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Renaissance Man

Trial Attorney, General Counsel, and Actor Turned Mediator J. Daniel Holsenback Has Spent More Than 25 Years Preparing For His Final Act As A Mediator With ADR Services

I have a background different than other mediators and that background makes me uniquely effective as a neutral,” says J. Daniel Holsenback, neutral with ADR Services in San Diego. Indeed, the former trial attorney, who previously served as Vice-President and Director of the San Diego County Bar Association, also counts experience as general counsel for companies in the real estate and software industries, as part of his varied background. Moreover, the AV-Preeminent rated attorney boasts white-shoe firm training, and served as a fivetime member of the San Diego Delegation to the annual California State Bar Conference of Delegates. He also carved a name for himself as a working actor, and was considered for federal and state judgeships.
In addition, Holsenback, the winner of the 2002 Silver- Tongue Extemporaneous Speaking Competition, was repeatedly named one of the San Diego Daily Transcript’s Top Attorneys in the fields of Real Estate Litigation, Corporate Litigation, and Personal Injury. He also earned the distinction of being named one of the Top Lawyers in San Diego by San Diego Magazine.
So what would prompt an established, respected trial attorney to switch gears at the height of his success, to focus on conflict resolution as a mediator with ADR? To hear Holsenback tell it, a convergence of life experiences made the formerly winat- all-costs attorney realize that his tolerance for conflict had decreased, until finally, he says “when it hit zero, I knew I was ready for a change.” Fortunately, his background had prepared him for just such a change, and as such when the opportunity to build a mediation practice with ADR in January 2016 arose, the timing was impeccable. “My life experience qualified me to be a mediator before I mediated my first case,” he says.



“In sixth grade I leafed through the career pamphlet file at my local public library, and then read a book about Clarence Darrow and decided I wanted to be a trial lawyer,” Holsenback recalls. “But by ninth grade that dream had become an either-or proposition. I was going to be either a lawyer or an actor,” he says. The son of an Imperial Beach fireman and a homemaker, Holsenback earned his Bachelor’s degree in Politics & Government at the University of Puget Sound, with a minor in theatre. He was twice a finalist for National Collegiate Actor of the Year.
“I had acting chops, but when I was accepted at King Hall I chose to first pursue law,” he says. The decision would prove to be a game changer, but not because Holsenback was limited to law. On the contrary, his desire to be the best at everything he did would propel him to excel in both the law, and acting. After earning his J.D. from the University of California Davis School of Law, where Holsenback served as the Senior Notes and Comments Editor for the UC Davis Law Review, the recipient of the Patrick Hopkins Memorial Award for Outstanding Law Review Writer was given the opportunity to cut his teeth at Gray Cary Ames & Frye, San Diego’s largest law firm. “I was a member of the civil litigation and intellectual property department,” he recalls.
However, within just three years, his own drive to excel had him striving for more hands-on experience. “After three years, I desired a chance at more first chair trial experience, plus more schedule flexibility, so I could simultaneously pursue acting and law. I met Don Tremblay, a fantastic trial lawyer who gave me that chance,” Holsenback says fondly. Things couldn’t have gone better for Holsenback. “Within a week of leaving Gray Cary I had a role at North Coast Repertory and a guest starring role on a television show,” he recalls. He continued working steadily as an actor while his legal career was in no uncertain terms, thriving.
During the eight years he spent at what became Tremblay & Holsenback, “Don and I were panel counsel for several insurers and handled selected plaintiff cases as well. I firstchaired cases in areas including licensing disputes, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, patent infringement, legal malpractice, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, construction defect, insurance bad faith, shareholder dissolution and personal injury,” Holsenback says.
Holsenback’s star continued to climb both in the legal community and in the entertainment industry. By day he was lauded for his legal acumen, taking $7.8 M judgments as first chair in a construction defect case, and by night performing as a standup comedian or reporting for work at San Diego Repertory for a two-person, 34-character play opposite Herbert Siguenza.



After years of victory both onstage and in the courtroom, and not long after what Holsenback describes as the hallmark accomplishment of his firm, wherein Tremblay & Holsenback fought for and achieved the largest insurance bad faith settlement in California in 1998, the ever competitive attorney was ready to take on a new challenge.
“In 2000, I answered the siren call of the dot-com era and became general counsel for a video game software development company, while also getting ready to wear the second hat of actively serving as co-counsel for that company in precedentsetting copyright, trade secret, trademark, and patent litigation versus Sony in the United States District Court, Northern District of California,” he says.
Still, within a year, he was ready for even greater diversity and new challenges, and consequently formed Holsenback APC in 2001. He spent the next 12 years as first-chair in plaintiff and defense cases involving agency relationships, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, class action, construction defects, corporate dissolution, defamation, employment, fraud, indemnity, insurance bad faith, intellectual property (including copyright, patent and trademark laws), legal malpractice, personal injury, premises liability, product liability, professional negligence, real estate, respondeat superior, unfair competition, and wrongful death. Holsenback’s insatiable appetite and deserving reputation for winning, along with his involvement with the Bar Association, and his charitable works made him an easily recognizable face in the San Diego legal community. That is, he says, until personal adversity almost ran him out of the legal profession all together.



In 2014, Holsenback was faced with adversity beyond his own control. “It wasn’t just that I was trying to win cases. I realized that since I was a boy I had always viewed life as a win-lose game that had to be won. With this win-at-all-cost mindset, it is no surprise that the standards I set for my work, athletic performance, everything, were impossibly high and did not allow for the enormously important fact that the outcome of most things in life is beyond my control. Having clients come to me with their biggest problems, asking me to solve them, gave me an illusion of control, but life events, like the death of my father, and the end of my marriage forced me to confront my lack of control. I took a year sabbatical, studied exercise science at UCSD, spent as much time as possible with my son, and had decided to walk away from the law entirely,” Holsenback says candidly.
The year away from law had a profound impact on Holsenback to say the least. Upon reflection, he realized that his inherent desire to help others solve problems was not abating. Instead, it was evolving. He began to realize that conflict is inevitable, but rather than remain forever in the midst of conflict, he wanted to help as many people as possible to navigate through conflict. To put it another way, he realized that rather than competing
with others, he now wanted to help others navigate through their own conflicts.
As fate would have it, during this time, a friend called on
Holsenback for help. “His real estate investment firm had a one-year project, where they asked me to head up their legal operations. That experience reminded me how much I missed solving legal problems. But I needed more time away from a desk, and I needed to be on my feet,” he says. “And by that point my tolerance for conflict was at zero.”
Still, he recalled that “As a litigator, mediations were one of my favorite parts of my craft. Nowhere else do you get the chance to directly persuade your adversary. I had been encouraged by other mediators that mediation might be a good fit for me. That coupled with the personal adversity I was working through, made it clear that mediation as a career would be consistent with my personal development. I would be able to enjoy a new career where I did not have to personally win every case, but it is even bigger than that. My goal became to have a life where I didn’t have to win every moment, and thus, a life where balance, self-acceptance and compassion can take root and flourish; a life that is other-centered rather than self-centered,” Holsenback says sincerely.
Once the idea had taken shape, there was no stopping Holsenback, although he admits that his journey to mediator is unconventional. “Most mediators generally build up a mediation practice, easing into it, and phasing out of litigation. I didn’t do that. ADR really took a chance on me, because of my background. Having been a trial lawyer, with lots of mediation and trial experience, coupled with having served as general counsel for two different industries made me unique,” he says. “But I didn’t bring a book of clients with me.”
Thus after obtaining professional certificate training in Mediation Skills at Northwestern University, Holsenback embarked upon the final act of his career in early 2016. Suffice it to say, his unusual background has parlayed into a truly unique mediation style that is already earning him the praise of some of San Diego’s most renowned attorneys.
John Gomez, Founder of Gomez Trial Attorneys, says, “Having worked closely with Dan as a litigator, I know how broad and deep his legal knowledge and understanding is. During the matters we handled together, Dan quickly identified the issues and the relative strengths of both the plaintiff and defense positions. His mind is uniquely sharp and his legal experience runs the gamut of different types of litigation. He is also a pleasure to be with and around. Whether a business, injury or some other matter, I would feel confident using him as a neutral to fairly mediate any matter.”


44One of the reasons Holsenback’s career as a mediator is off to such a strong start can be attributed to the fact that he is committed to mastering his new craft as evidenced by his recent completion of Mediating the Litigated Case at the Straus Institute at Pepperdine University.
Holsenback’s experience as a business litigator and general counsel has led him to encourage the selective use of joint sessions, especially in business cases where the parties have a future relationship to preserve. “I see joint sessions, often, as a lost opportunity to: (1) directly persuade the opposition; (2) let each party see their attorney advocating their cause; and (3) to size up the opposition’s counsel (in effect getting a taste of trial). With a sufficiently strong mediator facilitating the process, it need not become the breast-beating exercise that caused it to go out of vogue.”
Holsenback’s mediation style is not only giving him immense gratification, along with allowing warring parties to heal, but he’s also providing a venue for attorneys who are eager to work collaboratively. Suffice it to say, this opportunity has been well received to say the least.
Christopher R. Allison, attorney at Gates, O’Doherty, Gonter & Guy LLP, says “I have had the pleasure of working with Dan for months on a challenging case that has not yet settled. Throughout this process, Dan has continually demonstrated the ability to listen, empathize, analyze, communicate, and persevere. I will continue to work with him on this case and look forward to working with him again on many future matters.”
Likewise, Randy Kay, attorney at Jones Day, is glad to have Holsenback available as a neutral with ADR. “We need more mediators with Dan’s background in business and IP and I look forward to using him for the right case,” he says.
With incredible support from the legal community, and a firm conviction that he’s found the perfect stage for the final act of his career, Holsenback is understandably excited about his future with ADR. “As a litigator, my practice focus shifted enough times where I can comfortably say, I have sufficient experience to mediate cases involving real estate to intellectual property, business and employment disputes, personal injury and insurance bad faith. Throughout the years, I enjoyed using ADR mediators such as Wayne Peterson, Mike Roberts and Steve Kruis.
When I met with Dario Higuchi, Director of Operations for ADR Services, he impressed me with the fact-finding mission he had undertaken in an attempt to see what the market wanted from its mediators. They wanted them to be prepared, involved, caring and persistent. That’s a mission I can get behind and am proud to be a part of. I’m incredibly excited for this role.”

J. Daniel Holsenback
225 Broadway, Suite 1400
San Diego, California 92101 USA
P: (619) 233-1323

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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