Dan Callahan: What’s Next for Orange County’s Legendary Litigator?

Written by Susan Cushing
Photography by Armando Antonio

Passion for the law, tenacious drive and a seemingly inherent mastery of our justice system combined with perhaps just a wee bit o’ Irish luck have helped create one of California’s winningest and most highly sought-after trial attorneys.

Dan Callahan’s career, as a dynamic business attorney and personal injury attorney, spans more than 40 years. Throughout that distinguished career Callahan has effectively immortalized himself in virtually every arena an attorney can. History making verdicts and settlements, stunning revelations born of dogged and painstaking investigative work and a courtroom presence rivaling that of the best Hollywood portrayals are all integral components of what has kept Callahan at the forefront of the legal community.

However, according to this illustrious attorney the explanation for the long list of accolades is much simpler: “Preparation = results.”

So why is Callahan announcing his imminent departure from this stellar orbit?

“I’m ready for a new challenge,” he says. “I opened my law firm in 1984 on St. Patrick’s Day. Since then, I have worked with outstanding attorneys and law firms across the nation in high-profile and multimillion-dollar cases. I’ve been awarded some of the highest verdicts and settlements in U.S. history and have been named one of the top 10 attorneys in the U.S. As one of the best, I’ve gotten to know the best.”

I consider myself to be one of the best in the United States. Maybe that sounds like I have a big head, but as a result of that and practicing for 42 years I tend to know who are the best in various areas of the law.

Chapter Two: Callahan Consulting Group LLC

Thus enters, Callahan’s newest venture – Callahan Consulting Group, where he will serve the community in two ways. First, he will help clients find the best attorney in their area for the specialty at hand. Second, and equally as important, he will use his vast knowledge and experience to guide other lawyers in effecting efficient and successful strategies in litigation both pre-trial and in trial. Callahan will serve in essence as the senior trial partner that can mentor other attorneys based upon his experience and success.

The fact that he not only is one of the best but knows “the best” is in fact part of the inspiration for launching Callahan Consulting. Choosing an attorney is as personal and important as selecting the right physician and not something to be taken lightly. He will assist would-be clients sort through the maze of a multitude of advertising and marketing hyperbole.

“Callahan Consulting Group is going to consult with clients to help them find the appropriate lawyer for their litigation needs,” Callahan says. “I consider myself to be one of the best in the United States. Maybe that sounds like I have a big head, but as a result of that and practicing for 42 years I tend to know who are the best in various areas of the law.”

This simple yet brilliant premise for this new endeavor is to provide a service where people can submit their cases to him and be matched with a great attorney who is known to and/or well vetted by Callahan. Through his years working within the legal community, Callahan has witnessed how difficult it is to find a good attorney because, as he says, “There are so many that exaggerate their accomplishments.”

“Now when clients go search for a lawyer, they browse the internet. That’s really not a reliable method because if you look at anyone’s webpage, you’d think they are God’s gift. The reality is, some firms are just better at marketing than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are truly the best or even necessarily well qualified. Some firms are mills, where the focus is on quantity not quality. They may have plenty of clients but aren’t really doing their best or focusing on anyone. Sadly, they make their money on high numbers of cases rather than providing high quality legal service for their clients.”

Callahan has personally witnessed, and many times stepped in to take over cases that have been previously mishandled.

“Often, my firm has been hired to clean up a mess that another attorney had made in handling a case. When you’re looking for an attorney, it’s very hard to objectively decipher the good from the bad,” Callahan says. “More often than not, with personal injury attorneys, the firms you see on billboards aren’t always the best. They just have bigger marketing budgets. Even the business law firm websites often have more hyperbole than accurate representations of skill and current ability to perform. Some will pass your case off to a paralegal. I feel I have a better way of ensuring people are matched with the attorneys and law firms that will achieve the best results. That’s especially true when it comes to personal injury cases as some attorneys will try to move the case along to a settlement rather than working up the case properly, resulting in a lower award.”

Naturally, being an active and prominent member of the legal community for over four decades has given Callahan a front row seat to observe, work with and even vie against many of the most skilled attorneys who practice in and around the Western United States and to a great degree nationally. This familiarity combined with his own years of experience allows Callahan to separate the wheat from the chaff.

“There are firms where the actual trial lawyer does the work, puts in the time and the effort,” he says. “Then, on the other side there are firms that shuffle everything off to a paralegal or rotating associates. By rotating associates, I mean they come and go with the firm. So, what I want to do is match clients with the best firms in the business and I take a nuanced approach to make sure we recommend the best firms for our clients.”

Why He’s Qualified

Callahan’s credentials are such that he has been recognized by peers and some of the most respected organizations in the country. He was the winner of the prestigious OCTLA Trial Lawyer of the Year Award not once, but three times. In addition, he has been named one of the Top 10 Attorneys in the United States by the National Law Journal and voted California Business Trial Lawyer of the year by California Lawyer Magazine. Named one of the Top 100 trial lawyers by the American Trial Association and Callahan has repeatedly appeared on the lists of such honorary awards as Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers and Top 10 Lawyers in Southern California, as well as the highest rank on AVVO and other rating services.

Yet, the real proof of his impeccable qualifications to assist clients in seeking the best representation is his own body of work. Callahan has won numerous jury trials obtaining scores of seven and eight-figure settlements, verdicts and judgments on behalf of his clients. What gets little press is in 50 percent of his cases he represents the defendant and has scored defense verdicts against some of the best plaintiff law firms in the nation.

One of his notable verdicts is a $934 million jury verdict obtained in 2003, after a three-month jury trial in a complex business dispute entitled Beckman Coulter v. Flextronics. This unanimous verdict was the largest in California in 2003 and remains the largest in Orange County history.

“I can make the impossible happen,” he says with a smile. “For instance, that $934 million case was a $2 million breach of contract case when we were hired. During discovery we found a $300,000 fraud, amended  the complaint to add a claim for fraud and went to trial. Seven weeks into trial I had elicited enough damning testimony from the defendants’ officers; I was able to amend the complaint again to conform to proof already introduced in trial to add two claims for economic duress. We prevailed on all four causes of action and the jury unanimously awarded us punitive damages over even what I requested.”

“So basically, I took a $2 million breach of contract case and turned it into a $934 million unanimous jury verdict.”

On another record setting case, Callahan went on to obtain a $50 million settlement in a road design case against the City of Dana Point. Exclusive of large class actions, this was at the time and believed to remain the largest personal injury settlement in U.S. history.

This accomplishment is like a scene from “Mission Impossible,” Callahan comments. “Two women were jogging in the bike lane on Pacific Coast Highway and were hit by an uninsured, drunk motorist who was sentenced to four years in prison. Other law firms looked at the case and turned it down because they saw no viable defendant. I took the case and sued the City of Dana Point saying the bike lane was improperly marked and too wide so that a driver could mistake it for a driving lane, which is what happened in this case. I demanded $50 million to settle before trial, the city offered $30 million which I refused. I did not know at the time that the $30 million offered would have been the largest personal injury settlement in U.S. history. Six weeks later, on the first day of trial the city agreed to pay me the $50 million I demanded to avoid greater potential liability if the case went to a jury. Knowing my track history with juries, the city decided that was a risk it could not take.”

Callahan is equally skilled in representing defendants. Although defense verdicts rarely make shocking headlines like his plaintiff victories, he has secured many total defense verdicts against some of the most respected plaintiff attorneys in the country. Obviously, like a dog with a bone, his tenacity and vigilance extend well beyond the typical representation.

Outside the Courtroom

Surprisingly, Callahan does find time for things outside the legal arena. Although he confesses it’s not easy maintaining a balance between work and personal time.

“It sounds like it’s impossible but it’s something that I can do,” he says. “When I have a trial that I’m going to take I go into a ‘lockdown mode’ I bring in all the depositions and all the evidence and start reading. At that point in time, there’s a sign outside my door that reads ‘Do Not Disturb.’ I’m dedicated to that case until the trial is over.”

On the other hand, family is equally important, saying that his life seems devoted to the law and his wife and kids. He enjoys exotic getaways with his wife of 15 years, Maureen, as well as family trips with his daughter, Caitlin, 34, and son, Michael, 32.

He is now taking up a new passion – golf. “I do like to golf. Thing is, I’m a terrible golfer,” he says with a laugh. “After 40 years I have developed some real bad habits. Since a particularly embarrassing golf outing last New Year’s Eve in Florida, I have been diligent in taking lessons, usually twice a week!

Despite his fondness for the links and precious time with family, Callahan seems unwilling to abandon his passion for the law and enjoys lecturing across the country sharing his insights with fellow attorneys. He has given nationwide seminars on litigation and published multiple articles on litigation strategy and practice. Callahan has also been a speaker at multiple continuing education seminars and on topics centering on advanced trial skills including his tips for success in jury selection and effective opening statements.

What’s Next?

With the opening of Callahan Consulting it doesn’t appear this proficient barrister will be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, from the way he describes the services and how much of himself will be invested in this new endeavor, it appears he’ll be busier than ever.

“I’m not just helping match clients with lawyers and firms, but I’ll be consulting with law firms,” he says. “Just as I’ve been working to mentor my partners and associates over the years, I’ll be acting as a mentor or senior trial partner providing advice, strategy and the proper way to proceed in the case both during pre-trial and through trial. This will allow them to benefit from my years of experience and success. I have a burning need to excel and succeed and I will take that passion with me going forward with Callahan Consulting Group.”

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