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A Cut Above

Anthony Dunne & 619 DIVORCE
Stay on Top of Emerging Fields of Family Law

"When I was 15 years old I was asked by my guidance counselor what I wanted to do for a living. I answered: trial lawyer,” says Anthony (Tony) Dunne, Managing Partner and Trial Attorney at Dunne & Dunne, LLP, and 619 DIVORCE.
Ten years later, at just twenty-five years old, Dunne was in his first jury trial, sitting first chair in an insurance defense case. He would go on to try dozens of other cases over the next decade, to marked success for his clients. So what then made the successful trial attorney relocate from Orange County to San Diego, and in doing so transition into family law? To hear Dunne tell it, he realized over time, that his trial experience and civil litigation background would be a critical asset for a family law firm, and its respective clients. But he wasn’t interested in hanging his hat with just any San Diego family law firm.
James P. Dunne was no stranger to the San Diego legal community. An established family law attorney, he welcomed the opportunity to join forces with his son, who partnered up with him to learn the ropes of family law, all the while continuing to provide civil litigation services, and to assist in the firm’s family law cases that were clearly heading to trial. “My father is a Certified Family Law Specialist. That coupled with my civil background made us a formidable team,” Dunne says.
Since that time, the father-son partnership has become synonymous with success in both garden variety divorces, and of late, in more unique cases. Indeed, the attorneys at Dunne & Dunne, LLP and 619 DIVORCE continue to carve out their niche as pioneers in newly emerging fields of family law, such as reproductive law in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Palm Springs.


Cutting His Teeth In Trial
The reason for the firm’s enduring reputation for excellence is unquestionably rooted in the victories obtained for clients, many of which are won in trial by Dunne. The University of California, Irvine graduate earned his law degree with honors from Western State University School of Law, where he was awarded half a dozen American Jurisprudence Awards, began his legal career working for a variety of notable civil litigation firms. “I was with three different, large firms before opening my own. I wanted to make my own decisions so that I could own the results,” Dunne recalls.
Thus, after being admitted to the Bar in 1990, Dunne would spend the first decade of his legal career doing just that in Orange County, before finding his interest becoming increasingly piqued by the possibility of practicing family law. “Civil litigation moves slowly. By contrast, family law moves quickly. Family law involves real people who need rules to live by every day. They need rules for spousal support, for child support, child sharing and many other day-to-day events. In addition, the dynamic of family law cases involves being able to help people, not necessarily businesses, to sort out disputes, and that feels good,” Dunne says.
Going through his own divorce, after what he refers to as his “disastrous” first marriage, further reinforced to Dunne that an attorney with a tremendous amount of civil litigation and trial experience, could only be an asset to others who were going through their own divorce, or facing other incredibly complex family law matters. Thus he delved into the work more than 15 years ago, and continues to find the practice of family law to be stimulating thanks in part to the new challenges which consistently arise within the field.
To that end, Dunne says that his decision to enter and become firmly entrenched in the practice of family law was a perfect fit for him. “There are a lot of attorneys who practice family law, who have no experience doing something else. We are trial lawyers that work together, firm wide, from the inception of the case to its conclusion. Each case requires a custom design and strategy, which is a product of our combined expertise, and close adherence to our clients’ desires. Executing that strategy maximizes our clients’ recovery, whether through trial or settlement.”
By way of example, he says, “We deal with everything, from very simple divorces, to very complex cases, where there is a lot of money at stake, or one partner is self-employed, or there are very sophisticated asset structures in place. There are so many issues that can come up in a divorce. There are issues of cash flow, of property rights, of dividing up businesses, and determining separate and community property can be complicated.” Fortunately for his clients, however, Dunne is no stranger to complex litigation, nor does he have any reservation about going to trial. “My civil litigation background helps with the day-to-day requirements in family law. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m not afraid to try cases. Personally, I would prefer to go to trial, but obviously, we pursue other means to resolution, first.”
Success in trial is standard for Dunne, who has had multiple cases in the Court of Appeal, such as, In Re Marriage of Buie and Neighbors (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1170, wherein Dunne successfully appealed the trial court’s decision in favor of his client.


Carving A Place At The Top Of Emerging Areas
Although all family law cases inherently involve a lot of moving parts, Dunne says that the practice area still continues to expand, allowing him to continue broadening his horizons, as new laws continue to be passed. For his part, Dunne welcomes the challenges. In particular, he and his colleagues continue to take on cases that are still fairly rare, though becoming more common.
“Reproductive law is on the rise, including medical assistance to couples, and surrogacy issues with both heterosexual and same sex marriages and partnerships,” Dunne says. For example, he notes that medical assistance to couples such as through IVF, can present unique challenges when things go south between spouses. “Couples have found themselves fighting over frozen eggs, or embryos, which causes contract law and public policy to intersect,” Dunne says. However, Dunne admits that he finds these types of cases fascinating. “The way law has changed over the past fifteen years has really been interesting, and I like being a part of it,” he adds.
Likewise, issues of surrogacy can lead to challenging legal dilemmas. In these cases, Dunne says that these disputes can be made even more complex, as a third party is often caught in the midst of a dispute. “There are issues that do arise with the person who is carrying the baby, or in cases for example, when maybe it is the surrogate’s egg, but the sperm is from the biological father.” Dunne has also dealt with issues concerning the date of implantation, and cases wherein one party changes their mind.
Other challenges develop when multiple children are conceived through surrogacy and/or IVF. “This becomes very complex litigation because there are several factors all at play, pertaining to contract law, family law, and public policy.” In addition, the legalization of same sex marriage has resulted in additional new challenges, as often times same-sex couples have been raising children together for many years, yet they weren’t legally married when the child was born. Dunne has seen disputes between biological and non-biological parents in both marital and non-marital situations. “When people begin to fight over biological rights, the cases become very convoluted,” he explains. Finally, Dunne says that family disputes involving a transgender spouse tend to be increasingly multifaceted. Still, even in the most challenging of scenarios, Dunne is eager to work through the various components with clients. “There are brand new laws going into effect. There aren’t a lot of attorneys handling these types of cases yet, but we welcome them,” he says. These types of complex family law cases, along with others, that are clearly heading to trial, often land on Dunne’s desk as the direct referral from a fellow colleague. “We do receive attorney referrals, particularly if the case is going to have to be tried, because I’m known for enjoying trial,” he says.
Continuing he adds, “Attorneys referring clients to Dunne & Dunne and/or 619 DIVORCE are assured that their referral will receive a customized approach and strategy for their unique case. Too much ‘kneejerk’ type of case handling occurs in family law. We do not perform any work that the client isn’t completely on board with, and consequently, feels invested in,” he says. Dunne acknowledges that it also doesn’t hurt that Dunne & Dunne LLP and 619 DIVORCE pay generous referral fees to fellow attorneys.

The rest of Dunne’s caseload comes from referrals from past and present clients, who are often pleased to find that he is still willing to accept occasional civil litigation cases. “I am not actively looking for those cases, but if a former or present client has a civil matter that I can help with, I am willing to take some of those on. I want to be able to help my clients however I can,” he explains.

Staying Sharp, By Staying The Course
As far as the future is concerned for Dunne & Dunne LLP and 619 DIVORCE, Dunne says that he plans to remain at the forefront of emerging sub-fields in family law, and plans to serve the San Diego legal community and beyond “until I’m 120,” he says with a laugh.


Since there tends to be a bit of truth in every jest, Dunne is teasing but explains that together with his wife, he has four children ranging in age from 1-22, and they plan to have two more children, through IVF in the near future. “We each had children when we got married, and we have had children together, and we are planning to have more. Having kids is enjoyable, when you’re in a good relationship. It’s fun, and raising children is very natural for us,” he says with a smile. “It’s just the way we are. My family is my passion. If I’m not working, I’m with my wife and children.”

Anthony Dunne
Dunne & Dunne, LLP
701 B Street, Suite 955
San Diego, CA 92101


Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPractice Management

About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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