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From Surfer Dude to One of San Diego’s Brightest Stars

Brett Schreiber, Partner at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, has earned his place amongst elite trial attorneys in Southern California, through a resilient work ethic, an uncanny selfawareness, and an irrefutable resolve to achieve justice for victims of personal injury, medical malpractice, condemnation, and even the wrongfully convicted.


As the youngest President in the history of Consumer Attorneys of San Diego (CASD), Brett Schreiber quite frankly has reason to feel pretty proud of himself. Couple that with the fact that he was one of the youngest attorneys ever to be named one of San Diego’s Top Attorneys by the San Diego Daily Transcript, and helped secure the 88th largest verdict in America last year alongside Founding Partner of Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, LLP Vincent Bartolotta, and it’s not unreasonable to expect Schreiber to have at least a bit of an ego. Yet, he’s anything but arrogant.
On the contrary, Schreiber, who grew up in South Florida, is noticeably self-deprecating, and practically reluctant to talk about his achievements. Instead he prefers to talk about how rewarding his work is, how grateful he is to do what he loves every day at the firm he never wants to leave, how fortunate he was to grow up with an amazing family, and how much his own family means to him now. Suffice it to say, for an attorney under 40, who is partner in one of San Diego’s most renowned Plaintiff’s firms, Schreiber puts on no airs, making him likeable immediately.
Much of this is due to the fact that Schreiber is unequivocally laid back and casual in conversation. In fact, he sheepishly admits that “every time I flash my ID and bar card to get into a courthouse I’m reminded of the long bearded, dreadlocked guy who smiles back at me.” Yet when it comes to talking about the people he fights for every day, a fierce passion emerges which is nearly palpable.


A Family Embedded in Justice and Impacted by Personal Injury
“I am the son of a ‘poor man’s lawyer.’ My dad was the Chief of the Public Defender’s Office in South Florida for nearly 40 years and did nothing but capital murder defense when I was a kid. Talking about my dad’s latest murder trial was common dinner table conversation at Casa de Schreiber. It was instilled in me very early on that killing people to teach that killing people was wrong didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he recalls.
“I remember watching my dad in trial and knowing that his job wasn’t often times to ‘walk’ anyone or ‘get them off’ but rather to hold the State to its burden. The State had the awesome power to take away someone’s life and/or liberty and accordingly they had an awesome responsibility to prove their case beyond any shadow of doubt,” he adds.
Clearly, even as a young child, Schreiber had begun to form his own opinions about the power that the government wields over the have-nots. That understanding would grow to include an understanding of just how much power corporations possess, and how often individuals are at the mercy of powerful insurance companies, who refuse to pay for their policyholder’s wrongdoings. Today he also reflects back on a crisis that struck his own family when he was just six years old.
“When I was in elementary school, my mom suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm that required extensive surgery and years-long recovery. Brain surgery 30 years ago was not what it is today, and it was a struggle. The mother I knew for the first years of my life was not the same person I knew for the balance of my childhood. I didn’t love her any less nor did she love me less, but it was definitely and uniquely a different relationship. I realize that’s probably why I carry such deep empathy for the families in my brain injury cases. I made this connection for the first time when I was counseling a family that was coping with the ‘new normal’ of their brain injured son, and how difficult it was for them. I was able to share the story about my mom, about almost losing her, about her recovery, and about the wonderful relationship we share to this day. It was just a natural expression of human experience, when I brought it up, but in speaking with them later I came to realize how much they appreciated the common struggle we both faced,” Schreiber says.
Although it would seem like this experience was what would ultimately drive him to civil litigation, focusing on medical malpractice, personal injury and mass torts, Schreiber’s first legal plans included following in his father’s footsteps into the practice of criminal defense.

Go West, Young Man
But first, for the free spirited Schreiber, he and his high school sweetheart Shayna, who “even made it through one of the biggest party schools in the nation as a couple” had a whole lot of traveling and exploring to do, before ultimately packing everything they owned and moving to Ocean Beach where they didn’t know a single person.
Schreiber jokes, “I was a writing/religion major in undergrad, and she was a psychology major. We were utterly unemployable, so grad school and law school made sense. We had no plans of staying in San Diego and figured we’d probably leave after that.” But in the meantime, Shayna became a clinical psychologist, while Brett attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law. He began clerking in the San Diego Public Defenders office while in school.
“While I found the defense of the damned to be a higher calling in the practice of law, when I worked in the Public Defender’s office in law school I learned that it wasn’t for me. Working on drug cases and other non-violent felonies was fine. Drug laws in this country are completely whacked so I felt great when I got suppression motions granted and otherwise kept law enforcement in check. However, when I transferred to their major crimes department and had to begin working on some of the sexual assault cases involving women and children, I knew it wasn’t for me. I had a great mentor who was a true believer in the cause. She was able to stand up and zealously advocate for the alleged pedophiles and rapists of the world. I couldn’t. And as abhorrent as the conduct of these defendants was, they deserved to be represented by competent zealous counsel. That was not going to be me.”
He also recalls asking his father, how he was able to stomach defending these types of sexual assault cases. “He told me he didn’t. He jumped from drugs to murder, and never defended those types of cases. He also told me ‘there’s no justice in the criminal justice system; go work on the civil side, make some money and do some good.’ And so I have. Over the past ten plus years, it’s the restorative aspect of what we do that I find most rewarding. For many of our clients, this lawsuit is all they’ve got left. By prevailing in these cases, we can often times give our clients a second chance at life. It is hugely rewarding to be part of that process and play a major role in giving someone a hand up so they can move on to do bigger and better things. A lot of what we do is help people make ends meet, after something horrible has happened.”


Insistent on Becoming Indispensable
“I’ve been blessed to hone my craft at the feet of the best plaintiff attorneys every day, and I do everything I can to pay that forward every day,” says Schreiber. “Real trial lawyers supported me in trying cases, and we have never backed down from a tough fight.” In fact, Schreiber’s own unwillingness to back down from a fight eventually landed him his position at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, even though the powerhouse firm had a well-known reputation for almost never hiring associates right out of law school. As such, Schreiber says he set about to make himself indispensable. “I clerked for the firm my last year of law school. We were working on a construction defect case in Arizona, and I absolutely did not want to become a construction defect attorney in Arizona,” he says candidly.
But he wanted more than anything to make himself indispensable. He printed and studied every construction defect case in Arizona and drew up briefs on all of them. “I read all of the case summaries, and became an Encyclopedia of Construction Defect laws and cases in Arizona. That was my toehold,” he says.
Chuckling he adds, “I just never stopped showing up. Other clerks took months off to prep for the Bar, and I kept showing up at the firm, working 30 hours a week, and worked up until two weeks before the Bar. After the Bar, I just kept showing up. I felt like if I was out of sight I was out of mind. I think I wore them down. The partners seemed to realize ‘clearly you’re not leaving,’ and I became an associate as soon as I got my bar card in 2005.” By 2009, Schreiber was beginning to amass awards, and just six years after being licensed had earned the 2011 CASD President’s Award for Service. By 2013, the former surfer dude from South Florida had also made partner in one of the preeminent plaintiffs firms in San Diego.
“I would put our track record in personal injury, medical malpractice, business, condemnation, construction defect and class action cases up against any firm in California. You cannot find a plaintiff’s firm in San Diego who has obtained larger verdicts, more awards and received more honors in as many practice areas as Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire. We have the experience, know-how and resources that are unparalleled in San Diego. And despite a thirty-five-year tradition of success, we don’t sit on our laurels,” Schreiber says. “We bring a commitment to our cases and clients that is unparalleled. From the first time we sign up a client we are in the fight to the end. We go to therapy appointments, we visit them at home, we break bread together, we laugh, we cry, we get to know them on a deeper human level.”

Serving Victims of Injustice Comes Full Circle
Schreiber has never forgotten the gratitude that his father’s criminally indigent clients expressed, after his father (who incidentally still tries cases in his new hometown in Austin, Texas) defended them in court. “Many of these people never had a chance. I remember Johnny Mack down by the Railroad Track calling our house and thanking my dad, and coming for dinner. Many of these ‘criminals’ were people in bad circumstances who made bad decisions, and had then gotten caught up in the system, and couldn’t get out,” he says.
In fact, it was the vow Schreiber made to fight for all victims of injustice which recently led him to pro-bono work in an effort to achieve civil remedies for the countless men and women who have been wrongfully convicted, after having been proven factually innocent of crimes. Specifically, Schreiber began working with the California Innocence Project, in helping to obtain justice for Reggie Cole, who was convicted of First Degree Murder, after what Schreiber calls “nothing short of a railroad job” and given a life sentence only to be found factually innocent, a victim of a misidentification and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Unfortunately, while incarcerated, a fellow inmate, believing Cole to have been the true murderer of Felipe Gonzales, set about to kill Cole. Cole fought for his life, and in the process of self-defense, killed the inmate who attacked him. Cole, who by that point had no faith in the criminal justice system, pled to involuntary manslaughter, accepting time served, and was released from prison in 2010 after serving nearly 15 years in prison.
“Reggie would never have been placed in the situation he was in, nor forced to do the things he had to do if he wasn’t wrongfully convicted from the start. Nevertheless, the state of California is wasting tax payer dollars trying to deny compensation to a factually innocent man claiming that he’s not entitled to compensation for eleven of his fifteen years of imprisonment based upon the involuntary manslaughter which occurred during the course of self-defense,” Schreiber says, with just a hint of bitterness.
“$700,000 for spending nearly fifteen years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit and then being denied 2/3 of that civil compensation because he was forced to defend himself, is another example of how the justice system has failed this man over, and over again.”
To that end, Schreiber reiterates his desire to pay forward his gratitude to be able to do a job that he loves, and that he is well compensated for, by helping those who have been grossly abused by the criminal justice system, governmental agencies, and other powerful entities. “It is not lost on me how lucky we are to do what we do, and to be compensated in the ways we are. It’s imperative to me that we never lose sight of that and always keep an eye towards helping those less fortunate.” He also says, “I hope to get more members of CASD involved in cases such as these during my tenure as President.”
Furthermore, Schreiber hopes to eventually make these claims a significant portion of his pro bono practice, although he admits that right now things are a little busy. “My bride Shayna is my rock and there is no question that I couldn’t do what I do without her. Case in point, last year I disappeared for nearly two months during trial. Home, pregnant with our third, suffering from morning sickness and juggling a one- and three-year-old, Shayna held it down, in ways that I can’t even describe. As a psychologist she’s also the greatest sounding board for ideas, trial themes and insights on jury selection,” he says.
Schreiber is noticeably enthusiastic when talking about his family life, which he says involves he and Shayna and their three little ones enjoying evenings of playing trains, Lincoln Logs, dollhouse, or having impromptu dance parties in the living room. “My three-year-old loves the worst, cheesiest house music ever. But we play it and we dance,” he says. Then once the kids are in bed, the two unwind with ‘trashy’ reality television, recapping their days, and trying to figure out how to avoid getting a mini-van, in the event that a fourth child joins the family. But, one thing Schreiber knows for certain: “If we get the mini-van, I already found the bumper sticker for it. It says, ‘I used to be cool,’ he says with a laugh.


  • J.D., Thomas Jefferson School of Law '05
  • B.A., Florida State University '01


  • 2015 CASD Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award
  • 2015 SuperLawyers Rising Stars
  • 2015 San Diego Business Journal Best of the Bar
  • 2015 National Trial Lawyers Top 40 under 40
  • 2014 National Law Journal's Top 100 Verdicts in America
  • 2012 Daily Transcript's Top Attorney Award
  • 2011 Daily Transcript's Top Young Attorneys
  • 2011 CASD President's Award for Service
  • 2010 Daily Transcript's San Diego Top Attorney Award
  • 2009 Daily Transcript's San Diego Top Attorney Award


  • State Bar of California
  • Consumer Attorneys of San Diego
  • Consumer Attorneys of California
  • American Association of Justice.

Brett Schreiber
Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire LLP
2550 Fifth Avenue, Eleventh Floor
San Diego, CA 92103
Phone: 619-236-9363

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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