40+ Years of Family Law and an Infinite Future in ESI Keep James Hennenhoefer Fulfilled and Fascinated with the Legal Field
James Hennenhoefer, one of San Diego’s most well-recognized family law attorneys, is the first to admit that I “did not choose my area of expertise, it chose me.” In his case, that’s not merely a catchy cliché. As a junior officer in the Navy, Hennenhoefer initially planned a career in federal prosecution. “I was assigned collateral, investigative and legal duties on a major combatant. I really enjoyed the process of investigating criminal activity and the Court Marshal process itself,” he says. But in 1970, when he graduated from law school, he found himself facing a stonewalled system. “There was a massive hiring freeze,” he says. This drove him instead to join a firm that handled primarily personal injury and criminal matters.
A “Forced” Niche Becomes a Forte
“As the youngest and newest attorney, I was assigned the work that no one else wanted to do at that point. My first task was to handle or resolve a number of family law cases which came to the firm as a result of handling other matters for clients. In short order, I realized that although no one else wanted to do this work, I enjoyed it,” he reflects. “[Family law is] more labor intensive than perhaps any other area of the law and involves handling matters that sometimes involve a person’s entire life. It involves helping people through one of the most difficult periods of their life in most cases. It involves decision-making related to very complicated assets, business, and investments, and the custody and safety of minor children. Unlike most other areas of the law, it does not involve a single contract or an activity that took place at a moment in time. You are often dealing with events and activities that go back 30-40 years,” he says.
Pleasantly surprised to find how much he enjoyed the work, Hennenhoefer knew that in order to devote himself thoroughly to the field he’d grown to love, he’d need to venture out on his own. In 1971, he opened the offices of James A. Hennenhoefer, A.P.C. “I decided to start my own firm simply because unless you practice family law, it is difficult to grasp the labor intensive nature of the cases. Larger firms tended to under-staff family law,” he says. Moreover he believes that “in order to properly represent someone, you must have control of the staffing, and ultimately control over the quality of the legal representation.”
Hennenhoefer set about to build a firm that would offer that specific type of service to clients. Referring to his firm, he says that “we are unique in that most family law firms are small boutique operations that usually are not equipped to handle very large complicated cases. Our structure allows us to do so.” The structure that Hennenhoefer is referring to includes his team of four lawyers who are all California State Bar Certified Family Law Specialists. However, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. “We have a retinue of specialists who work with us,” he says. From tax advisors to lawyers exclusively devoted to handling discovery, Hennenhoefer has built a firm of the “crème de la crème” of experts, working together as a “blue ribbon team” for clients.
The ability to build these powerhouse teams is of course a virtue, and frankly, Hennenhoefer’s clients demand it. “Our client niche is cases with substantial assets wherein the parties enjoy a high income lifestyle,” he says. In dissolving these marriages, Hennenhoefer notes that most of the time, both parties are concerned with “making smart business decisions, with fewer tax problems.” Indeed he caters to a sophisticated clientele, which means that he’s also up against similarly equipped and sophisticated opposing attorneys. “You don’t get bored,” he chuckles. “There are constant variables that you don’t have in other areas of laws. This is not dividing up pots and pans. Every form of property, funds, or businesses can be at stake. There may be a restaurant business, or a coal business, and I wind up being an expert in those fields. It is therefore endlessly interesting,” he says.
Fascination Leads to Expertise in the Field of the Future
It’s more than likely that this natural fascination with learning new fields is also what drove him to become a national expert in what he deems the “future of law.” Much like his introduction to the field of family law, although he never intentionally chose ESI as a field in which he intended to become an expert, he soon found an untapped passion.
Around the time that the California Discovery Act was signed in 2009, Hennenhoefer was working with a large CPA organization. The firm had planned a large seminar on Electronically Stored Informations and there was a gaping hole in their agenda. Hennenhoefer offered to fill the spot.
He admits to a bit of an ‘uh-oh’ moment, but didn’t skip a beat, and teamed up with attorney Gordon Cruse before signing up for a crash-course in the field. “The management of data and how we discover it protect it and get it into evidence certainly comes into play in family law,” he says. Emails on one spouse’s computers which confirm the hiding of assets and skullduggery can be case making or breaking evidence. However, as Hennenhoefer asks “How do you get that information legally? How do you get it into evidence?”
Following his initial crash course, Hennenhoefer immersed himself in the timely and topical field of ESI. Attending seminar after seminar, including the National ESI Academy in Washington D.C. and Georgetown Law School’s ESI Academy, Hennenhoefer quickly earned a reputation as an authority on the subject of ESI. He soon began lecturing all over the United States in the areas of ESI, electronic discovery and the use of electronic evidence at trial. In fact, were he to be new to the legal field again, he wouldn’t think twice about selecting a specialization in ESI as his primary career path.
“All of us were afraid of the act when it was introduced in 2009. But ignoring it won’t help.” It’s a matter of how we deal with this, because ESI is absolutely the future of law,” he says. As Hennenhoefer became more familiar with the laws pertaining to the handling of electronically stored information, he found the field equally as invigorating as he finds family law. “Once you learn this, it’s great,” he says, as a way of encouraging other attorneys to embrace the field.
For his part, Hennenhoefer is all around, an extremely happy attorney. With a well-established firm, awards and recognitions galore as testimony to his expertise in family law; he’s thrilled to be at the forefront of the latest technological advances, where he gets the same satisfaction from doing what he’s done for more than four decades. “It is incredibly rewarding to sort through a person’s problems and solve them as quickly as possible.”
316 S. Melrose Drive, Suite 200
Vista, CA 92081
Filed Under: Featured Stories
About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal