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ADVOCACY FOR THE EXPLOITED

Jean-Claude Lapuyade is fixated on delivering results for clients wronged via construction defects, aggrieved wages and hourly employees, and low-income individuals who fall victim to unlawful housing practices.

“I like the challenge of complex multi-party litigation and class action litigation. I know it sounds cliché, but I love the fact that what I do every day is fight for the little guys,” says Jean-Claude Lapuyade, Founder of JCL Law Firm.
At first blush, Lapuyade may be appear to be of the “little guys” himself. Just 4 years after graduating from law school, Lapuyade took a leap of faith to open his own firm—a risky gamble, considering his passion for complex litigation. However, given that he authored a winning brief before the Maryland Court of Appeals, (Chmurny v. State) while he was still a law clerk; in hindsight, it’s clear that Lapuyade’s talent and tenacity was anything but ordinary.
“I always planned to run my own firm, but like everyone I needed to get my feet wet before hanging out my shingle. I began out of law school working for a plaintiffs’ construction defect firm. It was my first experience in that area of law, and I enjoyed the challenge of putting together a case against 5, 10, 15, sometimes 20 or more different defendants. I also had a great mentor in Bill Naumann,” he adds. “I got terrific experience in insurance litigation, turning cookie cutter construction defect cases into true product liability cases.”
By 2010, Lapuyade was ready to try his hand at running his own firm, and launched JCL Law Firm, with an initial focus on construction defect cases. However, it wasn’t long before Lapuyade expanded his practice to include employment wage and hour class action litigation, and most recently unlawful housing practices class actions.

FOCUSED ON CLIENTS IN CONSTRUCTION DEFECT CASES
“In a practice area lacking passion, we love what we do,” he says. “We represent large groups of single-family homeowners, homeowners’ association and commercial property owners in construction defect litigation against builders for defective original construction. This represents approximately 60-65% of our business, and the overwhelming majority of our cases are referred by my colleagues,” he says.
Lapuyade believes that there are several reasons fellow attorneys are so quick to refer these types of cases to JCL Law Firm. “We are dedicated to personalized, attentive and regular client communication. I constantly hear clients say things like, “My last attorney wouldn’t call me back,” or “We haven’t heard from our attorney in 4-5 months.” I never want a client to feel that way, so we are committed to maintaining constant communication,” he explains.
In addition, Lapuyade’s passion for helping homeowners who are up against a giant insurance company, or powerful builder, shines through when he says, “We are entirely focused on the best result for our clients, and are always striving to maximize their net award, rather than maximizing attorney fees.” By way of example, in 2016 alone, JCL Law recovered more than $5.5M for clients in construction defect cases.
But perhaps the referrals that mean the most to Lapuyade are those that come from the attorneys defending the “big guys” the JCL Firm has challenged. “There is no greater honor than having former opposing counsel respect the quality of my work enough to refer clients. To have attorneys I’ve gone up against send business to me is the best compliment I can receive.”

FIGHTING FOR WORKERS IN WAGE AND HOUR CLASS ACTIONS
When it comes to fighting for the little guys in employment cases, Lapuyade doesn’t mince words in describing the unfair and illegal actions leveraged against wage and hourly employees.
“The amount of wage theft that goes on continues to amaze me,” he says. “When you have several hundred employees being cheated out of thousands of dollars each year, that’s a substantial windfall for the employer.”
Citing the miscalculation of overtime rates as one of the ways that hourly employees are most often wronged, Lapuyade says that the illegal activity is often apparent just by looking at the paystubs of employees. “The violations are clear to see. My job in fighting for the employees is to make it known to employers engaging in these violations, that what they are doing is not right, it’s not fair, and it’s not legal,” he explains.
Likewise, Lapuyade often fights for workers who are so grossly overscheduled that it is impossible for them to be able to take the meal and rest breaks that they are legally entitled to take. “Employees don’t have to take a meal or rest break by law. However, they are certainly entitled to those breaks if they want them. But all too often, employers create impossible schedules for their employees, wherein they cannot complete their work if they take a break, yet the company does not allow for overtime. That leaves employees with two options. They can skip their breaks, or they can take their breaks, but wind up having to work for free to complete their daily workload,” he says.
However, employers who choose to engage in these types of practices learn painful lessons, once Lapuyade takes on a case. This year, for example, one California retail outlet found itself on the receiving end of Lapuyade’s quest for justice, to the tune of $1.9M owed to employees and former employees.

Jean-Claude Lapuyade, Esq.
RIGHTING WRONGS COMMITTED BY OWNERS/ OPERATORS OF RESIDENTIAL HOTELS
“We are so proud to represent low-income individuals in class action lawsuits for unlawful housing practices against owners and operators of residential hotels,” Lapuyade says of the unique third practice area he maintains. “There are very few attorneys who take these cases, but we have found a strategy that triggers insurance coverage for claims, and the work is incredibly rewarding.”
In this niche field, Lapuyade stands as a beacon of justice and a voice for low-income individuals. “Individuals and families often reside in these ‘hotels’ for long periods of time, and as tenants they are afforded the same rights as those who rent from any property management company or private owner. But in these cases, the owners and operators receive government subsidies including preferential financing in exchange for providing low-income housing. Yet they continue to engage in unlawful housing practices against tenants” Lapuyade says.
To make it even worse, Lapuyade says, “The rents charged by many residential hotel owners and operators are actually fairly expensive, but low-income individuals often have nowhere else to go, because of job instability or credit issues. That puts them at the mercy of the hotel operator. My first case involved a woman who had lived in a hotel for over 2 years. She had furnished her own space, and it was absolutely her home. She was one day late on rent, and the owner called the police and had her belongings unlawfully ejected,” he explains.
Lapuyade begin taking more and more of these cases over the years, driven in part by a sense of community service he says was instilled in him since he was a child. “My family has always pushed us to be involved in community service. We participated in food drives, and worked in food kitchens. In college, my fraternity also volunteered with soup kitchens and performed other service work to help the poor and indigent community.” Today, victories that Lapuyade has attained against the owners and operators of residential hotels for unlawful housing practices have led to thousands of dollars of settlement funds being awarded to charities in the affordable housing space. In fact, in 2016, his work lead to nearly $80,000 awarded through the cy pres doctrine, to charities including the Alphas Project and Alpha Square.
As an undisputed champion for the “little guys,” Lapuyade’s own star is on the rise, as evidenced by back-to-back Super Lawyers Rising Star Awards, and a steady stream of referrals from fellow San Diego attorneys and past clients. But Lapuyade has no plans to intentionally expand his practice, for the sake of growing a larger firm. Instead, he plans to continue his efforts in fighting for the little guys, who are up against seemingly impossible odds when it comes to construction defect, wage and hour, and unlawful housing practices. “I’m sure JCL Firm will be adding a few attorneys over the next few years, but I’m not focused on growing a big firm. I’m committed to continuing to provide exceptional legal services on a contingency fee, within a small firm environment.”

Contact
Jean-Claude Lapuyade, Esq.
JCL Law Firm, A.P.C.
10200 Willow Creek Road, Suite 150
San Diego, CA 92131
P: (619) 599-8292
jlapuyade@jcl-lawfirm.com
jcl-lawfirm.com

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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