Litigator Ryan Saba has always charted his own path. After law school, he knew he wanted to create his own practice – a firm that embodied his unshakable principles and took on a wide range of cases. All he was missing, at the time, was experience.
It was then that Saba first met attorney Jim Rosen, who had recently started a new practice himself. The two struck a deal: Saba would act as Rosen’s associate at the new firm, while Rosen would train him in both being a trial lawyer and running a law firm. The relationship blossomed, and the two stayed together and have been partners at their firm, Rosen Saba, for nearly 25 years.
Just as Saba’s ambition and creativity brought him to a firm leadership position early in his career, his dedication to his principles has seen him take on a caseload dedicated to the clients he cares about, no matter the practice area. He litigates employment, civil rights, personal injury, consumer litigation, professional responsibility, women’s rights cases and more – on both sides of the V.
He’s seen landmark victories on both sides, as well, including a federal jury trial in August 2023 in which he and his Rosen Saba team obtained a verdict of $62M for a breach of confidentiality contract matter. That was not his only significant verdict, he also obtained the largest personal injury jury verdict in California in 2020. That case, on behalf of the family of a teenage boy who was killed at a crosswalk, garnered a $25.6M result. On the defense side, just this year Saba won a defense jury verdict in favor of a landowner who was sued for more than $10M in lost profits.
One common thread between his cases is how often they come to a jury trial: an environment where Saba thrives. A member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, Saba is a fierce believer in the strength of the American legal system and the right to a jury trial. “If you look at the way disputes are resolved in other countries throughout the world, there are places where an individual doesn't get due process or fair treatment. ABOTA preserves future generations’ right to have access to a fair system,” he says.
Saba’s work has earned him a spot in the Lawdragon 500 Leading Litigators in America and the 2023 and 2022 Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Consumer Lawyers. His work in employment and civil rights litigation has earned him a place in the Lawdragon 500 Leading Civil Rights & Plaintiff Employment Lawyers list three years running.
Lawdragon: What brought you to a legal career?
Ryan Saba: I attribute my path to a legal career to my parents. Growing up, my dad would constantly challenge me on what was right and wrong and engage us in arguments just to learn how to be a good person and develop as a human being. I've been on that path ever since I was in grammar school – knowing I was going to go to law school to specifically be a trial lawyer.
LD: Why specifically a trial lawyer?
RS: I've always enjoyed the art of taking complicated facts and law and distilling it down into an easy story that a jury can understand and be persuaded that our client is correct and the other guy's wrong.
LD: What are some of the ways you go about doing that?
RS: Being direct with juries is always more persuasive than not. Juries tend to have shorter attention spans these days than they had 10 years ago. So, you need to get to the point and not save the best for last. In the old days, it was always great to pull out an 'Aha' moment late in trial; these days it needs to come out early because jurors make up their minds faster than they used to.
LD: Did you start out in a particular practice area and then expand or were you always keen to grab from different places?
RS: We really pride ourselves on being lawyers first as opposed to a personal injury lawyer or an employment lawyer or a business litigator. We enjoy the intellectual aspects of different types of cases and the competitive aspects of varying fact patterns. We also enjoy the civility of meeting other lawyers in other areas of practice of law. By handling all types of cases, it allows us to be flexible and travel in different circles, which is a benefit of being a trial lawyer in a large community like California.
There are certainly types of cases that I enjoy more than others. It's usually the cutting-edge and legally or intellectually challenging cases that I favor. Creating new pathways in the areas of various laws is intriguing.
LD: Tell me a bit about your professional responsibility practice.
RS: One of the biggest honors you can receive is being referred cases from former opposing counsel, and it’s better yet when former opposing counsel or people that you know in the industry ask you to represent them.
Sometimes, people go through situations where they need ethics counsel, and I feel a great sense of pride when they ask me to help them in that arena for a couple of reasons. One, it means they respect me and believe that I will do a good job for them. Two, I feel it’s important to make sure that California lawyers are held to a high standard.
I'm hopeful that in this era of new State Bar rules, lawyers will be held to that standard of being upstanding, respectable members of the community. Respect has to be earned and practiced on a day-to-day basis. It's unfortunate that our system has seen some pretty public failures of that responsibility lately, and it's incumbent upon all lawyers to try and change that storyline.
LD: Tell me about working on both sides of the V. Do you find knowing each side intimately is helpful when working on the other?
RS: For sure. I play mental chess all the time. I think, "What would I do if I were in their shoes? What can I do to counterbalance that?"
I think handling both sides of the equation makes you stronger on each. Quite frankly, I think more lawyers should do it. It makes you a more well-rounded lawyer, and it allows you to appreciate the other side's arguments and come to more compromises. It's also in the client’s best interest if you can appreciate what the other side’s arguments are and then explain them to the client thoroughly and completely so that the client is prepared for a potential opposing argument.
Respect has to be earned and practiced on a day-to-day basis.
LD: Which cases or clients have stuck with you throughout your career?
RS: Sometimes it's not about the big victories. It's about the people that you were able to help.
I remember representing an individual who was about 80 years old. He was being sued for a lot of money after he’d spent his whole life accumulating a nice nest egg. We went to a jury trial, and when we won, he was so happy he literally started crying. He felt vindicated. You know you did your job helping a person like that.
Those kinds of cases can come from both the defense side and the plaintiffs’ side. We once represented an individual who was significantly hurt in an automobile accident, and he needed lawyers who would step up and take the case to trial. While the amount of money that was being offered to him was significant, it wasn't enough to take care of him for the rest of his life, which he needed due to his injuries. I believe a lot of lawyers out there may have been tempted to take a lower number to avoid a jury trial. But, sometimes, the only way to maximize value for your clients is to have a jury trial.
You can never change what happened in the past, but you can certainly help people out in the way that they are accommodated for by providing them with a great result. So, we try to give the best result we can for every single client. Sometimes those are small results and sometimes those are big results. But if they leave our firm better than they started, regardless of what side they’re on, we've done our job.
LD: I know the big verdicts aren't always the most important ones, but tell me about the case involving a teenager who was tragically hit by a car at a crosswalk.
RS: Nicholas Tusant was a high school kid who was walking across the street at a crosswalk, and he got hit by a car. The driver had a minimum California policy. We looked at this case with our co-counsel, a man named Robert Karwin, and instead of just saying, "Oh, sorry, there's nothing we could do to help you," we actually went out in the streets and knocked on neighbors' doors. We started asking questions like, "Have you seen any other accidents happen at this crosswalk?”
We learned that that's what was going on: This crosswalk was not in a safe location. We would never have known that without boots on the ground talking to people who live by that area and see it on a day-to-day basis. That kind of investigative work is so impactful. You can't learn just by looking at papers or reading police reports.
So, once we did our investigation, we felt that there was a case to be made for an improperly designed crosswalk. We prosecuted it as a dangerous condition, and ultimately the jury agreed with us.
If they leave our firm better than they started, regardless of what side they’re on, we've done our job.
LD: What cases have been keeping you busy recently?
RS: I just finished a trade secrets federal trial. It was fascinating because it had all the elements of lying, cheating and stealing that always intrigues a jury. The case surrounded a former employee who took confidential information and started a competing company. The jury agreed with our side and awarded our client $62M. The jury recognized that what this individual did was not just legally wrong, but also ethically wrong.
LD: What else do you find compels a jury?
RS: Human stories compel juries. If someone's been wronged, juries will step up and rectify that wrong.
I find juries to be very smart. They try really hard to get it right. I don't think I've ever truly disagreed with a jury's verdict. They carefully weigh the facts and do their best to render a verdict that they think is fair.
It's a very powerful process for an individual to judge another individual or corporation. You are giving this power to a group of people who may only do this once in their life, but they get that power to make a decision of who's right and who's wrong. This has been going on since our country was formed, and it's an amazing process. While nothing's ever perfect, it really is the fairest way for two individuals or two companies to resolve a dispute.
LD: Tell me a bit about the firm. What do you feel makes your group unique?
RS: Jim Rosen and I have worked really hard to create an environment of strong lawyers who support each other. We act in unison, and no one lawyer is better than the other lawyer; we are all a team. It's really enjoyable to watch a young lawyer participate in new or different types of cases for the first time. Or it's great to watch people who maybe only did one type of law their whole life realize that they like being on the other side of the V or in a different area of law. It injects a new level of passion into their career. I think our attorneys are happier getting to work on cases that they like as opposed to just cases that are assigned to them because a firm services a particular client or type of business. I feel fortunate and blessed to work with everyone at our firm.
LD: What other advice do you find yourself giving to early career lawyers most often?
RS: Try to get as much experience in different areas of law and as much experience inside the courtroom as possible. If you get the opportunity to do so, you should relish every time you get the chance to go to court and watch other lawyers, because the best way to learn is not by reading books but rather doing it yourself or watching people do it.
LD: Looking back from those early days to now, what have you found most fulfilling about your career?
RS: Helping people. The only way people end up contacting us in the first place is if they have a problem, and they're looking to us to help solve that problem. Ever since the beginning when Jim Rosen and I started together, we always emphasized the clients' goals over our personal fee, which is the way it should be done. It’s fulfilling to accomplish a client’s personal goal.