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From Hundreds to Thousands

John Fiske transitions from helping single victims to thousands of victims as Senior Trial Attorney for the Gomez Iagmin Trial Attorneys Mass Torts Division.

RisingStaroftheMonth(Blue) RTG“I am continually humbled by what it takes to be a good attorney,” says John Fiske, Senior Trial Attorney with Gomez Iagmin Trial Attorneys. Indeed, Fiske, who recently joined the firm in its Mass Torts division, makes no bones about the fact that he works harder than ever before, giving up much of his personal life. However, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I have never regretted a single day in which I’ve worked hard,” he says. “Apparently, the trick is balance, but I have little to none of that, so I just keep charging hard. My best attempt at balance is by riding horses once or twice a week. It helps me focus my energy,” he adds.

Unbridled Energy

1Fiske’s decision to pursue a career as an attorney was a bit impulsive, he admits. However, his “last minute decision,” came about as the result of a suggestion from someone influential, to say the least. “I was interning in Washington D.C. Former CIA director and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was speaking to a group of interns. He told us that going to law school would be helpful, no matter what career we decided to pursue,” Fiske recalls. “I loved American history and had planned to be a history professor, but then decided, why not?” Fiske immediately signed up to take an LSAT prep course, and in fact took the LSAT at Georgetown University.

Fiske’s natural inclination to seize the reins of his passion was evident from the get-go. In just 5½ years, he’d graduated with both an undergraduate degree from SDSU and a law degree from California Western, after earning a full ride scholarship. Simultaneously, he served as Associate Editor of the Law Review, and at the tender age of 23, he became  a licensed attorney in California. “For me, it’s never been about not having enough energy. It’s about trying to control and focus the energy I do have,” he jokes.

Fiske counts himself very lucky to have received strong mentorship in his first few years as an attorney. “John Ross Wertz was a particularly important mentor. I was very young to be working in litigation,” he says. Yet, he loved the work, and didn’t mind the long hours, and by 2010 was given an opportunity that would prove a pivotal moment in his career.

“I was at the Wertz firm when I had the opportunity to try a case as second chair with John Gomez. Fiske recalls. “It was a brain injury case against Pizza Hut which resulted in a $10.8 million verdict for our clients,” he says. “It was a pivotal case in my career. I got to work with the best of the best attorneys.”

Whereas some young attorneys may feel intimidated trying such a large scale case, amidst some of the biggest names in the San Diego legal community, Fiske, who was still in his mid-20’s when he worked on the Pizza Hut case, didn’t feel intimated in the least.

When it came to working with Gomez on thePizza Hut case, instead of feeling intimated by the high stakes and experienced trial lawyers, Fiske felt comfortable and valued because Gomez mentored him. “John just isn’t an intimidating guy- when you’re on his side,” Fiske says. “He made my ideas feel heard, he listened to what I had to say.” Moreover, “obviously I wasn’t intimidated by the defense, because I had John on my side,” he chuckles.

Everyone Is A Friend

4“My parents raised me to see everyone as a friend,” he says. Furthermore, “I was taught to treat everyone as a friend. Going through life angry is no way to live. There are people who honestly don’t like other people. That’s not me. I like people, and I surround myself with good people. If you take the time to invest in others, you’ll build true long lasting relationships.”

By way of example, Fiske refers to a pro bono case he took on several years ago. “It was a burn and brain injury case. We obtained a $13.5 million judgment for our client. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anyone to collect it from. We paid for the litigation, and paid for the process.” The fact that the money ultimately could not be collected was unfortunate, but Fiske was honored to work on the case. “This may not have been justice, but it at least gave the family the feeling that someone in the world cared about what had happened to them. At least it was a symbol of justice,” he says.

The philosophy of treating everyone as a friend is still Fiske’s M.O. “When I apply this to my practice, that means that I treat my clients as friends, and I treat opposing counsel as friends. You can treat people as friends, and be an effective attorney at the same time. It does not mean that you give an inch, or even a centimeter, if it’s not good for your client,” he adds.

From Rookie To Pro

3After 5 ½ years working alongside John Ross Wertz, Fiske was ready to go on his own. He had earned a well-deserved reputation for being a tireless worker, and along the way, the local media began to take notice of his talent in personal injury work. In 2007, he was named one of 50 People to Watch by San Diego Magazine, and by 2009 had earned the accolade of Top Young Attorney by the Daily Transcript. In 2011, Fiske launched his own personal injury firm with partner, Su Barry, who Fiske says “was an amazing partner and friend.” In 2012, The Daily Transcript named Fiske a “Top Influential.” In 2013, Fiske is being recognized as one of San Diego’s Top 40 under 40 by SD Metro Magazine.

It is precisely the scientific nature of personal injury work that keeps Fiske so fascinated and thus driven to work so hard. “I dive into the causation for each and every case. In products liability, I prove the device was defective and my client was injured as a result. The same is true for drug companies. Learning how a drug or device affects the body is extremely interesting,” Fiske says.

Additionally, his cases illuminate Fiske’s fierce sense of justice and belief that we should all treat one another as friends. “These companies are making billions of dollars at the expense of unsuspecting patients, who are often the most vulnerable members of our community. It’s not right,” he says. To that end, Fiske is proud of his role in exposing why some products, drugs, and devices are harmful.

The experience of running his own personal injury firm allowed Fiske the opportunity to not only add to the growing list of clients he’d helped over the years, but also proved to be a learning experience in terms of what it takes to manage a law firm. “It was a great experience,” he says. However, he’s self-deprecating when admitting “I have a bit of an OCD streak. I like everything to be linear and algebraic. So when it comes to balancing accounts or managing clients, I like everything to be crystal clear and silky smooth,” he adds.

Although he was enjoying his personal injury work, and was grateful for the opportunity to see first-hand just what it takes to manage a firm, in 2013, an opportunity was about to present itself that Fiske just could not pass up. Gomez Iagmin offered him a position as Senior Trial Attorney in their Mass Torts division. “I was in the right place at the right time for an incredible opportunity to present itself to me. I really couldn’t pass it up. The case that I’d worked on in 2009-2010 had allowed me to work with such outstanding attorneys who were also outstanding people. I saw an opportunity to help the best firm in town,” he says. “I knew I couldn’t pass up working with John and Jim,” he says, referring to Jim Iagmin, managing partner. Fiske credits Jim with mentoring him and the entire office simultaneously.

A Move To Help More

Fiske knew enough about the team environment at Gomez Iagmin Trial Attorneys to know that accepting the move to the firm’s Mass Torts division would likely be everything he’d ever wanted. “I knew there was true enthusiasm in the firm, and there were a lot of fearless people working here,” he says. But the team effort at the firm has even exceeded his initial expectations.

“In the Mass Torts division, there are four attorneys, three paralegals and a law clerk specifically interested in Mass Torts. That means that there is a team of 8 individuals who focus their attention to the cases. Each person is absolutely crucial to our team. If we removed just one of our pieces, we would not be able to give the service that we give to our clients,” he says.

It is precisely the level of personalized service that the firm gives to every claimant that makes Fiske so happy about working on these cases. “We provide one on one service. I give all our clients my cell phone number. They can call me with any questions anytime,” he says.

“When you look at the amount of injury suffered in a single personal injury case, and you multiply it to see the scale of harm done to hundreds or thousands of people by faulty products, there is something humbling about the responsibility of representing such a large group,” Fiske says. However, that makes his work even more meaningful. “Working as a lawyer in Mass Torts allows me to help so many people at one time. It’s an honor.”


Work Hard Play Hard

Today, Fiske is working harder than ever. “I haven’t slowed down in years,” he says. But lest anyone think he’s complaining, he adds “and it has been a great pleasure.” Yet, he admits that his professional devotion has come with some severe personal sacrifices. “I started law school when I was 20, and I haven’t stopped moving since. Now, I travel a lot for work. I spend a tremendous amount of time working. People ask me how many hours I work, and I say ‘all the time… we all do.’ Our firm is filled with highly motivated and enthusiastic people,” he says. In fact, he admits a bit sheepishly, that “I live alone. I don’t even own a houseplant. If I need to fly to New York in a moment’s notice for a case, I can without any worries.” But he is sincere when he says that he honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. “My clients are truly a top priority.”

Of course, even a young lawyer as energetic as Fiske needs to recharge his batteries every once in a while, and he’s found the way to do that through charitable work, and connecting with nature. Fiske is President of the Board of Directors of the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation, an Advisory Board Member for UCSD’s Bannister Family House, a Board Member of Solutions: Exploring Success Post-High School and a Red Coat for the San Diego Bowl Game Association. Fiske is also a Big Brother to Sebastian, and serves as a Barrister with the Louis M. Welsh Inn of Court.

As far as his intentional decision to connect with nature, in his spare time, John tests his horseback riding skills in the Western Reining discipline. “I ride at the River Valley Ranch in the Tijuana River Valley –stateside. Reining trainer Mark Arballo pushes me hard and the ride becomes a workout and a personal challenge. It takes time to understand the horses. The horses respond to a confident, kind, instructive and direct rider,” traits which he recognizes are also vital to being a good attorney. Moreover, the riding “requires absolute focus. When you’re riding as fast and as hard as you can, and you hit a sliding stop, the only thing you’re focused on is making that stop. It’s incredibly meditative. There is nothing else on my mind, and I get to clear my head.”

For now, and the foreseeable future, connecting with the horses and connecting with nature is how John recharges his batteries. He has no intention of slowing down. In fact, John and Jim have inspired him further. “Where do I see myself in five years? Trying mass tort cases alongside John Gomez and riding every week.”


John Fiske
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, CA 92101

619.237.3490 / fax 619.237.3496

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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