Employment, malpractice and personal injury attorney Jim Rosen doesn’t back down from a fight – and he seldom loses. Since he opened his own firm in 1993, now Rosen Saba, the southern California-based attorney has tackled massive civil cases on both sides of the aisle. His career has featured successful litigation of high-profile employment and harassment disputes, catastrophic injury cases, professional liability claims, business torts and more. In his defense work, he’s gone to bat for local governments and major multi-national corporations. On the plaintiff side, Rosen has represented people from all walks of life, from famous entertainers like Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks to recent immigrants who have faced sexual harassment at work. In total, he has won more than $100M for his clients.
In addition to his responsibilities as managing partner of the firm, Rosen remains active in the legal world both as an expert witness and in leadership positions. He is frequently engaged in expert witness testimony in legal malpractice cases throughout the state of California, working to ensure everyone is held accountable – even lawyers. He also currently serves as the vice president for the L.A. chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), where he will be president in the next two years. Rosen further serves his field through his love of writing. He is the author of multiple articles for the L.A. Daily Journal featuring ABOTA lawyers, and he is a member of the editorial board for Voir Dire magazine.
Lawdragon: Tell me a bit about the founding of your firm. How did you decide to open your own practice?
Jim Rosen: Well, I started as a Big Law lawyer. The first seven or eight years of my practice, I was an associate and then a partner at the Buchalter law firm. I got a lot of trial practice there. The people there were very friendly and supportive of young lawyers, and I really liked working with a lot of them. Len Venger, in particular, was one of my mentors when I was starting out. He was the managing partner at Buchalter at the time and a great role model.
At some point, I realized that I was really drawn to the plaintiffs’ side of the law, but I was a defense lawyer at Buchalter. So, I struck out on my own in 1993 and opened my own practice.
LD: How did your other name partner, Ryan Saba, join you?
JR: I needed another associate. So, I called some of my friends and I got referred to Ryan. This was back in 1999, when he was a second-year associate. He agreed to come over, and we've been working together since. We became partners around 2006 and now here we are.
LD: What made you say, "Yes, I want him to come over”?
JR: You'd have to know Ryan. He's a dynamic person. Very friendly. A quick study. Good on his feet. Great trial lawyer. I can't say enough good things about Ryan. I've been very lucky to have him as a partner and friend this whole time.
LD: You were saying that you wanted to do more plaintiffs’ work and that's why you struck out on your own. But you still practice on both sides of the aisle, right?
JR: I do. I'd say I'm two-to-one or three-to-one plaintiff in my practice.
LD: Do you feel that having a firm that practices both sides is helpful?
JR: It's terrific. When I left Buchalter, I had to take on both because when you're a young lawyer and you're opening a firm, you take whatever comes in. So, I had a couple of my holdover defense clients, and I was bringing in plaintiffs’ work. I found that when I was on the plaintiffs’ side, I knew exactly what the defendant was doing. When I was on the defense side, I now knew and was comfortable with exactly what the plaintiff needed for his or her case and was able to see it from every perspective. I think our hybrid practice has become a great advantage for, not just me, but the whole firm.
LD: Looking all the way back, why did you first want to become a lawyer?
JR: I became a lawyer because, as a young kid, they reran “Perry Mason” at night, and I loved watching it. I always envisioned myself as being that kind of innovative trial lawyer.
But then I attracted more work, and I attracted more lawyers to help me with the work. I can't tell you that I ever envisioned a 12-lawyer firm, which is what we have now. Ryan and I both always say, "Well, we don't want to grow too large." But we're twice as large as we were when we said that. We’ve picked up momentum.
Billy [Blanks] really needed competent business advice to make his way through that whole maze. Unfortunately, he attracted a lot of sharks.
LD: Did you have any cases that really spurred on that momentum?
JR: I've had some milestone cases in my career.
I think my first noteworthy plaintiff case at this firm was the Loni Anderson case. The case was Nancy Nelson versus Loni Anderson and a partner at their law firm, which was Musick, Peeler & Garrett. We went to trial on that a long time ago. Because Loni Anderson, the actress, was involved, TV crews were always in the hallway waiting for comments.
Then there was the Billy Blanks case.
LD: Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about that story.
JR: Billy Blanks was a seven-time karate champion and martial artist who, due to his charisma and the way he ran his classes in The Valley, attracted a big following. Ultimately, a producer said, "If I can capture this on tape and sell it in an infomercial, I'll make a lot of money." And he was right. Overnight, Billy was a big hit. He was able to take this phenomenon and become one of the first mass market exercisers.
Billy really needed competent business advice to make his way through that whole maze. Unfortunately, he attracted a lot of sharks. He was forever being taken advantage of or muscled out by people who skirted the law or wouldn't honor contracts. One of them was his self-proclaimed manager, who was never licensed as a talent agent, even though he should have been. But the lawyers that Billy hired to go after the manager blew the statute of limitations and tried to cover it up.
So, we went to trial against them in 2005, against basically no offer. We won a $38.5M jury verdict.
LD: That’s incredible.
JR: Yeah. The case wound its way up the appellate ladder and was ultimately sent back when the Supreme Court ruled in another case that the labor commissioner had been misinterpreting one of the key statutes. So, it came back, got reset for trial and settled very close to trial that time around.
LD: That sounds like it was a long haul.
JR: It was. But we've had a lot of long hauls.
LD: Are there any other cases that stand out to you as highlights?
JR: Absolutely. I had a defense case early in my career, representing two police officers. It was by far the most intrigue and twists I’ve had in a case. My opposing attorney had us followed, overheard what my plan was after lunch and then collapsed in the corridor and was taken to the hospital. He finagled a short trial continuance, but deserved an Oscar.
JR: Yeah. Then there was an employment case I tried with Elizabeth Bradley, my other partner and a gifted lawyer, where we represented a half-dozen senior waitresses. They were servers who worked at a family coffee shop for a gazillion years and were phased out for a “Hooters” kind of environment. They were told, "Don't worry, your jobs aren't at risk." But the company brazenly interviewed much younger women – who were supposed to bring headshots to the interview – while the senior waitresses were there.
The trial ended right before Christmas with a $6.7M verdict.
LD: That's a good gift.
JR: That was nice. Then there was also the Garcia sexual harassment case in Bakersfield. During trial, I was living out of a hotel in Bakersfield representing a mother and daughter who both worked for Bakersfield's largest employer in agribusiness.
It happened that I was picking a sexual harassment jury on the day that the election results between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton came in.
I became a lawyer because, as a young kid, they reran “Perry Mason” at night, and I loved watching it. I always envisioned myself as being that kind of innovative trial lawyer.
LD: Oh, really?
JR: I watched Trump win the election in Bakersfield, which is predominantly Republican.
I was up against the community’s biggest agribusiness, and I was picking a jury that I wanted to find that the same forklift driver had sexually harassed both of my Hispanic clients, the mother of whom didn't speak great English. Three out of five of these people, based on statistics, had voted for Trump the day before. And I thought, "Oh, God. What a setup for disaster."
But, in the end, it was a very rewarding experience. The jury was very receptive.
LD: That's great.
JR: We won 800-something thousand dollars with an automatic attorney fee provision. Then for punitive damages, the jury found that the company had acted oppressively. We settled for a multiple of the jury’s award within about an hour of that first-phase verdict.
It was also a crazy case because one of the managers who was accused of retaliating against my client broke down on the witness stand and admitted to an extramarital affair with the forklift driver who was harassing my client.
JR: It was crazy. Just like one of those novella soap operas.
LD: So, you've definitely had some memorable moments in trial. Are there any recent case wins or settlements that you can tell me about?
JR: Two of the best for me were right before the pandemic. In January of 2020, I settled the Sheppard Mullin case – Sheppard Mullin versus J-M Manufacturing. At the time, it was the most noteworthy California malpractice case in a long time. It was top news and it had been reversed by the Supreme Court with some blistering language. We were set for retrial in Santa Monica, and resolved the case very advantageously right before trial.
I also tried a sexual harassment case in January of 2020. Male plaintiff, female defendant. She harassed him. 99 percent of my sexual harassment clients are women, but there are a growing number of male victims out there. The key is the harasser’s position of power. Gender, and even the sex, seem to matter less.
LD: Tell me a little more about your sexual harassment employment practice.
JR: I’ve tried a fair amount and also settled a lot of sexual harassment cases. A lot. It’s astounding that after everything that's happened and all of these high-powered men have fallen from grace, ridiculously offensive conduct still happens. You just have to know what you do in the employment world can bite you. I still get the most incredible fact patterns of guys, mostly, misbehaving in the dumbest ways. It's astounding to me.
LD: How did you start working in that practice area?
JR: It was right after I left Buchalter. My first several sexual harassment cases were female associates I’d worked with or against in different cases, who felt like they finally had somebody who could press their case against the male partners at their firm. It then became a mainstay of my practice.
LD: Outside of your practice, you've often served as an expert witness. Tell me a bit about that.
JR: I have a handful of cases right now where I'm an expert.
LD: How do you get involved in those engagements?
JR: A lot of times lawyers don't want to testify against another lawyer. So, it's easier sometimes to go to L.A. or elsewhere in the state and find a good lawyer who will come to San Francisco, or Santa Barbara, or Alameda and testify there. And that's usually what I've done, in, I think, four different counties so far, not including L.A.
LD: So, you're primarily serving as an expert witness in legal malpractice cases then?
JR: Yes. Mostly as to lawyers’ standard of care. And, again, like the rest of my practice: Half of them plaintiff, half of them defense.
LD: Speaking of your work outside the firm, tell me about serving as the vice president of the L.A. Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.
JR: Well, I just love the organization. I love it because it's evenly balanced, plaintiff and defense. It’s comprised of the best trial lawyers, nationally and in our community. You have to have both trial experience and a reputation for civility and integrity to get into the organization. Everybody becomes more human by being a member.
It’s ABOTA’s focus on the art of being a formidable, civil and ethical trial lawyer that draws those people there, not necessarily an ideology.
So, now I'm on the leadership ladder where I’m vice president this year, president-elect next year and then chapter president in '24. I'm also co-chairman of ABOTA’s membership committee nationally.
LD: And then what about within the firm? Do you have any recent firm news you can tell me about?
JR: The most recent news is that we’ve recently moved to new offices and added a fourth and a fifth partner.
LD: That's fantastic. Who are your new partners?
JR: Francesca Dioguardi was elevated to partner last year. She’s just a terrific, all-around person. A mainstay of our defense practice and a delight to work with. This year, Todd Lander came to Rosen Saba as a lateral. He's the former chairman of the litigation department of Freeman Freeman & Smiley. And, from 2014 to 2021, Todd and I were locked in the most intense, all-consuming business litigation/attorney malpractice case you could imagine.
LD: Oh, really?
JR: Seven years of constant, relentless fighting. When it was all over, Todd and I had both fought gallantly, had gotten along together, and had earned each other’s respect. After the dust settled, we figured the only thing better would be to partner up – and here we are now.
LD: That's so exciting.
JR: It really is. We have new offices in the South Bay, a satellite office in Santa Barbara, interesting and challenging cases and a dynamic, collegial team. I consider myself very fortunate. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.