By Alison Preece | May 18, 2023 | Lawyer Limelights
When A.J. de Bartolomeo takes on a case, she is not thinking about herself. She gets laser-focused on a clients’ needs, helping them navigate difficult situations and finding solutions that address their concerns and wishes. Whether representing an individual, a major corporation, or an MDL class, her magic is to find the solution that best fits the clients’ needs.
De Bartolomeo started her career working on Wall Street as an institutional trader, an experience that she says taught her to be detail-oriented, and that “no job is too small.” She went to law school to give herself an edge in the world of investment banking, but became captivated with the complexities of corporate law and litigation, the interweaving of business and law. And she loved being able to advocate for people and companies in a way that could improve their lives.
She began working as a corporate defense lawyer, but even in that role she was interested more in the people and their businesses behind the litigation matters. She has since developed her practice into a mix of plaintiff and defense work, focused on correcting injustices in society and fixing problems for clients so they can get back to business.
De Bartolomeo recently represented Hope Solo, the soccer star GOAT goalie and two-time Olympic gold medalist, in her Equal Pay Act and Title VII discrimination case against the U.S. Soccer Federation. As a professional woman, de Bartolomeo is keenly aware of the institutionalized sexism that still permeates too many corners of our society and believes passionately in being a part of the solution toward gender equality. As such, representing Solo – who has been a trailblazer and activist for Equal Pay and diversity for most of her professional career – was particularly important and relevant. In the case, Solo successfully resolved her individual claims and objected to the class counsel's attorneys' fee request on the grounds that it was not reasonable – specifically that an upward adjustment from the 9th Circuit’s 25 percent benchmark was not justified under the circumstances of the case. The federal judge ultimately reduced the class counsel’s fee request, allowing for a larger allocation of funds to the players, including Solo.
De Bartolomeo has held leadership positions in several organizations throughout her career, with a focus on advocating for women in the industry. She is the former chair of the Women's Trial Lawyer Caucus (WTLC) in the American Association of Justice. De Bartolomeo proudly states that the WTLC and its members are a “force to be reckoned with.” She’s also active with the Consumer Attorneys of California, where she is a board member and active on the education and convention committees. With both groups, she helps lobby and advocate for consumers against misleading or false statements in advertising, services or for faulty products, including pharmaceutical drugs and devices.
No matter the client, de Bartolomeo first takes the time to listen – to truly understand what their complaints and concerns are, how the problems are impacting their business or life, and why it is important to them to resolve things in a certain way. By doing so, she’s able to advise them in a course of action that’s truly best for them, whether it’s a multinational corporation or an individual. “You cannot properly represent someone without understanding what it is like to walk in their shoes,” she says.
Nearly four years ago, de Bartolomeo joined forces with Ariana J. Tadler to launch Tadler Law. After years of working for much larger firms, the two women are enjoying the ability to be nimble and varied in the work they choose to take on, and to focus on the cases that are making a real difference.
Lawdragon: Tell us about your work with Hope Solo.
A.J. de Bartolomeo: We were working with Hope to gain compensation for herself and other players for pay discrimination. She has always been a courageous leader and an advocate for equal pay in sports, and it’s been an honor to work with her on this.
Whether you’re representing a Fortune 500 company or an individual, you need to hear their story, their concerns, and understand the case from their perspective.
Hope originally filed an individual case in federal court in the Northern District of California, and then when the class action on behalf of the women’s team was filed in the Central District of California, she and her lead lawyer invited me to join the legal team to advise on how the class action would affect her individual case. A parallel class action filed five months after Hope’s individual action added a complexity to the litigation. The cases moved along in tandem, with the class action taking the lead.
Following class certification, which was a huge win for the women players, Hope elected not to opt into the Equal Pay Act claim, which has a back pay element. She is still part of the Title VII claims in the class action, which is based in discrimination. Meanwhile, the Northern District California court stayed our individual claim and issued an order directing the parties to coordinate with the class case pending in the Central District over the same federal statutes – Equal Pay Act and Title VII. So we were tied into the class action. The class lost summary judgment and filed an appeal, and then there was a settlement. We objected to that settlement, in part, because the plan of allocation for the back pay was not clear to allow the players to understand exactly what sort of money they would be getting so that they could make an informed decision. We also argued that class counsel’s fee request was unreasonable and should be reduced to allow more money for the players.
Our objection was in line with everything Hope has stood for in her career, and what Tadler Law stands for, too. The team was not being treated fairly, and Hope was the only one to stand up and say, “this is not ok.” And she has been criticized for that courage in the past, but she is advocating for the whole team. This is a settlement for professional sports players to compensate them for discriminatory payment. They deserved to know exactly what that number is before they have to agree to it and release their claims. The Solo case goes right to the basic premises of equality and transparency that have always been so important to me.
LD: You started your career as a defense attorney for corporations and boards. How did that shape your style as an advocate?
AJdB: It’s interesting. My very first client was the former board of directors of a company called Pacific Lumber, based in the beautiful country of Humboldt County in Northern California – deep redwood country. Pacific Lumber Company had been privately held for years, and was the proud owner of the largest inventory of old-growth redwoods. Sadly, it was taken public during the junk bond frenzy of the ‘80s, which never should have happened. This company had no need to ever be in the capital markets. But it was thrown in – amid the Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken era. To raise funds for the public entity, they started clear cutting, which destroyed their longevity. Then the individual board members were sued in a big securities case, part of a huge MDL having to do with those Milken/Boesky issued junk bonds.
I was a young attorney, and I would meet with my clients – the individuals on the board of directors in a very human way. I had tea in their living rooms up in Eureka, Calif. They lived and breathed – and loved – this company. It became very clear to me how important it was to really listen to your clients. Whether you’re representing a Fortune 500 company or an individual, you need to hear their story, their concerns, and understand the case from their perspective.
Litigation takes people away from what they want to be doing. People are trying to run and grow their businesses, and it’s my job to help solve the problem so they can get back to doing what they do best.
LD: How about your time on Wall Street? What takeaways do you have from that time?
AJdB: The big one is that details matter and no one is too big to do the little jobs along the way. I worked on an institutional trading desk, and one of the more complicated aspects of that trading was building bond funds, a fixed income security. I worked for a super high-powered gentleman from New Orleans, pronounced “N’Orlans.” Bud was probably one of the best bond traders Wall Street has ever seen. He instilled in me a real respect for attention to detail. Because those final percentages and calculations, risk assessments and calculations matter – figuring out how it’s going to work – how you’re going to sell it, who’s going to be interested in it – it’s not the sexy stuff, but if you don’t do it correctly, the whole thing will be a mess.
People are trying to run and grow their businesses, and it’s my job to help solve the problem so they can get back to doing what they do best.
On a similar note, it also instilled in me that no job is too small. Even if you’re the head trial lawyer, you still learn the documents, you read the testimony, you don’t prance in like a diva on stage and just do your thing, relying on others for the grit and details. You need to know the case from the bottom up, inside out and backwards.
LD: How did you transition from finance into the law?
AJdB: The lawyers in the institutional trading group where I worked said to me, “A.J., you are smart and do not want to just be another B-School graduate. Go to law school because you’re going to learn how to think differently there.” I planned to go and bring what I learned back to Wall Street and go into corporate finance. But then, halfway through law school I took a job at a firm that did white-collar crime defense. Suddenly I was combining securities and the business world with this thing called litigation and trial. It was so exciting and challenging and I loved the strategic nature of it all. I was more surprised than anybody else that I decided I wanted to be a practicing trial lawyer, but it was just the perfect combination of all the things that I found most interesting.
LD: You have long been an advocate for women in the law. Why is that important to you?
AJdB: Growing up, I was the little girl on the baseball field who could throw better than the boys, could run faster, but I wasn’t allowed in Little League because I was a girl. I had to play in the girls’ league, even though the boys wanted me to play on their team because I was that good. And even as a kid, I just thought, this isn’t right. If I can do it as well as them or even better, why am I not allowed in that club?
I was lucky to be raised in a household that pushed me to try and be as good as I could be at whatever I tried to do. Your gender didn’t matter, any more than the color of your skin or who you choose to love. If you’re good at something, you should be able to do it and be compensated appropriately for it. I was blessed that my parents had that sense of fairness and instilled it in me – and that’s always stuck with me. I want to help the people who aren’t being properly represented.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
AJdB: I really care about my clients. Of course, every lawyer should, but that is not always the case. Early in my career, I worked on the In Re MCI Non-Subscriber MDL, where phone customers were being charged extra fees on their phone bills that shouldn’t have been there. I was a senior associate and one of the only women in the group in leadership. So, a lot of the work that fell to me was the stuff that many people don’t like to do, the stuff that isn’t flashy. I was the one talking to the class members, helping them through the process, making sure the settlement notice and administration was accurate at preliminary approval, designing the plan of allocation, that sort of thing. The nuts and bolts of a class action settlement.
Ultimately, we got in front of the court and the rest of the leadership wanted to talk about fee allocation for the lawyers. And the judge said, “No, no, before we get to that, I want to know what’s going on with the class.” And every question he had, about the class’s concerns, questions, comments, it was like every male head in the room swiveled over to me, because I was the one who had those answers. It’s a basic tenet of advocacy, taking care of your client. But that sometimes gets lost in the flash and glitter.
LD: What advice do you have for young lawyers who would like to build a similar career?
AJB: Own whatever it is you're doing. If you have a project and you think it's just one little thing, you own it, you become the master of that so that when you're sitting at that table and somebody wants to ask about what's going on with the interrogatories, you know them from front to back, in Greek, upside down. You are the authority on that project. Because when you become the authority on something, when you know more about it than anybody else in the room, you've just added value to that case and to that client’s representation. People are going to trust you and they're going to give you more to do. That’s how you build a career, piece by piece.