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The Naumann Law Firm: Focus as Foundation

Bill Naumann Has Built a Construction Defect Firm on the Bedrock of Teamwork & Innovation.

AttorneyoftheMonth_2013From my earliest memories, I was interested in justice and fairness,” says Bill Naumann, founder of The Naumann Law Firm, PC. “Martin Luther King visited the college where my father taught and left a lasting impression on me.” Moreover, he recalls from his childhood, “I have always had an interest in architecture and construction. At a young age, I considered becoming an architect. I remember as a teenager, drawing layout of homes,” he recalls. Those two passions were further fueled by a life-changing experience at the age of just 17.

As part of a one year educational sabbatical his father was awarded, Naumann’s entire family spent a year traveling the globe. “We lived in Montreal, Beirut and Istanbul and visited nearly every country in Europe. It was a life-altering experience. I still remember walking through the Berlin Wall at ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ into East Berlin and realizing how different the world was on the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain.’

Laying the Foundation for Success as a Lawyer

After earning his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law in 1980, Naumann began work in insurance coverage. He started at the firm of Rhodes & Hollywood (now known as close up of bill naumanNeil, Dymott, Frank, McFall & Trexler) as a law clerk, and then became an associate. The work required him to draft coverage opinions which analyzed the wording of policies and determined whether an insurance company would defend an insured in a defect case. This experience would  come in handy almost immediately. “Understanding insurance coverage is critical in construction defect cases,” Naumann says.

Naumann then joined Sparber, Ferguson, Naumann, Ponder & Ryan, where he spent 15 years as an associate before becoming a partner. Here he also began building his niche in construction defect cases. “One of my first clients was a developer. He always had something going on. There was litigation with joint venture partners. There were business cases. We had to bring a Japanese company to court in the U.S.A. Construction defect cases often involve twenty to thirty subcontractors and negotiations with multiple parties. There are a lot of moving parts and one case is often more akin to 20-30 cases wrapped into one,” Naumann says.

Fortunately, he loved the intricacy of the work. In fact, by 1990, Naumann was already counting construction defect cases as 50% of his business. By 1997, as a partner in Naumann & Levine, that percentage had increased to nearly 100% of his business.

Over the years, Naumann accumulated countless awards for his work. From the Consumer Attorneys of California, Naumann earned the “Presidential Award of Merit,” in November 2000; the “Trench Solider Award” in March 2000; the “Presidential Award of Merit” in 2002; and the President’s Star Award in 2003. He also served as Tort Law Editor for the Trial Bar News (1989-1998), during which time he authored more than 100 articles. Naumann also served as President of the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego in 1999, as a Member of the Board of Directorsfor the Consumer Attorneys of California from 2000-2004, and as a Member of the Board of Directors for the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego from 1990-2002. Naumann was also honored to represent the families of two victims of 9/11 as a part of nationwide group of attorneys that provided pro bono services in connection with the Victim Compensation Fund established by Congress.

More recently, Naumann has earned the accolade of Super Lawyers Honoree for 2012 and 2013. Likewise, the San Diego Daily Transcript named him a Top Attorney in San Diego for 2013, and San Diego Magazine named him a Top Lawyer in San Diego in 2013.

After thirty years of work in the field of construction defect law; there isn’t a whole lot that Naumann hadn’t accomplished.

The awards and accolades he’s earned, he attributes to his willingness to work hard. “A successful practice cannot be built working 9:00 am - 5:00 pm,” he says.

Naumann also believes that his willingness to listen to opposing counsel has played a huge role in the verdicts and settlements he’s helped his clients to achieve. “The best way to learn the weaknesses of your case, and be able to minimize them is through listening to the opinions and statements of opposing counsel. If there are true weaknesses, you need to admit to yourself that your case may have a much lower settlement value. Furthermore, I do not believe you can reach a satisfactory settlement without a relationship with opposing attorneys. There has to be at least some level of trust,” he says.

bill nauman firm

Constructing a New Style of Firm

For Naumann, trust must begin in his own firm. In fact, it was this desire to build a firm where there was less “drama,” and more harmony, which ultimately led him to found the Naumann Law Firm. “The legal profession is stressful enough without adding office politics into the equation. We do not allow bad-mouthing of team members behind their backs. I encourage members of the firm to come to me to discuss issues they may have with a case or a person. We do not allow screaming or yelling in the firm. It is rarely productive,” he says.

The policies he has implemented for his team at the Naumann Law Firm have worked remarkably well, to say the least. “We have had zero turnover in staff and attorneys in the last 5 years,” he says. “Attorneys have joined the firm, but no one has left.”

What this has meant for clients is that they receive a true team effort from the Naumann Law Firm. “Our typical clients are homeowner associations, individual homeowners, developers and general contractors, commercial associations and condominium owners. The client will have the same attorneys working on his or her case from beginning to the end of the case. They will know early on in the case if there is sufficient insurance to pay a large judgment or settlement. We are not afraid to work extremely hard to develop the facts and evidence. We don’t hesitate to conduct discovery and take numerous depositions. Great results don’t happen by themselves. It takes hard work and total effort to maximize a settlement,” Naumann says.

The team that Naumann works with at the Naumann Law Firm includes attorneys Monnett De La Torre, Miranda Watkins, Loren Shiu, Of Counsel Jean Claude Lapuyade, as well as Director of Client Services, Elaine Gower; Paralegal, Elina Chaplik; and Tesla Stone who is pursuing a paralegal degree while serving as the firm’s administrative assistant. “Our team approach, within the office and with respect to client relationships, is an integral part of our working philosophy. These attributes enhance the firm’s responsiveness and enable us to provide legal services of the highest caliber,” Naumann says. As validation that the philosophy is working, the firm is rated AV preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell.

These days in particular, as the result of the real estate collapse and subsequent recession, it has been more important than ever that Naumann’s team work together collaboratively, in order to solve increasingly complex cases. For example, “Our firm represented 55 homeowners in a Carlsbad development known as Vistamar in the case of Bennett v. John Laing Homes. These homes had moisture coming up through their slabs, ruining their floor coverings and causing mold infestation. We learned that the developer was filing bankruptcy. We hired bankruptcy counsel in Delaware to obtain relief from the stay to proceed against the defendant’s insurance carriers. We learned that the builder had a multi-million dollar policy. Unfortunately, we then learned that the defendant had “bought back” the policy years earlier as part of a national coverage dispute and settlement. The bottom line was that the builder was bankrupt with no assets and no insurance,” Naumann says.

“We kept digging and uncovered insurance policies that subcontractors had purchased. In addition, we discovered that some of the subcontractors had “additional insured endorsements” that provided some coverage for the builder for certain defects. Our team was ultimately able to piece together a settlement in the amount of $818K, with 100% of the funds coming from subcontractors insurance,” he continues.

Blueprint for Ground Breaking Results

Naumann’s decision to build a team-centric environment is further validated by some of the ground-breaking results the firm has achieved by employing legal strategies that other construction defect firms may not utilize. Their blueprint for maximizing settlements for their clients in the post-recession era (where many builders and developers have filed bankruptcy) involves taking depositions from individual insurance brokers.

“We now take the deposition of the insurance broker that sold the applicable policy to the defendant. We send out a quick set of interrogatories to the defendant asking for the name of the broker. With so many companies going under during the recession, we need to know immediately if there is applicable insurance and whether those policies have been exhausted or partially exhausted,” Naumann says.

This strategy is paying off in spades for Naumann’s clients. For example, in June of 2012, because the Naumann Law Firm deposed an individual insurance broker, they found that a defendant had lied under oath about the amount of insurance he had, which enabled the Naumann Law Firm to recover $2.4 million for their client.

The Naumann Firm is also breaking ground maximizing benefits of new statutes and laws in the area of construction law. In fact, Naumann was involved in the first SB 800 Arbitration in California. “Our firm represented Chris and Desiree Smith in a construction defect action against the Walters Group. The trial judge granted the defendants motion to compel arbitration. We received no offers from the Walters Group to settle the case. A two week arbitration followed, which we believe to have been the first arbitration or trial to be completed in California under the relatively new construction defect statute, commonly referred to as SB 800,” Naumann says.

“The Smiths purchased a custom home in the Santaluz area of San Diego. Shortly after moving, in they started experiencing sewer smells in the home and coming out of the manhole in front of their home. After extensive discovery, it was determined that two sewer treatment plants were not functioning properly. Although there was no physical damage to the home, we were able to show that the sewer gas reduced the market value of the home and violated one of the standards set forth in SB 800. The arbitrator rendered an award in favor of our clients in the amount of $1.48 million. Additional settlements were reached in the amount of $286K for a total recovery of $1.77 million,” he says.

Design for the Future

bill naumanDesigns for the future of the firm include steady, but strong growth, driven by Naumann’s conviction that “cases don’t need drama, just hard work,” he says. “There is no scapegoating or finger-pointing in his firm,” he says. “Construction defect cases routinely have 15-30 parties. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be coordinated. We do not “turn and burn” cases. We attempt to maximize settlements, and we do not settle cases early for less than they are worth. One of the best ways to understand a case is to prepare a very detailed and comprehensive settlement demand package,” he adds. When that settlement demand is unable to be met, the team “keeps digging and developing evidence against the opposing party,” Naumann adds.

Because of the firm’s reputation for tenaciousness and its track record for success, Naumann expects that the firm will grow to include 1-2 more associates over the next five years. These will be necessary, as the firm’s referrals from General Counsel of Home Owners’ Associations continue to grow. “The size and quality of our cases has grown over the last five years and I expect this to continue,” he adds.

Contact:

Bill Naumann
The Naumann Law Firm, PC
william@naumannlegal.com
www.naumannlegal.com
858.792.7474
10731 Treena Street
Suite 101
San Diego, CA 92131

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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