Lawyer Limelight: Emile A. Davis

Many of the nation’s leading plaintiffs’ lawyers started on the defense side before finding their true calling. Not so with Emile Davis, who has spent his career in court opposing the Goliaths of the world in employment and personal injury cases. Davis worked at Dolan Law Firm right after graduating from Golden Gate University School of Law in 2000. He then joined the firm led by John Winer (now Winer, Burritt & Scott) before eventually setting up his own practice in Southern California. But the idea of returning to Northern California proved to be a winning one for Davis’ family, as well as for his old firm.

“I called Chris Dolan to get the band back together,” Davis explains. “He liked the idea. I manage the employment team and the Oakland office for the Dolan Law Firm.” 

Lawdragon: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?

Emile Davis: I have always identified with the underdog – the lone person up against a corporation or insurance company. Plaintiffs’ side law in general and employment law in particular fit right in with that mindset. 

LD: What has kept you excited about it over the years?

ED: We all have to work, but unlike the rest of life, we don't get to choose with whom we associate. When that relationship goes bad, particularly when based upon a protected classification, there is little resource for an individual. Knowing that we can restore dignity and help them stand up to, and bring down, the big guys is a prime motivator.

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

ED: We had a human trafficking matter, where a fellow literally stumbled into the firm after leaving the hospital. It was a complicated matter that required intellectual rigor and the determination to fight a company that was ultimately based in another country. It required involving immigration attorneys, getting visas to take depositions in another country and to pour over thousands of pages of documents. In the end, seeing the plaintiff, who had trusted us, receive justice and be able to bring his family here was very rewarding.

LD: What did you learn from Chris Dolan or other mentors in those early years?

ED: I worked for Chris Dolan for the first time right out of law school. Doing trials in those early days with somebody with that level of skill was great training. I recall, very early on, as I was prepping Chris to argue a motion while we walked to his motorcycle. He looked at me and said, "You are going to be dangerous!" I have always taken that as a compliment and a challenge. Later, John Winer took a chance on me and made me a partner in his firm. I learned a level of management that gave me the knowledge and skills that allowed me to run my own firm and then where I am now, running a large office for Dolan Law Firm after returning here. 

I have always been a plaintiffs’ trial attorney. I never looked at the defense side. When I ran my own firm, I did some criminal defense, but other than that I have always been focused on employment discrimination and catastrophic injury.

LD: Can you share a lawyer you have come up against case whom you admire?

ED: In medical malpractice cases, the defense often hired Ralph Lombardi, who is now retired and acting as a neutral, to represent them. He had the ability to be pleasant and deadly in deposition. Clients would not even know the extent of damage he inflicted on their case. 

LD: How would you describe your style as a trial lawyer? Or, how do you think others see you?

ED: I attempt to be as reasonable and straight up as possible in a given situation. I am friendly by nature and having tried on different styles over the years, it is clear that I catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I get far superior results from witnesses, defense counsel, judges and courts when they see that I am attempting to be reasonable – even if we completely disagree. Attorneys have to work together to make this system function. We can argue on paper to a judge, or put the whole matter in front of a jury to resolve, but there is rarely a reason not to act with firm resolution in one’s convictions, yet with an eye toward amicable resolution. 

LD: There are many high-quality firms out there. What do you think makes the Dolan Law Firm unique when trying to recruit new lawyers or get new cases?

ED: We have some incredible attorneys working for the firm and on my team. We don't try to sell new recruits on us; hopefully, they know the firm's reputation. We are large enough that no defendant is too big or expensive for us to fight. That is a huge plus that allows us to move cases forward where others may be drowning. That ability mixed with the passion to represent people, from all walks of life, that have been wronged by others leads good attorneys to us. 

LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?

ED: Keep your interests and opportunities open. The law is a giant field. Find the place where you can enjoy what you do and push to change not just the clients, but the law and how people think about the law.