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Jonathan Brenner’s Decades Of Experience Representing Defendants And Plaintiffs Prove To Be The Key To A Successful Mediation Practice.

MediatoroftheMonth_2013There are very few mediators who can consider their breadth of litigation experience on par with that of Jonathan Brenner, mediator with Judicate West.  With more than 25 years as a defense attorney, plaintiff’s counsel, arbitrator, instructor and mediator, it’s not surprising that Brenner has earned a reputation for being a straight shooter, who is well-known for his successful, expeditious mediations.  The key to his success is no secret though.  It’s rooted in a tenured career as a practicing litigator and, consequently, as the result of years and years observing other mediators at work.

road-to-successful-mediationAs a young law school graduate, Brenner was determined to carve his own path as an attorney.  Originally from Washington D.C., he spent summers working in his father’s law firm.  Upon receiving his J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law in 1984, however, Brenner insisted upon charting his own course as an attorney.  That is, he had no interest in having his father help him launch his career.  Thus, when a post-graduation opportunity to take a trip to San Diego -the physical fitness capital of the world- arose: Brenner, a self proclaimed “work-out guy,” leapt at the opportunity.


“I’d never been to California, so when I arrived at the Mission Bay Welcome Center, I took a look around and the ocean air hit me. I saw people playing basketball, and grandmas with boom boxes, and I walked into the center and said ‘I’m moving here. I need a hotel, I need to register for the Bar Exam, and I need a gym membership.”  Following the whirlwind trip, Brenner returned to the East Coast, packed for three days and returned to San Diego.

Prior to being admitted to the Bar in California, Brenner spent a year with the District Attorney’s Family Support Division pursuing felony welfare fraud cases with the intention of forging a career as a deputy district attorney.  However, subsequent hiring freezes and long waiting periods didn’t sit well with Brenner, who was eager to embark upon his career and start earning a living. The opportunity presented itself when an acquaintance asked him to take over his law office for the summer while he was on vacation.

“I worked on every case that came in.  I was working a divorce case in the morning, personal injury cases in the afternoon, worker’s compensation cases in between and, in the evening, occasionally a DUI case,” he laughs.  “I spent that year doing everything.”


Not only was the variety of work keeping Brenner busy, it also gave him the confidence and experience needed to earn him an invitation to helm the San Diego offices of Grace, Neumeyer & Otto, specializing in complex product liability and insurance defense where he litigated a case resulting in the first published Appellate Court decision regarding the interpretation of the San Diego “Fast Track” rules.  He dove into his career as a litigator and spent the next decade working his way from Associate to Senior Litigation Associate to Senior Trial Attorney with various firms, all the while nurturing a burgeoning passion for alternative dispute resolution.

“The majority of my first 17 years of practice were spent primarily defending product liability, construction defect and personal injury cases,” he says.  By proxy, he found himself learning the intricacies of successful dispute resolution.

“As a very active litigator, I arbitrated countless cases.” Non-binding arbitration was incredibly popular and successful at the time, and “when I was a young lawyer, arbitration was how we learned to become trial lawyers,” he says.  Ever eager to continue broadening his horizons in the field, Brenner jumped at the opportunity to become an arbitrator on the San Diego Superior Court Arbitration panel in 1991.  The role of arbitrator came naturally to Brenner, and he quickly became a highly requested arbitrator.

Looking back, Brenner attributes his popularity to the volume of cases he personally arbitrated.  The experience of arbitrating and mediating numerous cases allowed him to see not only what worked for his clients, but what made for an effective neutral.

Shortly thereafter, Brenner was thrilled to have a colleague ask him to mediate an unusual case involving two factions of the Samoan Church of Christ in San Diego.  After an overwhelmingly positive experience, wherein the parties reached a tearful and unanimous decision to stop fighting over the church grounds, Brenner knew he’d found his niche.  Thus, when arbitration began to lose its popularity, giving way to mediation as a preferable form of dispute resolution, Brenner was poised to make the move.

“I had observed first-hand what techniques were effective and what techniques were counter-productive or ineffective.  I realized what qualities I valued in a mediator and began to recognize the traits and attributes other attorneys are looking for when selecting a mediator.  I started mediating a significant volume of cases, sometimes as many as 3-4 cases a week, with all of the successful, well known and highly regarded mediators in San Diego.  I developed my mediation philosophy and style during this time.  I observed all of the successful mediators in town to see what worked.  I talked with opposing counsel to find out what they liked and what they didn’t like.  But I think that what helped me the most was the fact that I had years of experience as a litigator,” he says.


In spite of his success as defense attorney, Brenner wasn’t immune to career upheavals.  Although he’d taught continuing legal education classes for the State Bar of California, National Business Institute and Lorman Education Services in a variety of subjects, and had been a guest lecturer at USD School of Law, California Western School of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and for the Forensic Expert Witness Association, he was thrown a career curveball in 2002.  After more than 10 years as a Senior Trial Attorney defending cases for national insurance company USAA, the company abruptly laid off numerous employees in 2002.  Brenner was stunned, but not deterred.  “I was the most senior attorney in the office other than the managing attorney and the most expensive,” he says honestly.

Fortunately, a breakfast meeting with Sean Simpson who Brenner refers to as “one of the best plaintiffs’ attorneys in town” would allow Brenner to once again expand his areas of expertise, and incorporate an area of law into his practice that he immediately loved.  As Managing Partner of Simpson & Brenner, Brenner transitioned into plaintiffs work, “representing individuals who were seriously injured or were the victim of wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and other employment-related claims,” he says.  The firm also prosecuted elder abuse cases, professional negligence and business litigation.

The work on behalf of plaintiffs was incredibly rewarding, and Brenner admits that having the experience of being on both the defense and the plaintiff’s side has had a positive impact on his mediation business.  “Having practiced both (defense and plaintiff’s work) has probably helped my credibility, as attorneys recognize that I’m not biased towards either side,” he says.

Although he loved being a plaintiff’s attorney, for Brenner, there was always something about mediation that was just a natural fit.  His clients recognized it as well, and by 2006, Brenner says “it became increasingly difficult to manage a litigation practice while mediating so many cases.  In addition it became clear that if I wanted to be one of the top mediators, I would have to focus solely on my mediation practice.”  He made the decision to become a full time neutral in 2006.  In 2008, he joined Judicate West.


“Judicate West has assembled a phenomenal group of retired judges and former attorneys who are dynamic and experienced.  The atmosphere is professional, yet relaxed and comfortable.  We definitely have our own unique personality, which in my opinion makes us the preeminent ADR provider,” he says.

Brenner is certainly doing his part to maintain the reputation and credibility of Judicate West. “I have mediated virtually every type of case, including but not limited to, personal injury cases such as wrongful death and catastrophic injury, insurance bad faith claims, insurance coverage disputes, property damage claims, real property disputes, business disputes, contract disputes, elder abuse, wrongful termination and other complex employment-related disputes and all types of business disputes,” Brenner says.

Still, for all of his success, Brenner still believes that there is much more to learn through experience, even in unlikely circumstances.  To illustrate, Brenner, who holds a 4th Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do (Korean Karate), is reminded of a martial arts competition between 10 -12 year old girls he recently judged.

“One of the little girls punched the other girl in the face, which is not allowed,” Brenner recalls.  The Center Judge, Master Hunter, stopped the fight and we imposed a penalty upon the competitor who struck her opponent in the face.  The little girl who got hit was very angry and began to fight in an overly aggressive manner.  Master Hunter stopped the match again and what he told the girls really struck me.  In a gentle, but firm voice, Master Hunter looked the girl in the eye and told her “Don’t Fight Mad. When you fight mad, you don’t think clearly.  You lose perspective and make mistakes.  When you fight mad, people get hurt.”  I found the advice so basic and yet profound.  “Don’t Fight Mad” is a good metaphor not only for law, but for life in general.”

If the past predicts the future, there is no doubt that Jonathan Brenner will continue to use every experience to the benefit of his clients and, to the successful resolution of countless disputes through his work as a mediator with Judicate West.


Jonathan A. Brenner
Mediation Offices of Jonathan A. Brenner/Judicate West
402 W. Broadway, Suite 2400
San Diego CA 92101 |

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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