Michael J. Holmes, Class of ’98

alum of the month

Michael J. Holmes ’98 is the Office Operating Partner for Allen Matkins’ San Diego office, where he focuses on commercial real estate transactions. Previously, he litigated commercial real estate disputes. Mike frequently authors articles and lectures on commercial leasing, accessibility laws and regulations, construction law, and commercial center management. He also volunteers for science olympiad and mock trial programs at local schools.

When did you become interested in real estate law and why do you enjoy it?

I didn’t know a lot about real estate until I took Property and Real Estate Finance at King Hall. Real estate law is not just theoretical; it is a critical component of our everyday lives — our offices, our retail centers and our housing. I really enjoy the practicality and real world application of real estate law. I became a teaching assistant for my professor's Property class and started looking at law firms that specialize in real estate. Allen Matkins was at the top of that list. I did a summer clerkship with the firm, joined them as a first-year associate after I graduated and have been with them ever since.

I enjoy my real estate practice because it involves various property types, ownership models and markets, and it requires tailored strategies depending on a particular client's goals, which keeps it fresh and interesting. Because I’m at a top real estate law firm, I get to represent sophisticated clients and do challenging work for them. But what has kept me at the firm for over 23 years is the people I get to work with every day. The attorneys and staff at my office are extremely talented and hard-working, but they are also good people whom I consider friends. That’s important because you can enjoy what you do, but if you don’t like whom you’re doing it with, you won’t want to come in the office each morning.

How does your job give you opportunities to do good?

We have a very robust pro bono program. We offer up to 100 billable hours of credit (more in exceptional cases) to associates and up to 50 billable hours of credit to partners for their pro bono work each year. That’s the firm putting its money where its mouth is. We handle various matters, such as adoption, guardianship and foster care; immigration and asylum; debt relief, unlawful detainer and other cases involving indigent clients. I also represent service members who need litigation stays while on active duty so they can later appear in court and defend themselves.

One of my proudest moments was when we were representing a court receiver in a securities fraud case. We were able to recover funds for elderly investors who had been defrauded. One of the investors sent me a hand-written letter thanking me because he would have otherwise lost his entire life savings. The letter enclosed a personal check payable to me because the man thought I should be paid for my work. I returned the check to him, but I have kept the letter all these years as a reminder of how we can do good and change people’s lives.

Why did you choose to attend King Hall?

It was kind of dumb luck. I didn’t have a role model: I was the first in my family to graduate from a four-year college, and the first to go to law school. I visited King Hall and immediately felt connected with the people there, so I went with my gut. My gut turned out to be right. King Hall was a special community where everyone felt interconnected. We had an engaged faculty, an industrious student body and, although grades and job opportunities can often be competitive, an environment where students supported each other during a challenging time in our lives. We were working hard to become not only the best lawyers, but also the best people we could be.

What drew me to King Hall is the same thing that drew me to my law firm: a talented, supportive community of people who actually like each other. We have the King Hall spirit at Allen Matkins. Everyone enjoys working together on extremely challenging matters, and we have fun outside of the office too. I’ve been lucky enough to find a special place like this twice.

What is your favorite King Hall memory?

It’s hard to pick just one. Cardozorama allowed us to get away from our studies and spend some fun, creative and entertaining time together writing skits and playing music. Our running club got us into the sunshine around Putah Creek. My weekly dinner with a close group of friends filled those evenings with lots of laughs and put the law school experience in perspective. All of these activities gave us an opportunity to know and appreciate each other even more.

Other than that, my favorite memories are the day-to-day interactions with my peers. We were a small, intimate class. We shared all of our law school moments — the good and the bad — with each other.  And not only did I receive a top-notch legal education and meet great friends at King Hall, but I also met my future wife there — Mary (Palugod) Holmes ’98 — so I definitely owe a lot to King Hall!

You were Editor in Chief of the UC Davis Law Review. How did that impact your career?

Our work on Law Review was very challenging, but it was also very rewarding. I was given the opportunity to work with my peers to produce an important journal for the law school. We also created a manual that contained our unique style and citation methods. I think the experience gave me a special appreciation for ensuring my research is solid and my writing is clear, both of which are extremely important in our profession. I’m very proud of what we were able to produce that year.

Which class at King Hall have you used the most?

Property Law. I still hear Professor Holly Doremus’ voice in my head sometimes when I’m analyzing a real estate issue. Civil Procedure with Professor (now Dean) Kevin Johnson was also useful when I was a litigator, and it still is if I’m dealing with a quasi-litigation issue. But mostly King Hall taught us how to find the law, analyze cases, weigh risks and help our clients make deals and resolve disputes.

How have you stayed involved with King Hall?

I visit campus (or participate virtually during Covid) nearly every year to recruit King Hall students. My firm values the high-caliber candidates from King Hall. They are not only proficient students, but they are also leaders, critical thinkers and good citizens.

Do you have any advice for current law students?

During your job search, try to find an environment like King Hall. Try to find somewhere supportive where people enjoy each other’s company and want to succeed together. If you can do that, you have a very good chance of success and of being happy in your law practice, whatever that may be.