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Everyman’s Advocate

As managing partner of one of the largest law firms in the state of California exclusively dedicated to the representation of injured people, you might expect the firm’s Managing Partner, Paul Zuckerman, to have a bit of an ego. But within 30 seconds of talking with him, what becomes undeniably clear is that he’s a regular guy, fighting for the rights of regular people. In a sense, he’s truly an everyman’s attorney.

 Humble Beginnings

1“I grew up in a blue collar area of Long Island, NY,” says Zuckerman. Though he admits that it was a “given that I would go to graduate school,” he certainly wasn’t raised in a world of privilege. “I always kind of felt like an outsider. I went to a regular public high school and learned a lot of survival lessons,” he recalls. “When you’re short on stature, and long on mouth, you have to become very clever, very quick,” he jokes. Yet, when he moved to California, Zuckerman once more felt like a fish out of water. All the same, he proved to be a promising student, and when the time came to attend college, he selected the University of Southern California.

He graduated from Southwestern Law School near the top of his class in 1991, and sat for the Bar that August. With time to kill waiting for the results from the bar, Zuckerman issued a challenge to law school classmate, John Carpenter. “I dared him to have a Harley shipped abroad, and to ride across Europe with me while waiting for Bar results,” Zuckerman recalls. From England to Spain, the law school buddies rode together from August through November when they returned home to learn they’d passed the Bar.

Upon returning to California, Zuckerman took a job in insurance defense. “It was during a recession, so I took it. The job was fun to a point. I got to make lots of court appearances, take depositions, and go to trial,” he recalls. But at the same time,  he started to feel out of his comfort zone. He was defending a large insurance company at the expense of individuals who needed compensation for injuries.

“I’d started working at 13 as a dishwasher. I wanted to use my law degree to help regular people who needed help. I fit in their reality,” he says. Zuckerman began thinking about switching practice areas, and his decision was solidified when his father died in 2004. “I found that what I was doing was puny compared to the loss of my dad,” he says.

Zuckerman knew that he didn’t want to do insurance defense anymore, but also faced the hard reality that plaintiffs work is done on contingency, and “I was broke,” he says honestly. But fortune smiled on him in a way, as a plaintiff’s attorney he knew let him know that “he had about 30 files for me to work on. I called John (Carpenter) and said ‘look, I got offered these cases. If I’m going to do these cases, we might as well do them together and be miserable together.’”

Carpenter agreed to come and work with his law school friend, though with reservations. “John’s stepfather warned us about going into personal injury work,” Zuckerman says. “But we were young, hungry and dumb. No one could tell us what we were doing wrong,” he chuckles.

What seemed to have catch Zuckerman most by surprise in working those first was the fact that he accidentally fell in love with his work. He found that he spoke the language of the victims he was representing, that he could be authentic, and that he was good at the work. They were regular people, whom he could relate to, and he was passionate about helping them. He and John decided to go all in, and launch their firm.

Lessons Learned In the Early Years

2When Carpenter and Zuckerman set out on their own, they had only three strengths, Zuckerman says. “We had brains, mouths and time,” he recalls. “We wanted referrals, and we were trying to figure out how to get cases, but we had no money for advertising.” Moreover, the two inexperienced plaintiff’s attorneys didn’t have a long track record of success to draw in clients.

“We decided that with the few clients we had, we would be the guys who called them. We would proactively reach out to them and keep them in the loop,” Zuckerman says. “We were able to show our clients a lot of love and a lot of attention, and we did.” Those clients in turn started referring others to Paul and John. “I would say to clients, ‘I’m your Jewish mother. Turn it over to me, and I’ll do all of the worrying for you,” Zuckerman jokes. The approach worked, and it’s one that the firm as a whole still embraces today. “We let them know first that we care, second that they need to turn their fear over to us, and third, that we will carry their burden for them,” he explains.

Of course, Zuckerman is quick to see the humor of lessons learned in the early years of Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley. “I remember a time when I had four clients. One of my clients had referred another of my clients so she was responsible for 50% of my business,” he says. Talking with her one day, “I was trying to sound like what I thought a lawyer would sound like. I complimented her by telling her that she had asked a very astute question. She thought I was calling her stupid,” he recalls.

Following a slew of profanities from the client, “I lost her and the other case, because I wasn’t being myself,” Zuckerman recalls. “From that day on, I have talked how I talk to anyone. I don’t try to confuse them with jargon,” he says. The firm has taken this valuable lesson to heart and is well reputed for its everyman approach to working plaintiff’s files with clients. “The relationship we have with our clients is not a business relationship,” he says. “It is much different than that. We let them know that we are all in this with them, and that we will ride their case out, no matter how long it takes,” he adds.

Growing Up and Gaining Steam

3Carpenter and Zuckerman were starting to add employees, and eventually found a third partner in Nicholas Rowley. The three were starting to take on bigger cases. The men had a real soft spot for the underdogs and found themselves repeatedly taking cases that other firms had rejected. In particular, Zuckerman remembers the time a homeless man who was addicted to drugs stumbled into his office.

“He was mentally handicapped, and had become addicted to drugs. This was a guy who never had a chance in the world,” Zuckerman recalls. The man told Zuckerman that he’d been run over by a garbage truck, but that he had no way to prove it. “The police never made a report,” Zuckerman says. But something about the man’s story drove him to see if it checked out. “We did some real CSI type of work. We tracked down the emergency room visit reports, we found a witness, we were able to locate 911 calls,” he says. Still, the insurance company refused to pay.

“We had to go to trial. But during the course of litigation, we were able to get him off the streets, into a sober living facility, and he got healthy,” Zuckerman says with a tinge of pride. Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley won the trial to the tune of 2 million dollars, and was able to establish a  conservatorship so that the man is cared for. It’s been several years since the case, but the client “is sober and healthy and off of the public purse,” Zuckerman says.

This case served as proof to CZ&R that not only could they help people who had been injured at the hands of others to receive the compensation they deserve, but they were also able to help make a real life difference for their clients. “We tend to take cases that involve people with drug and alcohol addictions. We help them change their lives. We will take the really tough cases,” he says. Continuing, he adds, “It became kind of a niche business for us. Call us crazy, but we believe in taking chances.”

Indeed, the firm takes chances, and true to Zuckerman’s word—that the firm will see a victim’s case through no matter what—they also take smaller chances, if only to provide some sort of resolution or peace of mind for clients. “I recently had a client who lost his mother. He was so close to her and couldn’t sleep at night wondering if she’d died as the result of malpractice. We went ahead and had a doctor review the medical records, and found out that his mother had not died as the result of malpractice. Even though there was no case for us to pursue, we were able to give him resolution,” Zuckerman says.

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Outgrowing Their Hometown, Expanding Into San Diego

The chances that CZ&R has taken have paid off to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars recovered for clients and has established the firm as one of the largest plaintiffs only  firms in the state. Cases that spurred the growth and reputation for the firm as one which will take cases other firms will not take include a $74.25 Million record breaking verdict in a medical malpractice case; a $31.6 Million result for a car crash victim in the defendant driver was an uninsured illegal immigrant operating a work vehicle; $13.86 Million recovered for a professional fighter who suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of a rear end collision, $38.6 Million for a young man who suffered traumatic brain injury after falling from a hotel balcony while intoxicated and $6.9 Million for a young man who was injured by a security guard at a nightclub in Orange County.

Clearly, with results such as these, the firm needed to increase its manpower, and has done so to include more than a dozen attorneys and more than 35 full time employees. Not surprisingly then, in 2012, the firm was ready to open a second location in Southern California.

It was partner Nick Rowley who spearheaded the firm’s expansion into San Diego, according to Zuckerman. “Nick had spent a lot of time in San Diego and realized it was a great place to live, to work and to practice,” Zuckerman says. “We needed to branch out and open another office so we followed his lead.”

The move has proven to be a wise decision for the firm, and Zuckerman is excited about the firm’s future in San Diego. As managing partner, he splits his time between the offices as do many of the firm’s attorneys. “San Diego is a much more collegial environment than Los Angles,” he says. “We are very excited to be here. I believe we’re going to deliver the same award-winning service we’ve been able to provide in L.A. We just hired another terrific associate, Teresa Bowen, for the San Diego office,” says Zuckerman, and “we focus on continuing to get better all the time. We are always improving. That’s our plan for the future.


Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley, LLP
750 B Street, Suite #3300San Diego, CA 92101e

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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