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The Team to Beat

Stephen Estey & Mike Bomberg Successfully Mix Business  with Pleasure

“Don’t even think about going into a business partnership with your best friend.” This was the advice from colleagues and friends of Stephen Estey and Mike Bomberger who repeated the widely accepted belief that going into business with your friend is likely to have disastrous results. Fortunately, Stephen Estey and Mike Bomberger founders of Estey & Bomberger, LLP, ignored this advice and represent the clear exception to the rule.  In fact, the two—who met while attending California Western School of Law in the late 1980s- have not only managed to avoid disaster but, on the contrary, have built one of the most successful and highly regarded personal injury firms in San Diego.

However, there were some bumps in the road. “Law school was a big change for me from college,” says Mike. “The sometimes cutthroat atmosphere I saw in my first year was different from college, where everyone freely shared notes and helped each other.” As a result of his disenchantment, Bomberger left law school after his first year and returned to his native Pennsylvania with no intention of returning. However, after eight months, Stephen talked him into returning to school. In fact, it was Stephen who flew to Pennsylvania to accompany Mike on the cross-country drive (through blizzards and all) back to law school.

The two studied together, lived together, and attended law school together until they both graduated in 1992.  Once again, Mike decided to return to Pennsylvania with every intention of staying, and even sat for the Pennsylvania Bar.  However, two months of continuous rain and snow had him heading back to the West Coast after taking the Pennsylvania Bar, where he lived in Steve’s living room when studying for the California Bar, and subsequently getting his first job.

Both went on to work in the field of personal injury, and by 1997, Mike had won a birth injury case the capital required for the two to collaborate in their own venture.  “Enjoying work has always been more important than making money,” Mike says.  Thus, they bought the building which housed the firm Mike worked for, bought out his boss, and Estey & Bomberger was formed as a true 50/50 partnership.

Down to Business

Mike and Steve understand that the success of their firm is due mainly to their collaboration on cases, understanding one another’s strengths and using this to structure their firm.  Mike tends to do a great deal of the pre-trial work, analyzing prospective clients, and steering the direction of the cases the firm will take on.  Mike also handles damages while working with all of the medical experts in their large damage cases. Stephen handles liability on most cases and “is able to effectively distill many facts into a compelling story as cases are prepared for trial,” says Mike. Steve also handles all of the appeals for the firm which have resulted in two well-known published opinions, including Cervantes v. United States of America (9th Cir 2003) 330 F. 3d 1186, and the case that he argued and won before the California Supreme Court in Morris v. DeLaTorre (2005) 36 Cal. 4th 260.

But neither has more say when it comes to decision-making than the other.  “We have to agree on which cases we take on,” says Steve.  To that end, the team which handles exclusively high value personal injury cases—where the typical client is one that has suffered psychological or physical injuries that will affect them over their lifetime—is very selective about which cases it will take on.  “We only take a handful of cases each year, which allows us to spend a lot of time working up each case,” says Steve. Brain injuries, wrongful deaths, orthopedic injuries, and cognitive disorders that will require lifetime medical care are Stephen and Mike’s specialty, and knowing what they do well has been a major factor in their overwhelming success. The firm has received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, and both partners have been included in Law & Politics’ San Diego Super Lawyers list, as well as selected by the American Trial Lawyers Association (”The Association”) as two of the 100 Top Trial Attorneys in the state of California. Steve was also selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® 2012.

“The success of your practice is as much dependent upon the cases that you turn down as it is for the cases that you accept,” Steve says. This has certainly proven to be true for Estey and Bomberger who wholeheartedly believe in being proactive rather than reactive in litigating their cases because “we understand that what we do for our clients is going to affect them over their lifetime.  That is a great responsibility,” Mike adds.  For this reason, they prepare much of the case prior to even filing a lawsuit.

A True Team

Mike and Steve credit one of their attorneys, Don Beck, who worked for 20 years for Booth and Koscoff on catastrophic injury cases, for teaching them how to work up and prepare large injury cases for trial.  “Don taught us much of what we know and practice from initial intake to depositions in working up our large injury cases,” says Mike.

Consequently, the pair who account a substantial part of their business as a direct result of referrals from fellow attorneys have learned that they need to invest a great deal of time, energy, and money into their cases in order to be successful.  “The types of cases we take on can require us to spend anywhere from $50K-$500K to put together our teams,” Steve says.  But the referrals continue to pour in because Mike and Stephen win big, resulting in substantial referral fees for fellow attorneys. The firm recently paid out $600,000 to an Orange County criminal defense attorney who referred a case to the team; such payments are not uncommon.

“I really don’t think that anyone gets more recovery for injury victims,” Steve says honestly.  “As a team, we work up the case so hard that the defense settles or we go to trial where we have done very well.” Estey Bomberger have the record to prove it, having won both a $30 million child molestation verdict and an $11 million construction accident verdict in the past year alone.  Not surprisingly, as a result Stephen has also been nominated for and won multiple trial lawyer awards in California and San Diego, including the coveted Consumer Attorneys of San Diego 2011 Trial Attorney of the Year.

These victories are a testament to the painstaking work that Mike and Stephen are committed to.  However, Mike and Steve realize that these victories cannot be attained without the other members of their team. Although they have a fulltime staff of just eight, “we owe a great deal of our success to our team, which we use on almost every case,” Mike says, recognizing investigators Mike Soresi and Gus Herrera; research attorney Mike Eisengart; attorney Ljubisa Kostic; and trial consultants Finlay Boag and Ed Semansky. “We know we could not obtain the results we have without them,” says Mike.

Yet Mike and Stephen are still both the backbone and the face of Estey & Bomberger. “We don’t use office staff or investigators to meet with our clients.  Steve or I meet individually with each one of our clients from the outset of the case in order to form a bond with that client,” Mike explains.  And building those relationships is incredibly important to both men.

According to Mike, “We represent real people with real problems, not large corporations, insurance companies or other faceless entities. We are fortunate that we can meet with and spend time with the clients that we represent. Doing so is necessary to effectively represent them so that we can understand them and how their injuries have affected their lives. In doing so, we become more emotionally invested in the outcome of their cases. We feel that it is a privilege that people whose lives have been wrecked, have put their faith in us to help them.” For that reason and others, Mike and Stephen are willing to go to lengths far and above what other attorneys may, in an effort to ensure victory for their clients.  One of the ways they do so is through their extensive use of focus groups.

“The use of focus groups has transformed our practice,” says Steve. “We conduct focus groups sometimes even before determining whether we want to take a case.  We do focus groups on specific issues within each case.  We also do focus groups in order to prepare for a particular deposition. Our trial verdicts would not have occurred without the dozen of focus groups that we do on each case,” says Steve.

Work Hard and Play Hard

For all the serious nature of their business, when it boils down to it, Stephen and Mike’s friendship remains as close as ever.  They discuss cases over lunch nearly every day.  The heckling of one another, which initially sparked their friendship, remains to this day. All of these years later, they still live just moments away from one another. They’ve both coached their respective childrens’ sports teams together, and their families regularly vacation together, and attend many of the same social activities.

While enjoying the practice of law together, both Mike and Steve maintain a fiercely competitive streak, which has aided in their success, since the competition has never been against one another. Mike wrestled for 20 years, coached briefly after college, and was nationally ranked at his weight class while in college. He now cycles almost daily and races to get his endorphin fix.

From as early as he can remember, Steve has always raced anything he can get his hands on from motocross to off-road vehicles. He currently races the Estey Bomberger sponsored off-road, short-course vehicle which Mike refers to as “the money pit.” Mike recalls when Steve insisted on racing a wheelchair over an obstacle course he had set up in the moot courtroom while in law school. “I admire Steve’s willingness and desire to keep racing given that he never wins,” says Mike.

Naturally, with a friendship and partnership running as deep as theirs, it only makes sense that they share a common vision for the future of Estey Bomberger. Unlike other firms, “we do not have a desire for our firm to grow in size,” says Mike.  “Our desire is to try more cases and continue to get great results for our clients and the attorneys that refer us their cases. If that means adding a few attorneys, so be it. We like keeping our firm a size that we can comfortably oversee where we can be involved in all cases.”

When asked if he is surprised by just how successful Estey Bomberger has become, Mike candidly says “No. We work really hard. But we are surprised at how enjoyable it can be while still being successful.”  And if the past is any indication of the future for Mike and Steve, there is a lot more working hard and playing hard in store.  So much so, that the two are eagerly awaiting the time when they can sit down and write a memoir of the cross-country trip they took so long ago to get Mike back in law school.  “It is fascinating to look back and see when we met to where we have come since then. We are very much the same people we were many years ago, just two best friends driving across country, eating cheeseburgers on a budget and trying to survive Steve driving off the road into snow drifts,” Mike says.

Estey & Bomberger, LLP.

Office Locations:

2869 India Street
San Diego, CA 92103
11801 Pierce Street 
Riverside, California 92505
(951) 543-9020
445 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, California 90071
(213) 596-4855

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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