When Philip Paccione ’84 was in law school, it never occurred to him that he would someday know almost as much about shoes as he was learning about legal procedures. Or that it would be possible to practice law without wearing a tie. Or that he would be able to say, with conviction, that there is never a dull moment in his work.

But it’s all part of Paccione’s far-from-routine career as general counsel of Skechers USA, Inc., a leading footwear firm based in Manhattan Beach, California.

Paccione, who graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree inpolitical science, says his experience at UCI played a crucial role in his career by motivating him to pursue advanced degrees, first in journalism at Columbia University and then in law at Georgetown University.

Paccione advanced his early career as a member of several law firms in Los Angeles, representing Fortune 500 companies in all aspects of federal and state litigation. It was through this work that he met Robert and Michael Greenberg, the founders and owners of Skechers. They hired Paccione in 1998, and he has since done legal work in a more laid-back atmosphere where he can tackle a greater variety of challenges involving business as well as law. He can even come to the office in casual attire, right down to the Skechers shoes that he knows inside and out because it’s his job to protect their trademark.

Paccione serves as vice president of business affairs, corporate secretary and general counsel of Skechers. He led the process of taking the company public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999 and has negotiated endorsement agreements with celebrities, including Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe and Britney Spears.

He also works aggressively to protect Skechers’ intellectual property and uses an extensive network of attorneys, private investigators and government contacts around the world to help prevent shipments of counterfeit goods.

With sales reaching $960 million in 2001, Skechers has as many as 900 different styles of shoes available through department and specialty stores and Skechers USA retail stores in more than 100 countries.

Forbes magazine has called Skechers “one of the hottest names in footwear.” In fact, the company ranks third in U.S. sales, behind only Nike and Reebok. And last year, the Los Angeles Daily Journal named Paccione one of the top 20 “up-and-coming attorneys making their mark on the state’s legal profession.”

During a recent interview in his Manhattan Beach office, with a spectacular view of the ocean outside his window and shoeboxes stacked on his desk, Paccione says he’s exactly where he wants to be in his career today. But the gregarious 40-year-old is well aware that things might not have turned out this way if the boy from Brooklyn who almost dropped out of high school hadn’t found his way to UCI.

Paccione has always been an avid reader. Today he reads everything from biographies and law journals to The Economist,The New YorkerGQRolling Stone and Vanity Fair, but he hated going to school when he was growing up. “The emphasis was on conformity rather than creativity, and the teaching was not very good,” he recalls.

After graduating from high school and taking courses at various colleges, he visited a cousin in Huntington Beach and discovered Southern California and UCI. In both cases, it was love at first sight. The New Yorker became a Californian—for life—and the recalcitrant student soon became a scholar.

“At UCI, for the first time in my life, I looked forward to going to school every day,” he says, noting that he was drawn to the political science department by its internationally renowned scholars.

“The faculty members were very passionate about what they were teaching and about their research. There was constant debate and discussion in the classroom, and I learned to really think about what I was trying to say and to present my ideas as clearly as possible.”

Paccione returns to UCI each year to walk around campus and reminisce about his college days—“a very peaceful, positive time in my life.”

It was such a positive time that he’s now thinking about returning to the classroom someday—as a teacher. He plans to finish his legal career at Skechers, then share what he’s learned by teaching at the college level.

“I can trace my interest in teaching back to UCI, where I learned how exciting it can be in a classroom when a teacher is passionate about the subject,” he says. “Someday I’d like to be that kind of teacher and help others get excited about learning.”