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Plot Twist

Lee Hejmanowski’s expertise in civil litigation leads to a surprising twist.

According to the unrivaled expertise of Wikipedia, “a plot twist is a change in the expected direction of outcome of the plot…”  Personally, I’m a huge fan of plot twists, but they don’t come up as often as you might think when I’m interviewing civil litigation attorneys. So I wasn’t expecting Lee Hejmanowski, partner with Carmel Valley based Caldarelli Hejmanowski & Page LLP to throw any surprise curveballs my way. I’m wrong.

From the start of our phone interview, Hejmanowski’s dry humor is obvious. And delightfully refreshing. In a totally affable manner, he explains to me “I know I am supposed to have a niche, but I really don’t.  We’re not doing anything weird. ” Continuing, he says “it’s harder to market yourself when you’re a general business litigator. I handle a lot of different cases.  Right now on my desk, I have cases involving  mergers of medical groups, real estate loans and professional athletes.  It’s not as if I’m known as the go-to-guy for a narrow specialty, like defective chair litigation.”

But that seemingly lack of specialization is precisely what appeals so much to Hejmanowski about practicing civil litigation.  “Being a general business litigator is like being paid to go to school,” he says.  “There are always new fields of business and areas of litigation to explore." However, that doesn’t mean that Hejmanowski is new at the game of business litigation.  On the contrary, he spent the first 18 years of his career with a well-known San Diego practice before launching his own firm alongside partners William J. Caldarelli and Marisa Janine-Page in 2011.

The Plot Thickens

Although Hejmanowski continues to try to portray himself humbly, as just sort of the typical “boy goes to college, then law school, then practices law, the end,” type of attorney, I’m not buying it, particularly because he happens to be a business litigator who also handles select marital dissolutions.  I’ve definitely never run across this combination of practice areas before.

Hejmanowski concedes that it’s perhaps a bit unusual that up to one-third of his caseload falls under the umbrella of family law, but there is a perfectly good, if a bit circuitous, explanation for it.  “There was a lot of exposure to the law, growing up.  My dad is a lawyer, and has been the managing partner of his firm for 35 years.  The skills I had- being analytical, decisive, and an effective communicator-lent themselves to a career in private practice,” he says.  Likewise, his focus in business and economics provided a solid foundation for business litigation.  “I’m an organized, tidy person.  Business and finance make sense to me.”

Family law by contrast is not nearly as cut and dried.  Emotions and much more than dollars and cents come into play.  So how does a business litigator end up with a healthy caseload of divorces?

Earlier in his career, his  accounting background was requested by a colleague who was handling a nasty divorce, which involved high net worth individuals, business assets and character of property disputes.  In other words, it was all about the numbers and figures that make so much sense to Hejmanowski.  The success of that case led to word of mouth referrals, and in spite of his own self-deprecation, Hejmanowski carved out a little niche in the field. However, he resolutely sticks to what he knows best-the business side of things; refusing to take on cases that are outside of the financial sector of dissolution.

The Story Changes Course

Despite painting himself as a typical (albeit it incredibly successful) business trial lawyer, I point out that Hejmanowski’s career trajectory is pretty unique.  He agrees that not many civil litigators also have a toe in the field of family law, but insists that he has no plans to ever allow family law to become a majority of his practice, although he admits that the laws are fascinating, and that divorces are pretty recession proof.  “If the economy is good, people can afford to get divorced, and financial strains of a recession can lead to divorce, so I guess there are always going to be divorce cases,” he notes with that same deadpan candor that is very subtle, yet very funny.

But the truth is that Hejmanowski remains staunchly committed to his work as a civil litigator.  That doesn’t mean that there still aren’t twists and turns.

For starters, he left his firm of 18 years just last fall, saying “I left a really good situation, where I worked with really good lawyers.” However, there were four  key reasons he felt he needed to start his own firm.  First he says, “I had the opportunity to hand pick my partners. ” Second, he was eager to spread his own entrepreneurial wings, in terms of being closer to the performance of the firm.  “I had the chance to control my own destiny,” he says.  Third, he had the opportunity to build a firm from scratch.  “Our firm is very lean in terms of costs. In turn, those savings are passed on to clients. By starting our firm, I was able to reduce my hourly rate by 10-15%. And fourth, the firm was built with a philosophy of “heavy to exclusive client-partner contact.” At Caldarelli Hejmanowski & Page LLP, the clients are always working with the partner who initially brought them to the firm.

Moral of the Story

As we’re drawing to the close of the interview, it’s time for one more standard interview question, which by now I fully expect will be anything but a canned response.  And I’m finally right. When asked if there are any landmark cases that have really affected him, his response is swift.  “Every case that walks in my door is a landmark case.  No case is blasé.  The issue at stake is always the biggest thing in my clients’ lives.  So it has to be treated as the biggest thing in my professional life.  These are make or break issues to a client, so I treat every case like it’s the most important case of my career.”

I couldn’t have scripted the ending any better myself.

Lee Hejmanowski
Caldarelli Hejmanowski & Page LLP12340
El Camino Real, Suite 430
San Diego, CA 92130

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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