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On Top of his Game: William M. Berman

In the game of life, there is often a common driving force shared amongst those who achieve the kind of success that results in earning the status of “expert.”  That force is, unequivocally, a relentless commitment to hard work. In the case of William M. Berman, founding and managing partner of Berman & Riedel, LLP, this commitment to hard work has earned him the wide-reaching reputation as the “go-to guy” in both his legal career and in the playing field of life.

Makings of an MVP

The product of a modest upbringing in Los Angeles, Berman was the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college, earning his Bachelor’s of Science from Arizona State University, with a Major in Justice Studies. The hard undergraduate work paid off, and he was soon accepted into California Western School of Law in San Diego, the city he’s called home ever since.

Immediately upon graduating cum laude with his Juris Doctorate in 1997, Berman launched his own personal injury firm, and within 2 years he’d accomplished a career- defining achievement. With a single case, he earned himself a position of status as one of the top elder abuse attorneys in the State of California. 

The status was achieved through a wrongful death case that involved a 76- year-old resident in an elder care facility. Berman pursued it under relatively new statutory law designed to protect the elderly against the facility and its ownership group. For 12 months, Berman worked tirelessly for the victim’s family.  Although hard work didn’t intimidate Berman in the least, that doesn’t mean he missed the opportunity to make his case even stronger by recruiting expert co-counsel to assist him. On the verge of trial, and recognizing the strengths of the case,  he pulled out all of the stops for his client in an effort to provide his clients with the strongest case possible.  It was a wise decision, and one he encourages fellow attorneys to remember to consider as well. “Early during your career, being willing to bring in another experienced attorney to assist with your cases, even if that means having to formally associate another attorney as co-counsel and share in the rewards of the case, is crucial,” he says.

In this career-defining case, Berman’s hard work, and dogged diligence paid off. Not only did the case end up being resolved on the eve of the trial for a jaw-dropping $2.2 million, but Berman immediately carved himself a niche as the go-to attorney for all elder abuse cases in California based upon a truly unique condition in the settlement of the case: he and his clients absolutely refused to settle the case with any terms of confidentiality, which was certainly not the norm at the time.

But conventional or not, it was imperative to Berman and his clients that the public be made aware of the harms being committed against the elderly and dependent adult population. They did just that.  The strengths of the case that Berman exposed during the 12 months of litigating, coupled with his unwavering determination to convince the court that the case warranted discovery into the defendants’ financial worth/condition were pure magic; the defendants and its carrier agreed to resolve the case, and without confidentiality.  The ensuing media attention was immediate and instantly positioned Berman as an undisputed expert in the field. Not surprisingly, he soon found himself in a position of being highly sought after as co-counsel from other attorneys, who valued his unique expertise.  Now, more than 10 years later, Berman is still consistently pulled into cases where other attorneys need the unmatched expertise and experience Berman has cultivated in this niche specialty.

Berman remained true to his word and commitment to bring about public awareness surrounding harms being committed against the elderly and dependent adult population.  So much so, that following the settlement, Berman and his clients encouraged members of the State Legislature to initiate a new law, making it improper to settle elder abuse and neglect claims under the cloak of confidentiality. The law Berman and his clients initiated, an anti-secrecy provision regarding settlements involving claims of elder abuse and neglect, was formally enacted and placed into California’s Code of Civil Procedure, under section 2017.310 in 2003, becoming operative in 2005.

In 2000, shortly after his accomplishment, Berman was recognized by the San Diego County Bar Association as a “Rising Star.”  Since then, Berman’s star has indeed continued to rise.  His firm, which now consists of 6 attorneys and a support staff of 7 more, has received an AV rating and has been recognized as a Top-10 San Diego Personal Injury firm for the past two years. He and his team divide their time focusing on catastrophic personal injury cases and elder abuse/nursing home cases.  Today, the firm’s elder abuse/nursing home division is widely considered one of the most respected practices in California. In fact, an incredible 70% of Berman & Riedel’s cases are direct referrals from fellow attorneys, or are cases in which Berman has been called in as a formal co-counsel.  Moreover, Berman & Riedel is unequivocally the go-to firm for numerous public agencies, watchdog groups, and other practitioners throughout the state to help guide or assist on the handling of complex civil elder abuse cases.

In keeping with his determination to “prepare each case with utmost diligence, including completing all of the proper channels of discovery, the right motions and readying the case,” Berman is quick to point out that as an attorney, recognizing a case’s inherent strengths and weaknesses is paramount to winning cases. “It is better to know your case and its problems early than to find out after you have invested hundreds of hours and a lot of costs in a case,” he says.  To that end, he does not underestimate the value of retaining reputable experts, even though the cost of experts may be high.  “Again, it is better to have good experts who are willing to call it like it is than to get into a situation where you are forced to try a case with experts who won’t be believed or won’t hold up under the pressures of trial,” he adds.

While Berman’s career may have been propelled by the staggering result achieved in a landmark elder abuse case, one shining victory will not hold a practice in such high-esteem indefinitely, nor did Berman ever have a desire to be a one-hit wonder.  To the contrary, his victory in that case only served to drive him to continue to fight for victims, and in the ensuing years, Berman and his firm have successfully tried and won countless cases totaling more than $100M for his clients and victims of elder abuse and catastrophic personal injury.

As evidenced by the staggering victories Berman has fought for and won in the years since that first game-changing case, it’s clear that in the courtroom, his strategy involves a combination of preparedness and assertive tactics that warrant accountability. These days, as a well recognized litigator, Berman is not afraid to try even the most complex personal injury cases.  In fact, in just the second half of 2011, Berman tried three high-end injury cases to verdict, including a hip injury case, a chronic pain injury case, and a mild traumatic brain injury case.  The cases lasted three weeks, two weeks, and four weeks long respectively, and Berman and his team had a meager three weeks in between each case to decompress and move into the next trial.  However, with thorough work-up of every matter from the inception of the case, Berman’s litigation team was able to keep stride.

Champion Off The Field

Berman is not only competitive and hardworking in the practice of law. Many of the strategies he uses as a legal expert, he employs in his life outside of the office wearing completely different hats.  At age 41, Berman still plays competitive baseball where he pitches in relief for the San Diego Knights, a team comprised of many former professional athletes which plays in the 18+ division of the West Coast circuit of the MABL.  In 2011, the San Diego Knights won the Las Vegas Kickoff Classic to begin the season and advanced to the Semi-Final game of the MABL 18+ National Division World Series before losing a tough game to the eventual champions, 3-2.  In the World Series, Berman pitched four innings in relief, allowing no runs, while striking out three and only giving up three hits. No matter the game, Berman serves as the go-to guy.

A knuckleball specialist, Berman jokes that he has been able to stay competitive playing in the top tier 18+ division because he “doesn’t throw hard enough to get hit hard,” he says. “Guys most often see my 60-mph knuckleball after our starting pitcher has been throwing in the low 80s, and it is too hard for them to adjust,” he explains.  Even Berman’s teammates get a smile when he takes the mound for his warm-ups.  Seeing his “fastball” float up to the plate, he is often underestimated by the opposing batters.  “The eyes of the opposing batters light up and they get over anxious seeing the “soft” throwing Berman,” said Britton Scheibe, a former minor league player with the San Diego Padres organization who not only plays baseball with Berman but has hired Berman’s firm to represent his company in several cases over the past 2 years.  “But when they step in the box, Berman then works in his knuckleball, and he has a knack of consistently making those who are overconfident in facing him look foolish.”

In addition to being one of San Diego’s most trusted personal injury and elder abuse specialists as well as a competitive athlete, Berman also champions his role as a husband and father to three young children.  Together with his wife of 14 years and legal partner Kelley Berman (a former litigator who now handles primarily the business and administrative matters for the firm), they’re instilling the same passion for justice, competition, and true sportsmanship with their children Sara Michelle (10), Allyson Paige (8), and Judge Benjamin (5).  As a family, they are season ticketholders for the Padres and the Chargers, and they also have a small stable of race horses that train and compete throughout Southern California at such renowned tracks as Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar.  But to Berman these extracurricular activities are just another way for his family to enjoy the healthy thrill of competition, while taking a break from the demands of his litigation practice.

After all, “litigating at this level is a constant challenge,” says Berman.  “In handling the type of high-exposure injury cases that we do, we are routinely facing the best, most experienced, elder abuse and personal injury defense attorneys.  It definitely gives us reason to be prepared and focused; while at the same time serves to enhance our personal growth as attorneys.”

There is no doubt that Berman’s insatiable appetite for hard work in all arenas has laid the foundation for past successes and will continue to help him grow his already established firm. However, he has no plans to change the underlying game plan his firm employs, which is to continue to focus on select high-end, serious personal injury cases and elder abuse/nursing home cases, rather than high volumes of cases. To that end, he typically holds the firm’s active caseload to no more than 60 cases at a time, so that the attorneys with the firm can give every case the high degree of analysis, work-up and attention to detail that it deserves.

Berman’s willingness to work hard in all areas of his life has indeed paid off. From starting his own firm directly out of law school; to becoming one of the state’s leading elder abuse attorneys two years later; to solidifying his position as the lawyer who other experts, agencies, and attorneys turn to for advice, counsel, and to win their cases, Berman’s enduring status as the go-to attorney for elder abuse and personal injury cases has not been handed to him; it has been earned.  But the best part of it all, he explains, is that this equates to deserving victories for his clients.

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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