January 10, 2011
Life in the Fast (and Legal) Lane
The alter egos of Chris Locke: race car driver and environmental lawyerOver the years Chris Locke ’75 (sociology), senior partner and former chair of the Environmental Law Department at Farella Braun & Martel LLP in San Francisco, has donated time and money to various organizations, including UMass. Recently, he ramped up, making a major commitment to fund scholarships for students in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
“My exceptional education at UMass came at a very reasonable cost,” says Locke. “For me, the culture and environment were conducive to creative thinking, sound reasoning, developing and understanding interactive skills, and building confidence. I am pleased that academic standards are higher than ever and that UMass continues to provide an outstanding atmosphere for learning. Funding scholarships, now that I am at a point that allows me to do so, is very satisfying.”
Great mentors and important opportunities steered Locke toward the legal profession. UMass courses like Professor Roland Chilton’s “Criminology” and Professor Peter d’Errico’s “Legal Studies” helped focus his interest in pursuing a career as a lawyer, but Locke points to his Capitol Hill internship through the UMass Outreach Program as particularly powerful.
“I worked for Congressman Jerry Waldie, a member of the Judiciary Committee, which had just completed the Nixon impeachment hearings,” Locke recalls. “The nature of the work and the dedication of the Congressman and his staff so impressed me that, when the opportunity arose after graduation, I joined freshman Congressman Christopher Dodd’s legislative staff and put law school on hold.”
A year later Dodd was appointed to the House Select Committee on Assassinations to conduct a new inquiry into the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following revelations about FBI and CIA abuses in the 1960s. Joining the Committee staff, Locke worked with prosecutors and other attorneys and realized it was time for law school. “As the Committee’s work neared its conclusion, I was accepted by the University of California School of Law, Berkeley,” he says. “I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of law school, and Berkeley was great—somewhat more urban than Amherst, but culturally and academically very similar.”
Summers and part-time during law school, Locke worked in San Francisco’s United States Attorney’s Office. “I had opportunities to work on some fascinating cases, including the prosecution of the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan in Jonestown, Guyana, and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys became important mentors.” After law school, Locke participated in the Attorney General’s Honor Law Graduate Program, spent two years in D.C. as a federal prosecutor, and then returned to San Francisco as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
Five years later a friend and former Assistant U.S. Attorney convinced Locke to join his firm, which specialized in environmental law. “Growing up in the era when EPA and Earth Day were established and many environmental laws now on the books were just being written, I always had a keen interest in environmental issues,” Locke says. “It was a unique opportunity to combine my trial law experience with those interests. The multitude of environmental cases and matters I’ve handled since then confirm that I made the right decision.” Listed in Best Lawyers in America for environmental law and in Northern California Super Lawyers for environmental litigation, Locke is a frequent lecturer and author on developments in environmental law and litigation, trial strategy and evidence. For more on his career, click here.
Balance is always a challenge with a demanding career, Locke acknowledges. “It helps to like your work and to have outside interests.” He has been a director of a legal aid organization and the Environmental Law Institute, and has served as chair of the environmental practice at his firm and as co-chair of its Diversity Committee. Locke also enjoys skiing, hiking, bicycling and travel—and automobile racing has been a life-long interest that provides a very effective mental transition from practicing law.
“For reasons that defy explanation, I’ve always had a passion for motorsports,” Locke says. “From an early age, I followed Formula One, Indianapolis, Le Mans and sports car racing. I was enthralled with the technical innovation, and the skill and creativity of the designers and drivers of the day—especially Team Lotus, Colin Chapman and Jim Clark. Seeing the Indianapolis-winning Lotus 38 on display during a visit with my parents to the 1965 New York World’s Fair really sealed the deal.”
From slot cars and go-karts, Locke moved on to sports cars—“used and unreliable, and generally requiring more of my time repairing than driving them.” College, law school, and career sidelined the actual racing of historic cars, but finally the chance to acquire a 1967 Lotus Elan and a competition license came his way. “In the 20+ years since then, I have purchased and raced several historic race cars, including a 1976 Lotus 77 Formula 1 car originally driven by Mario Andretti. I’ve also been entrusted to drive the Chapman family’s 1965 Lotus 32B in which Jim Clark won the Tasman Championship, and 1978 Lotus 79 originally driven by Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti.”
Locke, who has competed at legendary circuits such as Monaco, Goodwood, Monza, Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen, has received recognition including the Historic Grand Prix’s Koni Heritage Award; Classic Sports Racing Group’s Jack McKee Award; the Historic Grand Prix Car Association’s Driver of the Day Award; and Best Presentation and Performance Awards at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races and the Wine County Classic. “I’m enormously thankful to be able to live my dream of driving these iconic cars at historic circuits, and for the camaraderie and enduring friendships that have come from this interest in motorsports,” Locke says.
Historic racing may seem far afield of Locke’s day job, but he points to similarities. “Both pursuits require quick analysis and decision-making, both require developing and altering strategies based on changing conditions that are often beyond your control, and both can produce gratifying results. Racing, not unlike the law, also requires total concentration, which for me is both intense and relaxing.”