As Dan Callahan finished law school at UC Davis, he surveyed his classmates and asked them where the best place was in California to ply his trade. The response was split: Santa Barbara or Orange County. Like any eager young lawyer with a crisp new diploma, Callahan did what he has come to do best: He took a first-hand look for himself. What he found in the early 1980s in Orange County was a burgeoning market with elbow room to grow a practice and a family. He was sold on the Big Orange and within three years of landing his first job here, he opened his own firm on St. Patrick’s Day in 1984. (“I needed all of the luck I could muster,” he recalls.)
Today, Callahan & Blaine has 28 attorneys, 56 employees and a name atop one of the gleaming office towers on Hutton Centre Drive in Santa Ana. From the firm’s ninth-floor offices, Callahan has seen the transformation of the sleepy Orange County of 31 years ago into a world-class economy with a law community to match.
Born into an Irish-Catholic family and raised in middle-class Chicago, Callahan is an Orange County trial attorney success story, both in terms of settlements and judgments, who has built a practice from the ground up.
Confident and colorful, Callahan has won some of the biggest cases in Orange County in the past 10 years, including the largest business litigation jury verdict in O.C. history: a $934 million win for Beckman Coulter in Beckman Coulter vs. Flextronics.
OC METRO recently sat down with Callahan to talk about the state of the Orange County legal community and how it escaped the shadow of Los Angeles and other big cities to make its own mark. We also pulled the curtain back to peek at why Callahan’s firm is one of the best trial law establishments in the region.
OC METRO: What was Orange County like when you arrived here in 1981 as a young lawyer?
Dan Callahan: It was dynamic and growing. It was an exciting place. Construction was really starting to take off. There were not many law firms indigenous to Orange County. Those firms that were here did not have much of a profile statewide or nationwide. The local legal community was dependent on firms in Los Angeles for support and to handle big cases. Large companies that were based in Orange County always looked to L.A. to find their attorneys. That’s not the case anymore. Now, the large companies based here – Beckman Coulter, Allergan and Broadcom, for example – now look to find local counsel rather than trekking up the freeway to L.A. We’ve grown as an industry. The number of lawyers practicing here has just about tripled since the ’80s, and the number of judges has tripled, going from 41 to 119.
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