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Music to His Ears Peer Recognition for Doing What He Loves Is the Sweet Sound of Success for James F. Holtz

James F. Holtz, Founding Partner of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz APC can still remember the day he learned that he’d been awarded Martindale Hubbell’s AV Preeminent rating in California, more than fifteen years ago. “This meant that my peers valued me,” he explains. For Holtz, who’d been with his firm since 1983, this recognition had a profound impact as an earmark of success. He’d found something he loved to do – practicing law – and was not only earning a living doing so, but was also being recognized by his professional colleagues for his expertise in the field.

However, unlike many peers who wanted to practice law all their lives, Holtz never set about to become an attorney; instead he found himself attending graduate school to obtain a degree in English. One look at the job board while in grad school was all it took for him to shift gears. In his own simple terms, what made him want to become an attorney was “the prospect of unemployment… as a Ph.D. in English.” Holtz moved west from Wisconsin and enrolled in law school at USD.

Finding His Rhythm

Following graduation, as an associate under the mentorship of Sidney Stutz, a Harvard Law grad, and winner of the Daniel T. Broderick Award for Civility, Holtz spent the first 15years of his legal career in coverage analysis and workers’ compensation. The work demanded that Holtz have a thorough understanding not only of insurance law, but of scientific and medical issues as well. Workers’ compensation suits required Holtz to understand medical records, and he delved into the studies. From working one-on-one with doctors, to studying the science of medicine and injuries, Holtz spent years doing his own “mental analysis of how an injury happens,” he says.

“It was very interesting. I like to try new things, and that’s why being a lawyer is a great job,” he explains. As a result of these years of dedication to learning the ins and outs of insurance coverage, Holtz had earned himself recognition in the field of insurance law as a true expert. In fact, his expertise lent itself to the next move in Holtz’ career, which was to share what he’d learned with others.

“I decided it might be fun to be a law professor,” Holtz says candidly. With the same determination that led him to enter law school in the first place, Holtz earned a position as an Adjunct Professor of Law at California Western School of Law, where he’s now taught Insurance Law and Litigation for more than a decade. “I understand how insurers function as well as understanding coverages of the policy,” he says simply. The ongoing desire to share that expertise extended beyond the classroom, and he soon published multiple articles on topical subjects in both legal and trade publications, including the Pacific Law Journal and the Insurance Journal.

Curiosity Proves Instrumental

For all of his expertise in insurance, Holtz is at root, a man with a curious mind. Because of that, his working exclusively in insurance law felt limiting, and he began to branch

out into other fields of business litigation, which coincided with his firm’s move from insurance defense into full service law. In particular, environmental law piqued his interest, as he found himself involved in the Duck Pond Landfill Dispute adjacent to National City’s ‘Mile of Cars.’ “That kind of environmental cleanup in the dealer’s suit for the City’s breach of contract was very stimulating. After a month of trial, before closing argument, I was able to put together a settlement of plaintiff’s claims against the City and establish a fund for monitoring and maintaining the landfill in perpetuity, with money from insurance companies who had pollution exclusions.”

This case prompted Holtz to pursue a career which would ultimately result in a now 30+ year career in trial and appellate work in complex business and corporate litigation. As a result of his broadening areas of expertise, his clients grew to include Fortune 500 companies, local businesses and individuals. To date, he has successfully handled cases involving business and contractual disputes, real estate and environmental liability, trademark and copyright infringement, employment discrimination, product liability, personal injury, medical and pharmacist malpractice and class actions. Moreover, Holtz has tried wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases, and has a specialized knowledge of medical and pharmacology issues.

Expertise Sets the Tempo

However, for all of his success in various areas of law, Holtz’s deep-seated and thorough understanding of insurance policies and coverages makes him unique as a business litigator. “Most business litigators don’t have a background in insurance,” he says. This undoubtedly accounts for the large portion of his client base, which stems from referrals from other respected litigators who call on Holtz to assist in situations where clients have coverage problems including denial of coverage.

“With more than 30 years of experience in the insurance industry, and as an adjunct professor teaching insurance law and litigation, I know how insurance companies think, as well as understanding coverages of the policy. As a consultant and advisor, I can often get a denial of coverage reversed with a letter or two. For defense work, I believe I am more thorough than most on scientific and medical issues,” he says.

The thoroughness with which Holtz prepares, advises and consults with clients is largely rooted in the underlying M.O. of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz. “Because the client is putting their trust in you, it is critical to listen and respond to clients, and put their interests first,” he summarizes. Yet it’s also rooted in Holtz’s natural predilection toward finding the work fascinating. He sheepishly admits that while most people would groan at taking, for example, an economist’s deposition, he finds the work interesting and stimulating. Moreover, he’s found that being able to work with “doctors, engineers, and software designers” fulfills his many diverse interests and his natural born love of learning and trying new things.

To The Beat of His Own Drum

Holtz’s inquisitive nature, coupled with his can-do approach to learning, extends far beyond the law. In fact, it extends to music, which plays no small part in his life away from the office. He taught himself bass guitar at the age of 40 and began to pursue success as a musician.

As a member of the six person band Legal Tender, (of which half of the members are attorneys), Holtz earned a great deal of success in doing what he loved in his personal life as well. What started as fun grew to be a lucrative side gig for Holtz and his band members who-with the help of an agent- have played weddings, company events, and other venues since 1997. He admits to being surprised and delighted by being paid to do what he loved, and in fact was able to put one of his three daughters into private school from the money earned as a working musician.

More recently, culling from a decades old experience wherein he discovered his love of blues harmonica, he’s begun playing at Hennessey’s Tavern at 4th & G Streets for The Stoney B. Blues Band Jam on Monday Nights. (Holtz’s unusual stage name, Mudbone was bestowed upon him by Stoney B. himself).

Recognition Resonates Loudly

For Holtz, obviously the greatest accomplishment of his career has come from being able to do what he loves, and being successful at those things he loves. But what makes the success all that much sweeter is the recognition that he’s received from his peers. Much like those first feelings of accomplishment years ago when he earned the AV Rating in California from Martindale Hubbell, he’s recently been honored with that same AV Rating in the State of Nevada. Moreover, every year since 2008, he’s been recognized as a Super Lawyer, in the field of “Business Litigation.” The organization of Law & Politics performs the polling, research and selection of Super Lawyers in a process designed to identify lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. Super Lawyers is a comprehensive and diverse guide to outstanding attorneys, representing a wide range of practice areas. Only 5 percent of the lawyers in each state or region are named Super Lawyers. Holtz is also listed in the 2012 Top Rated Lawyers, published by The American Lawyer Magazine.

Holtz can’t seem to say enough how much it means to him to be recognized for his work by his peers, and counts himself very lucky to have the “great job of being a lawyer.” And while he’s thrilled with the success he’s had to date, he’s not comfortable with keeping things at the status quo. When asked about his plans for his professional future, he can’t keep the curiosity from showing through even when simply stating: “I look forward to continuing to do new things.”


James F. Holtz
Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz

2488 Historic Decatur Road, Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92106

Phone: (619) 232-3122
Fax: (619) 232-3264

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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