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Power of the Pen

Appellate Attorney Martin Buchanan’s Love of The Written Word Empowers Trial Attorneys, Persuades The Courts and Produces Propitious Outcomes for Clients

Most attorneys I speak with can talk circles around me… in their sleep.  But when Martin Buchanan, one of California’s most accomplished appellate attorneys, tells me that he is “first and foremost a writer,” I understand on an almost primordial level that we’re going to be speaking the same language.  The fact that he has cultivated a flourishing career as an attorney utilizing his gift of storytelling through the careful selection, order, and strategic placement of words on paper has a logophile like me captivated at once.

“As a kid, I was always writing books and stories.  Back then I would also illustrate them.” Indeed, Buchanan knew from a very young age that his love of writing would somehow come into play in his future.  Though he never studied journalism as a formal specialty, “I always enjoyed writing papers.  It was never work to me,” he says.

Buchanan was also equally fascinated by the law and our court system.  “As a teenager, I used to take the bus to downtown Portland just to go sit and watch court proceedings.  I was mesmerized by the drama of the courtroom and the mystery of the legal jargon.”  As a student at Brown University, he chose to major in Law and Society and decided to become a litigator.

Yet his love for the written word never waned, ultimately driving him to become an editor of the law review in law school (which happened to be the Harvard Law Review where he served alongside future U.S Supreme Court Justice and classmate Elena Kagan).  He also began to see at this very early stage in his career that perhaps his initial leaning towards trial work wasn’t his calling.  Instead, recognizing that “practicing appellate law is all about excellent writing, and an appeal is an intellectual battle over legal concepts and how to apply them to a particular case,” Buchanan switched his focus from trial litigation to appellate law.

Shift of Power
Buchanan began in the field of criminal appeals.  The work was enjoyable, as he expected, noting that “most appeals are decided based on the written briefs.  I love writing and editing and rewriting and perfecting appellate briefs.”  Still, he found over time that criminal appellate work was becoming redundant.  Appealing sex crimes, 3 strikes convictions and murders, Buchanan began to see many of the same legal issues over and over again.  Ready for a new challenge, Buchanan turned his talents to civil appeals after a stint working as a senior staff attorney at the Court of Appeal.

Buchanan is indeed one of the few attorneys who have made the transition from criminal appeals to civil appeals with such remarkable success. He particularly enjoys the variety of his civil appellate practice.  “The issues are all different, and the only thing ‘typical’ about my clients is that they are parties to an appeal of some kind or another.  Civil appellate work allows me to handle many different types of cases on appeal, including environmental, business, unfair competition, insurance, products liability, legal malpractice, consumer and construction defects,” he says.

Power of Persuasion
Although Buchanan’s clients vary widely, it is clear that his focus is laser sharp.  “I am strictly an appellate lawyer. I devote my full attention to every appeal that I handle. I do not delegate the work to others,” he explains of knowing his niche and sticking to it.  This confidence in knowing that his strengths lie in persuading courts through the language and logic in his briefs has translated into amazing successes for his clients.

For example, in February of 2011, Buchanan won a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that a seatbelt defect claim under state common law was not preempted by a federal motor vehicle safety regulation in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.  It was Buchanan’s briefing and oral argument which resulted in a favorable decision for the Williamsons, with the Supreme Court rejecting the holdings of every other appellate court on the issue.

Just since his win in Williamson, Buchanan has scored impressive victories in nine other appeals and writ petitions.  In May 2011, Buchanan won an appeal before the en banc Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving the theft of an idea for a television show, where he represented plaintiffs, in Montz v. Pilgrim Films & Television, Inc.

Similarly, in January of 2012, with Credit/Debit Card Tying Cases, Buchanan won a reversal of a $31 million class action settlement against Visa and MasterCard on behalf of an objector whose separate claims in another class action were purportedly released as part of the settlement.  In a subsequent writ proceeding, Buchanan obtained a rare order directing the original trial judge to step aside from the case on remand.

Buchanan’s victories for clients have not gone unnoticed by the legal community.  As a result of these successes and dozens more like them, Buchanan has been the recipient of such accolades as California Lawyer Attorney of the Year Award for Appellate Law (2012); Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2011); Recorder Attorney of the Year (2011); Daily Journal Top 100 California Lawyers (2011); San Diego Super Lawyers Top 50 Lawyers in San Diego (2011 & 2012).

Giving The Power Back
For Buchanan, the awards and accolades are merely a by-product of doing what he loves.  His spare time is largely spent in both pro bono work and community service through his affiliations and support of various community organizations.  He currently serves as President, Board of Directors, for Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) San Diego, www.saysandiego.org.  He is also a Member, Board of Directors, Appellate Defenders, Inc. and Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.  Buchanan does pro bono appeals for victims of domestic violence and parents whose children have been abducted across international boundaries.  He’s a recipient of the 2011 Volunteer Award, San Diego County Juvenile Justice Commission and the Wiley W. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services, State Bar of California in 2007and 2011.

Buchanan has clearly found a legal niche which emphasizes his strengths to the benefit of referring attorneys, clients and the community as a whole.  Moreover, the niche allows him to do what he’s loved doing since he was a child: creatively tell stories via written pieces that have the power to persuade.

Although he acknowledges that some trial attorneys can provide adequate representation to clients on an appeal, many do not. “If your client has anything at all at stake, they need a specialist in appellate law,” he says.  Buchanan’s highly specialized practice is known throughout San Diego and beyond.

Buchanan is so comfortable with his skill set that he has posted several of his briefs in their entirety on his website, for anyone in the world to read.  These are available to be read, partly because he’s proud of the briefs he writes, and adamantly refuses to put his name on any brief he didn’t write himself (including briefs he reviews for others).

Most importantly, though, these briefs demonstrate with crystal clear precision that in Martin Buchanan’s case, his written word is certainly his bond.

Martin Buchanan
Law Offices of Martin N. Buchanan
600 B Street Suite 1900
San Diego, CA 92101


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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