am the youngest of three, with two older brothers. As the little sister, I often had to elbow my way in to participate with my siblings. Although this ability to grapple with the boys was key to my development and formed who I am today, I always knew I needed to find “sisters” in this world to reach my true potential.
I always knew I needed to find “sisters” in this world to reach my true potential
HL: There are a lot of bright, talented, educated women who would like to pursue a professional career in the cannabis space. What are your words of wisdom?
Meital: Keep your head up and pursue your dreams without fear. It’s OK to fail. Look for strategic partners—both male and female—that exhibit loyalty and who will support your growth.
HL: Did you have a mentor? Who inspired you?
Meital: I had many mentors and continue to seek out mentors, as I believe that I can learn so much from those who have different experiences. I felt very inspired by some of my supervising attorneys in San Francisco at Pier 5 Law Offices. Shari Greenberger White was one of them. She had photos of Wonder Woman all over her office. The managing partner there, Tony Serra, also had a reputation of being an atypical lawyer in appearance and mannerisms, but is one of the fiercest trial attorneys ever to exist and always got the best results for his clients. I also feel inspired on the daily by attorneys and entrepreneurs I encounter that break the mould.
The 420 Attorneys pursue their dreams without fear.
HL: You’ve said that a constant challenge to you and your team as women in a male-dominant industry is having to prove yourself time and time again. Where do you find the strength and determination to overcome this?
Meital: We have a lot of support in-house and find a lot of strength and determination in our collaborative efforts. If one of us hits a roadblock, we have a team to back us up and troubleshoot.
HL: You went to the same law schools and passed the same bar as your male colleagues, why do female lawyers have to prove their professional worth once they start practicing?
Meital: In the legal industry—outside cannabis—there is widespread acceptance of female attorneys. For some reason, in cannabis, though, there was more of an uphill battle. Today, there are a lot of young female practitioners and we feel the vibe is changing. As a baseline, though, it has a lot to do with ego and power dynamics. Once we establish ourselves as the most knowledgeable and experienced in the room, we find that it shifts rather quickly.
HL: Curly or straight? Women are relentlessly judged on their appearance. When you walk into a courtroom, do you feel pressure to look a certain way? Can you wear a hoodie to work and still get the respect you deserve?
Meital: Ha! Ha! Great question. One of the best things about being an all-female office and working in cannabis is that we do not have to wear a suit every day. Early in my career though, I was very focused on how I would look in court and straight hair definitely seemed to feel more professional at times and because I’m short in stature I always wore heels to feel tall. As gender roles have shifted a bit in society, though, we are feeling less compelled to adhere to the norms we learned in law school. For example, I remember distinctly being told in law school that I should wear panty hose to a law firm interview. Yuck!
Michelle: Don’t get me wrong. While I love rocking a hoodie and a pair of sneakers, I clean up nice and dress to impress for court. But manicures, makeup, heels and hair straightening on a regular basis just to go to the office? All that adds extra worry, time and expense for lawyers who should be spending their time and efforts on doing amazing work for their clients. Luckily for us, our clients recognize that our value lies not in our appearance, but in the quality of our work and how we treat people. Those are the markings of a truly great attorney. I’ve also learned that if you want respect, authenticity matters more than appearance. People respect you when you look comfortable in your own skin, not when you look like you’re pretending to be someone else.
We all wake up every day feeling so blessed to have the careers we do!
HL: Do you feel like you’ve created your dream job?
Meital: We all wake up every day feeling so blessed to have the careers we do!
HL: What type of files makes up the majority of your practice? What are your favourite files to work on?
ML: We mostly work on regulatory compliance and business, corporate and transactional matters. We love our clients because they revere our work and our service. Our favourite files tend to be the emergency type ones where we get a big win for the client when other firms have failed. For example, we have gotten a lot of clients their licenses and/or saved their license from rejection when the stakes were really high. Similarly in Phase 3, Round 1 of LA licensing, we committed to clients on delivering their dream of becoming a top 100 retail operator and it was a very hectic and stressful process but, ultimately, coming out on top as the best performing law firm in LA was incredibly rewarding.
HL: How do you manage the constantly changing legislation and all the gray zones of the existing laws?
Meital: We are constantly reading and learning and strategizing for our clients.
Michelle: Google alerts are my best friend.
HL: Outside the law office, what do you do to relax?
Meital: The beach is absolutely my happy place, where I find serenity. I have two small kids and an amazing husband that I enjoy spending my free time with and we try to travel as much as we can and in the summer we hit the beach weekly. We often spend our summers in Israel (where my family is from and I have a huge family there). I also am a large believer in personal fitness and workout at least three times a week and when my schedule allows, I'm doing something active daily.
Michelle: I’m a nature junkie, avid snowboarder and a pretty badass co-ed flag football player.
Educating the cannabis community is part of Manzuri Law's mission.
HL: Do you take on pro bono cases? How are you involved in your community?
Michelle: Yes, we take on pro bono matters on a case-by-case basis. Last year, we represented two Social Equity applicants on a pro bono basis to assist with their retail licensing applications in the City of Los Angeles. We also offer pro bono assistance to select federal prison inmates who are still serving sentences for cannabis-related convictions in federal court. Because of our early background in criminal defence, we remain deeply rooted and committed to restorative justice and policy reform issues in the cannabis community. I also proudly serve on the legislative advocacy committee for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce where I help identify bills that will impact the LGBTQ business community and provide input on which bills should receive chamber support.
Meital: Educating the cannabis community in general has been our mission at Manzuri Law since I founded the firm. We offer many free educational events, blog posts and are as generous with our time as possible to the community. In addition, I volunteer with AYSO as a soccer coach.
HL: As women, do you have an opinion on maternal health and cannabis use?
Meital: Yikes! This is a tough one. I truly believe it is nobody’s place to tell a woman how to treat her body when she is pregnant. I have had two successful pregnancies and two miscarriages. With each one of these pregnancies I made different choices about consumption based on the way that I was feeling. Maternal health is so individual and there have been almost no studies showing cannabis is detrimental to the fetus. Plus, society needs to stay out of our bodies.
We have had clients whose children have been taken away due to cannabis consumption and they have all been great mothers. In all of the cases, we have been successful in restoring custody but the time apart is a trauma that both mother and infant will never fully recover from. In two instances, they withheld the child from the mother as a newborn and disallowed them to breastfeed due to positive THC in the bloodstream.
We remain deeply rooted and committed to restorative justice and policy reform issues in the cannabis community
HL: Questions for Jax. Is Jax an emotional support French bulldog? Est-ce que Jax parle le français? Does Jax have any paralegal training? Is Jax an animal oracle; can he predict the outcome of your trials or the future of cannabis legalization?
Jax: Thank you for your interest, human. It would be more accurate to say that Michelle is my emotional support animal, not the other way around. I don’t speak French and I don’t have any formal paralegal training. But I predict that federal legalization will happen within 10 years.
HL: Here are a few quick fire questions: What is your favourite legal movie? What is your favourite way to consume? Favourite munchies food? Sporting event or spa retreat? Hoodie or heels?
Michelle: My Cousin Vinny. Hitting my Puffco (gifted to me by Alexa). Magnum ice cream bars and warm, fresh baked cookies. Hoodies all day.
Meital: My Cousin Vinny is my fav movie too! Favourite way to consume is a good old fashion joint and I really like rolling spliffs. Cannabis actually suppresses my appetite so I don’t get the munchies often, but when I do pizza and ice cream all the way. Sporting event—love soccer and scuba diving. Hoodie, for sure.
HL: What does the future hold for Manzuri Law? Any secrets you’d like to share?
Meital: Future: keep doing what we’re doing—growing at a great pace and producing the best quality work there is. No secrets ;)
Lear more about Manzuri Law at: manzurilaw.com
Follow them on Instagram at: @420attorneys
Follow them on Twitter at: @420attorneys
Listen on Spotify
Want to know what the 420 Attorneys listen to after a long day of defending your rights? Listen to our custom Manzuri Law-curated "Manzuri Law Mix" on Spotify.