Ranked among the "Best Lawyers in America" and honored by the American Board of Trial Advocates on the principles of civility, integrity and professionalism, the San Diego law firm of Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire has built much of its reputation on representing the little guy.
Eight to 10 years ago, TBM began broadening that base by attempting to represent the big guy against the bigger guy, and the biggest guy against his equal in the business-to-business arena -- an arena that typically involves a breach of some type of agreement between business entities.
This growth resulted in representing companies like Kyocera and the Port Authority as well as bringing a class action on behalf of 2.5 million California minors against the entire tobacco industry -- a case currently pending in the California Supreme Court.
In their 29 years together, co-founding partners John F. "Mickey" McGuire and Vincent J. Bartolotta Jr. have seen and done it all from one of today’s rarest vantage points -- the inside of a courtroom. And McGuire says there’s probably not a type of case that can be brought to trial that they haven’t tried from one side or another.
"For a relatively small firm we are large from the standpoint that we only do one thing: We are trial lawyers," he said.
And in a day and age when trial experience is hard to come by, the benefit of being represented by trial lawyers is all the more valuable, especially in the face of arbitration and shortcuts.
"The courts have done a very good job of having mediations be the preferred way of resolving disputes," McGuire said. "I’m not saying that’s not the right way to do it -- as a matter of fact, it’s probably the best way to do it in most cases, but in my experience, the only way that you’re going to get any mediation that is even close to being favorable is if you’re prepared to try the case and it doesn’t work out."
When dealing specifically with breach of contract cases, McGuire said the firm’s expertise lies not in drafting actual contracts, but in picking up the pieces when someone has breached what someone else has drafted, or rather, broken the promise.
"We’re very much partial to the party that’s been wronged," McGuire said.
Although this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always the plaintiff. Nowadays, as lawsuits are being used offensively to gain a business advantage, the wronged party can easily be the defendant.
No matter which side of the fence they land on, TBM believes the same great skill they’ve always applied to the little guy can be used to the benefit of a big business that has been harmed. In breach of contract cases, the harm occurs when a party fails to keep their word in a business context, as opposed to any other context.
"The sanctity of contract is important to everybody no matter what your assets or what your net worth is," McGuire said. "A deal should be a deal for everybody."
Whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or a corporation, TBM offers an alternative that most businesses never get the chance to look at.
"Businesses are used to paying lawyers by the hour," said McGuire, who explained that traditional business-to-business litigation is typically handled by larger firms who have an unavoidable built-in structure. There’s the partner who manages the client, along with the partner who concentrates on preparing the litigation, and that partner comes with two or three associates and three or four paralegals. Which is not to say these firms aren’t good at what they do, but they can become quite expensive.
McGuire points out that if there is no monetary goal to be achieved -- where perhaps someone just wants someone else off the land or out of their face -- hourly rates are usually necessary.
"But, if what you want is monetary relief, to be paid a certain amount of money, then we've looked at cases on a contingency basis, which makes taking on the bigger business a lot more affordable for the small business," he said.
In addition to breach of contract cases, TBM specializes in eminent domain, condemnation, construction defects, fraud and franchise disputes as well as medical malpractice, personal injury and wrongful death.
Chappell is a San Diego-based freelance writer.