When Brian Ceballo ’03 entered Albany Law School, he was not the most likely candidate for becoming an attorney: he disliked public speaking.
After he competed on the Albany Law Trial Team, he overcame his public speaking fears and developed into a confident trial attorney. He credits the turnaround in part to Laurie Shanks, an Albany Law professor emerita who coached the Trial Team.
"She was a great professor who taught me how to be confident in my abilities, how to cross-examine witnesses and move things into evidence, the importance of courtroom presence and connecting with the jury," Ceballo recalled. "She pounded those skills into all of us through repetition. Whenever I'm in a trial, I think back to what she taught us and it gives me confidence."
Ceballo grew up in Toronto while being raised by his grandmother. A child of immigrant parents from Trinidad, Ceballo did not conceive he could attend college, let alone law school. In the midst of earning a degree in finance at the University of Toronto, he changed career plans. "I was going to do something safe like become an accountant, but I always wanted to go to law school and decided to challenge myself," he recalled. He chose Albany Law for its location in New York's state capital. He received a scholarship and attended on a Canadian student visa. "Since I grew up in Toronto, I knew I could handle the winters in Albany," he quipped.
"I feel like I'm in my dream job in my dream place. I grew up poor and nobody thought I'd become a lawyer. I'm proud of the goals I've achieved. I've learned there are no shortcuts."
He gained additional experience during internships at the Schenectady County Public Defender's Office and Rotterdam Town Court. "We rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty," he said. "It was great training as a litigator."
When his visa ended, he returned to Toronto, where he clerked at a small law firm and saved his money to pursue a long-held dream to move to sunny California. He took the bar exam while living in San Diego and moved to New York City. Ceballo spent two years at Marshall Conway Wright & Bradley. He kept his sights set on his earliest law school goal: to try a court case before a jury.
"I read that the majority of lawyers never try a case and I was determined to experience a jury trial at least once," he said. Ceballo was hired by the New York City Law Department, which employs about 800 lawyers. During his assignment in the Bronx, he won his first case involving a personal injury claim from a passenger on a city bus that hit a massive pothole.
"I couldn't believe I had a perfect 1-0 record in court," Ceballo recalled. He argued cases in Brooklyn and Manhattan, primarily defending corrections and police officers, achieving 18 jury verdicts among 35 trials in five years. The other cases settled before reaching trial. "That was a lot of trials and I worked extremely hard during that time," he said.
He and his wife, Marlene, a Canadian woman he met in Toronto, relocated to California to find a better work-life balance in raising their young family. His wife works as a registered dietician, while he commutes by train from their home in Walnut Creek, Calif., to his job with the San Francisco City Attorney's Office. He has tried cases from coast to coast, with experience ranging from personal injury claims in state court to civil rights cases in federal court.
"I feel like I'm in my dream job in my dream place," Ceballo said. "I grew up poor and nobody thought I'd become a lawyer. I'm proud of the goals I've achieved. I've learned there are no shortcuts."