One could say there's a lawyer gene in Trevor Darling’s family. He grew up in a small town right outside of Des Moines, Iowa, where both his father and his grandfather practiced law. Darling is the third generation to do so now, but it was a close call.
Once out of high school, he decided on a career in bioengineering, and started his college career at Marquette University in Wisconsin. “I was always good at math, so I studied engineering for a couple of years but then got bored of it. I wanted to expand my horizons and learn about philosophy, political science and languages. So, I left engineering school in my sophomore year.”
Darling earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Spanish Language & Literature, Political Science in 2007. Along with the degree, many honors were bestowed upon him including Dean’s List; Alpha Sigma Nu, The National Jesuit Honor Society; Voluntario Escuela Marvarillas (immigrant student tutoring); College of Arts and Sciences Superior Academic Achievement Honoree; Student Leadership Award for Outstanding Contributions to Social and Arts Programming.
At this point, Darling felt the pull of the familial trajectory and decided that going to law school was his next course of action. He was accepted at the University of Oregon School of Law where he finished his Juris Doctor in 2010. “Most attorneys don’t like math. With my background in engineering, tax law was a breeze for me – it was just a lot of numbers and I like numbers.”
Graduating from law school with still more honors, Darling was actually leaning toward criminal law, wanting to be a trial attorney. “I like the excitement of being in court. During law school I did internships and clerked at the district attorney’s office because they allowed you to try cases.”
It was a special exception to the court rules. Many states allow people who haven’t yet passed the bar to try cases with supervision. Darling tried nine cases during the summer of his third year of law school. “The best way to get trial experience is to work for a DA or public defender because you get thrown into cases really quickly. If you’re working at a private law firm it can take years to get into court.”
Despite his early trial experience, Darling had trouble finding work with his freshly minted J.D., having graduated during the height of the country’s financial crisis. There were few job openings and many law firms were even laying off some of their most seasoned attorneys.
Although Darling now has professional membership in both the California State Bar Association, and Oregon State Bar Association, as well as the Tax Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, he freely admitted that he didn’t like the City of Angels at first, as the hot dry weather took some getting used to after the cool greenness of Oregon and Washington.
“LA’s not a manageable city. I moved from a really great townhouse in a great part of Seattle to a tiny little apartment that cost more money. On the flip side, I liked my job more and my wife is from LA.”
Not at all daunted, Darling noticed the tax firm TTR, Inc. (now Avalara Tax Research) in Seattle, WA, had posted on the law school’s job board. He applied, interviewed and got the job. “I liked it because I got to do a little bit of everything and tax was always straightforward to me. That’s how I got into tax and I worked at that office for three years before I moved to Los Angeles.”
When asked what he enjoys most about being a tax attorney, Darling said “I like to help people that don’t otherwise know what to do, people who are in some kind of financial duress. I like being able to do that and the appreciation that they have for you for being able to do that.”
As for any advice he would give to a younger self, he said “Always look before you leap. Give things a lot of thought before you respond or act. A lot of times, attorneys are pressured to do things very quickly. People want answers right away. Even if there’s a 2% chance that you’re wrong, and a 98% chance you’re right, it’s always best to double check the facts.”
About his future plans? Darling said he would like to be able to help a broader array of clients. For the last ten years or so he has been using his legal talents at very large companies. The people he was working for were often very anonymous. “The people that you’re affecting are very removed from your work,” he said.
“In the next 20 years, I’d like to more directly help people and business owners who are seeking legal help with their taxes. I’d also like to coach and teach and mentor groups of people that I work with and then be known for that work.”
Darling also advocates getting a diverse array of experience. “I disagree with people that say focus on doing what you’re good at. I think people should dive into things that they’re not good at because it will make them better in the long run.
“I’m better off for not remaining in engineering because it would have been easier to stay with it than to go law school. But I’m a better person having stepped outside of my comfort zone, and I highly recommend it.”
Outside of family time spent with his wife Miriam and their two children, Darling’s limited free hours are spent playing soccer a couple times a week. “I’ve been playing since I was about 4,” he smiled. “I can’t carry my cell phone around with me when I play, so it’s a great way to just release and escape all the noise in my head for an hour or two.”