Daniel Callahan runs Callahan Consulting, providing consulting services on trial strategy and tactics as well as expert case matching - helping clients find attorneys specialized in a certain field or from a certain locale. He also provides consulting services to his law firm, Callahan & Blaine, by mentoring associates and junior partners. He obtained a verdict for 934 million dollars in a complex business case that started out as a 2 million dollar breach of contract case, as well as a personal injury settlement over 50 million dollars. In his career spanning over four decades, most of his work has been with complex business litigation, and he has secured over a billion dollars to clients in record-breaking verdicts and settlements. Listen to the interview to understand why being diligent in case preparation is vital for a successful law business.
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Throughout his career, Daniel J. Callahan has always been known as one of the top trial attorneys in California. His notable jury verdicts included a $934,000,000 jury verdict obtained after a three-month jury trial in a complex business dispute entitled Beckman Coulter vs. Flextronics. This unanimous verdict was the largest in California in 2003 and remains the largest in Orange County history.
Mr. Callahan grew up in Chicago, Illinois where he went on to receive his BA, magna cum laude, from Western Illinois University in 1976, and graduated with honors from the UC Davis School of Law in 1979, while serving as Editor of the Law Review. He began his career in Hawaii before relocating to Southern California and starting his own firm by opening the doors on St. Patrick’s Day, 1984. Mr. Callahan also provides corporate consulting to law firms and lawyers regarding litigation and strategy through Callahan Consulting Group, LLC.
Among his many accomplishments over the last 42 years of practice:
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Attorney at Law
Dan Callahan - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice of law. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect!
Daniel J. Callahan won the largest jury verdict in Orange County, California. He's obtained settlements for clients in excess of 50 million dollars. He's been voted California Business Trial Lawyer of the Year by California Lawyer Magazine. And it almost goes without saying that he's been named one of the top 10 lawyers in Southern California by Super Lawyers. Dan Callahan, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Dan Callahan 00:49
Thank you, Louis. Thank you for having me.
Louis Goodman 00:51
Dan, where are you talking to us from right now?
Dan Callahan 00:55
Right now I'm in Orange County, California. Although, I live in Puerto Rico. I moved to Puerto.
Louis Goodman 01:02
Dan Callahan 01:03
Yes. I moved to Puerto Rico December of 2021 and just came back here to visit some friends about a week ago.
Louis Goodman 01:12
Well, what's living in Puerto Rico like?
Dan Callahan 01:15
It's warm. Actually, I live on the Ritz Carlton property in Dorado beach. It's a beautiful area. You can imagine the Ritz Carlton is probably very nice. Several really nice restaurants, bars, two golf courses, tennis, workout facilities, everything. And a number of lawyers have moved to Puerto Rico because of the advantageous taxing. There's also no tax on capital gains, interest, or dividends.
Louis Goodman 01:45
What kind of practice do you have right now?
Dan Callahan 01:50
I run Callahan Consulting, which provides consulting services to attorneys on trial strategy and tactics. Also, I provide consulting services to clients that need to find an expert in their locale in the field that they're involved in with litigation. So, I will then find out what they need. I have a source of lawyers that I'm aware of over practiced for 40 years, and I will then vet them to make sure that they can handle the given case. So, once I vet the attorney, I put the attorney and the client together. Boom. That's the service I provide.
Louis Goodman 02:27
Who's your typical client?
Dan Callahan 02:30
It's usually a businessperson with a dispute. It could be intellectual property. It could be just a business litigation matter, but also sometimes it's a person who's been severely injured. And the reason those are my typical clients is, as you mentioned earlier, I had a verdict for 934 million in a complex business case. And most of my practice I've worked on complex business litigation.
Also halfway through my 40 year career, I started doing personal injury matters and that's where that 50 million dollar personal injury settlement came in on behalf of a client. So, those are the type of matters that a client would come to me for. And that's what I'm pretty good at. And I hook them up with a lawyer who can handle that service.
Louis Goodman 03:25
And I take it you're able to discuss with the lawyer, ask appropriate questions and then make some determination for yourself as to whether or not this attorney is the right fit for the client who has come to you?
Dan Callahan 03:40
That's correct. And I'll usually give the client at least two recommendations. And then after I've interviewed both of the attorneys or sometimes three, I will then get on a call with the client and the attorney and help the clients become familiar with and comfortable with one or the other, the lawyers. So, the client will actually choose.
Louis Goodman 04:02
How long have you been doing this type of work and how long have you been licensed to practice law?
Dan Callahan 04:08
Well, I was licensed, I graduated from law school in 1979, and I didn't get sworn in until March of 1980. I was working in Hawaii in a law firm and my father was unable to attend my graduation from law school. I went to Chicago, to be sworn in by a federal judge with my father there at my side.
Louis Goodman 04:31
Oh, that's great.
Dan Callahan 04:32
So, yeah. So I've been practicing law for over 40 years.
Louis Goodman 04:36
And how long have you been doing the Callahan Consulting work?
Dan Callahan 04:40
Just since my move to Puerto Rico.
Louis Goodman 04:43
Which was when?
Dan Callahan 04:44
That was in December of 2021. And I still provide consulting services to my law firm, Callahan & Blaine like I always did, you know, mentoring the associates and the junior partners.
Louis Goodman 04:57
Where are you from originally?
Dan Callahan 04:58
I was born in Chicago, raised in a suburb 17 miles to the west called Elmhurst. I went to Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst. And after high school, I did not go directly into college because...
Louis Goodman 05:12
What'd you do?
Dan Callahan 05:14
Well, first of all, why did I do it? Because I was, I graduated fifth in my class, in high school.
Louis Goodman 05:21
Dan Callahan 05:23
From the bottom.
Louis Goodman 05:24
Dan Callahan 05:26
I was number 168 outta 172. So I really, I guess it did not really apply myself very well in high school. So I worked construction. I'd climb trees with a McCulloch chainsaw and chop down the trees and throw it in the woodchipper or bust up sidewalks with a jackhammer and throw it into the truck. And that's what actually happened. After a few years. I'm throwing this wood into the woodchipper. And I'm thinking, what am I doing here? You know, my mother said I'd be a good attorney. And I look over my friend who got me the job, and he's standing there next to his father. So I know why he got the job, but I wanted to go and become a lawyer. But I thought to go, I'd have to go to college. And now I'm gonna be against all those smart people. Right? So I decided to go to college. I put myself through college and law school and I prepared intensely.
Louis Goodman 06:20
When was it that you first realized that you really wanted to be a lawyer, you wanted to go to law school? Was it standing next to the woodchipper?
Dan Callahan 06:28
Earlier I had dreams of being a lawyer, because my mother said I'd be a good lawyer and I'd watch Perry Mason on television or even a show called Hazel where Hazel was a maid for a man who was a lawyer and worked out of his home. So, I thought there was a very attractive occupation, and of course Perry Mason was great. So that's why in the back of my mind, I wanted to be. However, given my grades, it didn't seem all that likely. But when I was throwing the wood in the woodchipper, I thought, okay, this is just not for me. Why don't you try college? I had matured in the last few years after high school and I had a different attitude. I had attitude that I wanted to go to law school and I wanted to go to college and I just made it happen.
Louis Goodman 07:10
Where'd you go to college?
Dan Callahan 07:12
Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Basically a beautiful little college in the heart of a corn field. I mean, it was just in a very, what would you say, a farmland. So I went to, I went to college at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, and it was a very nice university just in the middle of farmland.
Louis Goodman 07:35
And so how was your experience in college? I mean, coming out of a Catholic high school and being pretty uninterested, now, all of a sudden you're in, you know, a much more secular environment with a wider variety of people. What was that experience like?
Dan Callahan 07:52
Well, I loved it, actually. I loved meeting the people. At first, though, I was there for a purpose. I wanted to do well in school. So after my first semester, or I should say quarter, I had straight A's and I had straight A's during my first year. In fact, I had straight A's all the way through college, except for one B, I got a B in Bowling. You had to take one PE course. So, I took Bowling. Apparently, I'm not the best bowler.
Louis Goodman 08:23
Did, did you at least learn how to keep score?
Dan Callahan 08:26
Yeah. Yes, I did. Yeah. So I became the president of the pre-law society there in, at Western. And I was, my goal was to go to law school and that's what I did. I went, moved on to University of California at Davis.
Louis Goodman 08:42
Did you take any time off between graduating from college and going to Davis?
Dan Callahan 08:48
No, I did not. And the way I decided to go to UC Davis, I worked during the summers and Christmas holidays while in college. And I worked as a Porter on Amtrak. So I'd go from Chicago to Los Angeles and I got to see what Los Angeles was like and what Southern California was like. And I decided I would go to law school in California. So I didn't want to go to law school in Los Angeles because they had a lot of smog, but UC Davis had a similar atmosphere to Western Illinois University where the college dominated the town.
Louis Goodman 09:31
It was in the middle of a cornfield.
Dan Callahan 09:33
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And also Davis looks like, on the globe it looks really close to the ocean. But really it's about an hour and a half away.
Louis Goodman 09:44
My guess is that you enjoyed your experience at Davis?
Dan Callahan 09:48
I did, yes. I very much did. I graduated in the top 10 in my class and I had the same approach, which is I stress preparation. And I always, I tend to put my opposition on a pedestal and I try to fight the person on the pedestal, like it was Goliath. And it turns out when, when it comes down to it, they're really not Goliath. So I had the same success in undergrad as I had in law school. And now I do that. I can't help it. I've done that through my entire career. I prepare, I actually am concerned when I have a case. I wanna make sure I do a good job and I don't want to do anything wrong. So, I really, really prepare. I also don't delay in doing anything. I think that's one of the biggest problems some lawyers have - lack of preparation and delay in getting jobs done.
Louis Goodman 10:42
You ultimately, as you've alluded to, ended up with a very active, lucrative, personal injury practice, can you tell us a little bit about your path from UC Davis law to that practice in Southern California?
Dan Callahan 11:03
Certainly. Straight out of UC Davis I was recruited to go to a law firm in Hawaii. The oldest and largest law firm in the state was called Carlsmith, Carlsmith, Wichman & Case.
And I spent two years there and I really didn't think the Hawaiian life was for me. So I moved to Newport Beach with a good law firm, Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory. And in both places, I only did business, construction, banking litigation. So when I opened up my own practice, I should back up. What I did, I had two years at Carlsmith in Hawaii, three years at Allen Matkins, then on St. Patrick’s Day in 1984 I opened up my own law office. And I did nothing but business, banking, construction litigation for the first 20 years of my practice.
Louis Goodman 11:53
So you came back to California and you started practicing with a firm here in California.
And then you went out on your own doing business litigation, business law. What was it that prompted you to leave the business firm? And did you have your own book of business when you went and did that?
Dan Callahan 12:19
Yes, I did. See that's really what happened. I have a knack for bringing in business, so I was bringing in quite a bit of business and I was keeping other attorneys busy. And then I thought to myself, you know, I could probably open up my own shop and be my own boss. So what I did, I called my mother. I said, "Look, I'm thinking about doing this." And she said, "You know, there's a lot of people in the old folks home that say, I wish I had, I wish I had. So right now, Dan, you don't have any children if you're ever gonna do it, there's probably a great time to do it. So go ahead." So, with her blessing and my desire to do it, I opened up on St. Patrick's day in 1980. I started hiring, I didn't hire an associate for the first six months, and then I hired two. And then the firm expanded thereafter.
Louis Goodman 13:15
Can you give a brief history of the firm and how you got built up into taking these really serious, really high value cases?
Dan Callahan 13:26
Well, by example, I mentioned that 934 million dollar case. So that case was a 2 million dollar breach of contract case. I took that case, during discovery I discovered a $300,000 fraud. We would've settled a case initially for $300,000.
Louis Goodman 13:47
Dan Callahan 13:47
Then as I get more deeply involved, I demanded a million and they offered 300. As we're approaching trial, I demanded 3 million, they offered a million and I kept on raising my demand and they kept on following me with their offers. What really happened in that case, you have a 2 million breach of contract, you got a $300,000 fraud, seven weeks into the jury trial. I amended the complaint to conform to proof I'd already had admitted and added two cause of action for economic duress. The jury came back and they gave me a unanimous verdict. First cause of action, 2 million dollars, second cause of action, 300,000 plus a million and a quarter in punitive damages. Third cause of action, I don't remember what the compensatory was, but the punitive damages were $180,000 or 180 million dollars.
Louis Goodman 14:40
Dan Callahan 14:40
And the fourth cause of action, again, I don't recall the compensatory, but the punitives were 750 million dollars.
Louis Goodman 14:50
Did the judge let that stand?
Dan Callahan 14:52
Yes. We did settle the case before it went to appeal because the comparison between the punitives and the underlying damages were so great, no one believed that that had a chance on appeal. Then it certainly gave me bragging rights to getting that verdict.
Louis Goodman 15:14
I would imagine so. What do you really like about practicing law?
Dan Callahan 15:20
I like to challenge and I like to help clients. And I really like to look at a problem and then look at it at a different way and try to come up with a creative solution that works for the client. So I, it's kinda like a Rubik's cube and you just look at it this way or that way. I try to find a creative solution, that's what I really enjoy.
Louis Goodman 15:40
Would you recommend the law as a career to a young person who was just starting out, was thinking about going to law school?
Dan Callahan 15:48
If they're willing to work hard, yes. I think it's very rewarding, but it's really, if you wanna be good and you wanna be the best, it takes a lot of preparation and hard work. You're gonna miss a lot of social events. You're gonna miss a number of things, but really you forget all about that when you're done and your high fiving, when you get the verdict or the settlement, all the hard work, you just forget about that and you just enjoy the result.
Louis Goodman 16:16
How has actually practicing law met or differed from your expectations?
Dan Callahan 16:22
Well, I didn't go into criminal law like Perry Mason, and I didn't work out of my house, like the Hazel show, but you know, it was a learning experience. I learned a lot with the two law firms I was with initially, and I also, I was self taught really on how to present myself. I went to many, many seminars and tried to see what the real pros in the industry were doing and tried to mimic what they did. So, that's just my secret. And I think anybody can do the same thing. Just have a desire to learn and then try to learn from the best.
Louis Goodman 17:00
How about the business of practicing law? You know, you've obviously been successful, but how's that gone for you and how's that either met or differed from your expectations?
And just sort of what's your notion about law as a business?
Dan Callahan 17:16
Well, I didn't really have much of an expectation about what the business side of it would be. I knew that I had to bill a certain number of hours, get paid, pay my staff and have enough leftover to pay myself handsomely. That's about all I knew. So I hired competent people to work in my accounting department that can send out the bills and I also made sure that I was diligent enough to keep accurate records of everything I did so I can have a good bill that the client could understand on a monthly basis.
Louis Goodman 17:49
What do you think is the best advice you've ever received, and then let me just flip that and say, what advice would you give to a young attorney just starting out?
Dan Callahan 18:00
To be diligent, to get on projects immediately. Don't delay and think you can get around to that tomorrow or the next day, try to do it sooner versus later and try to be prepared as prepared as you possibly can. And the reason I say don't delay is because if you could do it today and you don't, you put it off till tomorrow, we don't know what tomorrow holds. There may be something else that comes your way and now your schedule is all messed up and you don't have enough time to do your very best work on a given assignment.
Louis Goodman 18:35
And what about advice that you've received? Can you think of some great bit of wisdom that was imparted to you?
Dan Callahan 18:44
I think to be yourself when you're interacting with the jury and that's what I like to do.
You don't put on errors, but you are your yourself, and you try to communicate and make friends with the jury. Jury trials it's all about having a relationship with the jury.
Louis Goodman 19:04
Is there anything that you would change about the way the legal system works?
Dan Callahan 19:08
I would like it to be a little faster. Sometimes a client, they come to me because they've either been sued or screwed, right? So either sued, they need somebody to defend them, or screwed so they need to go ahead and bring an action to try to recover damages and it's lawsuits are expensive and the longer they delay, the more expensive it is to the client. So if I could make it better, I would seek to have the process shortened. When I first started out in California, there is a law that all cases had to be brought to trial within five years. That is an eternity. So now the practice is more like a year, year and a half, maybe two years, depending on the complexity of the lawsuit. So that's much better, but I'd still like to shorten that timeframe. It works better for the client.
Louis Goodman 20:00
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Dan Callahan 20:03
I do, well, let me take that back. Yes, I do think it's fair. However, the lawyer you have representing you makes all the difference in the world. You can have a really good lawyer on a bad case, and he can win. You can have a not so good lawyer on a good case, and he can lose. I still find it to be fair, but sometimes it's up to the lawyer and what that lawyer can achieve that would determine the results.
Louis Goodman 20:33
I'm gonna shift gears here a little bit, Dan. What's your family life been like and how has practicing law affected that, fit into it, or how's your family life fit into your practice of law?
Dan Callahan 20:46
I'm married. My wife's name is Maureen. I have two children, Caitlin and Michael. I try to spend as much time as I can with them. During my initial years, when I opened up my own office, I didn't have any children, so there was no demand on my time. And as I built the practice, then I was able to delegate work to associates and also allowed me to have time to grow the family.
Having a family is, it doesn't matter if you're a plumber or what your job is. Family is the most important thing.
Louis Goodman 21:20
How about travel experience? I know you live in Puerto Rico, but what about other travel experience? Have you had any interesting places that you've gone?
Dan Callahan 21:30
Certainly I've gone on safari a couple times in Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. I've gone all over Asia, South America, Europe. In fact, I'm going to Spain in October. I've ran with the bulls in Pamplona and I've done a number of exciting things. So, I do like to travel.
Louis Goodman 21:52
What about recreational pursuits? Any sort of things that you like to do to get your mind off of your work, your practice of law?
Dan Callahan 22:00
Yes. Really I devoted my time to work, work or family. But I did go out and play golf every once in a while. And I'm astoundingly poor in golf. But now that I'm in Puerto Rico, I'm doing it more and more and more, and I'm getting better.
Louis Goodman 22:16
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?
Dan Callahan 22:19
I'm gonna sound like a broken record here, but the mistakes I think lawyers make are delaying their work and not being prepared.
Louis Goodman 22:27
How do you define success?
Dan Callahan 22:29
Well, that's difficult to answer, right? Success should be something that I believe brings meaning to your life. When you get involved, you want to do something to help someone else or to achieve an objective. And if you help someone else or you achieve that objective, that gives me meaning. And that is success. If you can do that also, then money will just flow to you as well. If you're concerned about someone else and you just try to work your best, the money will come. So, I would not say, try to go after the money, just try to go after helping someone else, because that gives you internally, feeling of just doing the right thing and having meaning. You need to have meaning in what you do, no matter what field.
Louis Goodman 23:20
Let's say you came into some real money, you know, several billion dollars, three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Dan Callahan 23:31
You know, it's a good question. If that question was asked of me 10 years ago, when I was still very active in practicing trial practice, I think I might not take as many cases. But I told you that for me, what's important is to have some meaning in what you're doing to achieve a goal. The law allows me to do that. So I think I'd still do that if I had billions of dollars. If I had billions of dollars, I'd probably give considerably more to charities that I support like juvenile diabetes and other sources that I support. If I had billions of dollars. Wow. What would I do there? Good question.
Louis Goodman 24:10
What if you had a magic wand and there was one thing in the world that you could change, legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Dan Callahan 24:18
There's a lot of people in the unfortunate position of, through no fault of their own, they just got dealt a bad hand and I would like to help them.
Louis Goodman 24:28
Let's say you had 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, Super Bowl ad. What message would you wanna put out to that Super Bowl audience?
Dan Callahan 24:38
Well, assuming this is an ad. It's an ad for my business. I would, at this point in time, tell people of Callahan Consulting and the consulting services it provides to clients throughout the United States and also to attorneys throughout the United States if they need a mentor on trial practice or strategy or skills. I would try to put something like that together to introduce them to Callahan Consulting.
Louis Goodman 25:08
This podcast reaches a somewhat smaller audience than the Super Bowl. But now that you've said that, how can we get in touch with you if someone wants to get in touch with you and what would the banner say at the bottom of the Super Bowl ad in terms of how to get in touch with Callahan Consulting?
Dan Callahan 25:31
Well, there is callahanconsulting.com and my email is email@example.com. So, someone could go to my website to learn more about what I do, and then to reach out to me by email, or they can actually go to the website to reach out to me through the website.
Louis Goodman 25:51
And we'll get all of that in the show notes. Dan Callahan, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Dan Callahan 26:02
Louis, thank you very much for having me. It has been my pleasure.
Louis Goodman 26:06
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Dan Callahan 26:45
I lived on Oahu. You are on an island and there's, the island has a lot of benefits to it. There's a lot of things that Hawaii did not have.