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Punching Above Their Weight

“We’re hired to make a difference. We want to focus on the client and change their circumstances. To be effective in this business you have to know the client and understand their situation,” says Richard E. Donahoo, founder of Donahoo & Associates, PC.

Finding a Good Fit
Richard E. Donahoo has more than 20 years of experience practicing law in California. As a plaintiff’s attorney, his primary practice areas are employment and labor disputes, prevailing wage litigation, wrongful death, financial fraud, and severance contracts. The firm has a diverse practice, representing a broad range of clients: employees, families suffering from a devastating loss, retirees defrauded by insurance companies, classes in complex class actions, bankruptcy trustees. Approximately 30 percent of their large complex cases involve working with other attorneys and other firms.
Donahoo says there never was an “Ah-ha!” moment when he realized the drive to become an attorney. Yet, as early as his high school years he realized the law might be “a good fit.” When he was in his twenties and prior to becoming an attorney, he worked for a firm involved in litigation and spent many long hours with attorneys who became very influential in helping him figure out his career path. It also helped solidify the feeling he had in high school and confidence to know that a career in law was a “great fit” for him.
His path to become an attorney wasn’t without it’s challenges. While starting law school at the age of 29, he also had the extra responsibility of working and taking care of his young son full-time as a single dad. When asked about it, Donahoo says, “Those were tough years. Looking back, I am thankful for that test. Those years gave me a unique perspective and the confidence I could multi-task under stress.”

Taking the Leap
His legal career began at Horton, Barbaro & Reilly, where he was “very fortunate” to be mentored by some of Orange County’s best trial lawyers. “I learned from the best. In the 90s, Jay Horton, Frank Barbaro and Ned Reilly were always in trial. It a was a place to see great trial lawyers in action. I got to see and learn first-hand what it takes to bring in a jury verdict,” he says. “I tend to jump in with both feet and go 100 percent.” In 1998 he stepped out and made the jump to private practice. “I started my firm on April 1, 1998 - April Fool’s Day. Twenty years have gone by so fast, but I’ve never looked back.” The challenge of practicing as a trial attorney and managing a firm is one many attorneys face. Donahoo is assisted by his twin brother, William, who acts as the case administrator and manages the office. “I am lucky to have him. He takes things off my plate, so the attorneys can focus on the cases and our clients and not worrying about running the business side of our law firm.”

Philosophy and Connecting
Today, Donahoo leads a team of experienced attorneys that routinely takes on large corporations and government entities whose wrongdoing causes damage and injuries. The firm was founded in 1998 and today consists of Donahoo, two attorneys and a support staff. “We’re small but we punch above our weight. I am lucky to have dedicated and loyal support,” he says. Donahoo is a classic attorney, the type who like to lead by example. “I try to lead by doing the blocking and tackling. I do a lot of the litigation that in other firms might be delegated to a junior partner or senior associate, because I want to win. I don’t ask my associates to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” he says.
His business philosophy is based on staying focused, even when it comes to the smallest of details and, in his words, “grinding it out” to obtain success when others would normally give up or say “good-enough.” He says, “Doing the little things right every day is what’s going to make you successful whether it’s winning your case or being successful at anything.” Donahoo credits this philosophy and working style toward helping win all of his team’s biggest wins, which include seven- and eight-figure verdicts.
Donahoo and his team are obviously driven to make a difference for their clients, to change their circumstances as most attorneys are. However, it’s his strong ability to connect with jurors which often sets him apart from other attorneys. Whether it is a wrongful death or insurance bad faith case or a labor and employment class action, Rich’s passion, belief and mission to seek justice for his clients comes through crystal clear to the jurors he addresses. “I think for whatever reason, I’m able to relate to jurors and put forward my client’s case in a credible way.”
The “Grinder”
Donahoo and Associates also has no problem taking on the type of cases that other firms might avoid and has built a reputation among fellow peers as being a firm of “grinders.” “Our goal is to make sure we know every fact and detail about a case, then simplify as much as possible to make sure the jury is crystal clear on the matters of the case that pertain to our client’s position.” If you are going to try the types of cases we take on, it’s vital to understand every aspect of the case and then communicate that information to the jurors without confusing them.”
Donahoo’s ability and willingness to “grind it out” to a successful verdict is a valuable asset that attracts referrals from other attorneys. “My longest jury trial was five and a half months in a case where I represented 33 clients. It was a battle but worth the fight,” he says. The verdict resulted in a seven-figure recovery.
His tenacity was also demonstrated when he represented 900 managers of a national health club chain which became noteworthy when a federal judge decertified the collective action, requiring individual actions. “We then filed almost 900 individual arbitrations and prepared to arbitrate each one,” he says. The case eventually resolved in an eight-figure settlement.

Tenacity and Hard Work Rewarded
Donahoo’s biggest jury verdicts have come representing individual people. In 2014 he represented a mother against the County of Orange after she was struck by a car in an Orange County crosswalk, an event that killed her two-year-old daughter. “That was a tough case. We knew that suing the county would be an uphill fight, but we believed the evidence supported liability against the county,” he says. The jury agreed, awarding more than $7.4 million.
In 2016 Donahoo teamed with Tom Foley of Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis, LLP against Mcguire Woods, a national trial firm, in a closely watched bellwether jury trial against MetLife, Inc. in Los Angeles. The plaintiff alleged financial elder abuse involving a failed real estate fund. The firm’s retired client lost her life savings of $280,000. MetLife claimed that the company had nothing to do with the fraudulent program. The jury found for the retiree against MetLife, awarding her compensation for her entire loss, and $15.4 million in punitive damages against MetLife and its subsidiary. He says, “We focused on the defendant’s conduct and the jury understood the purpose of punitive damages. The case was important not only for our client, but for the other 97 clients victimized in the same scheme.”

Recipe for Success
Donahoo points out that part of that mix involves efforts to overcome the growing challenge of getting cases to a jury trial. Donahoo says that the proliferation of arbitration agreements and scarce judicial resources are making the process of getting before a jury increasingly difficult. “The jury trial is more and more the endangered species of our system. We have to adapt. We have to become better dealing with that and find ways we can get to a jury.”
Donahoo says his personal success and the success of his firm can be attributed to a very few basic steps:
“Get to know the client.
“Prepare yourself and the client for the ups and downs of the case.
“Focus on the facts.
“Paint the picture and tell your client’s story.
“Tell the jury why the case is important.”

Outside of the Arena
Donahoo is married to a former defense attorney, Natalie, and he has two more children: Nicole, age 12, and Jack, age 10. “Having a spouse who knows the ups and downs of litigation has helped. She understands the time commitment. She’s been a rudder when the seas get rough.” Chase, the son he raised during law school, will graduate from Santa Clara University School of Law in May. Time outside the office is usually spent with the family and with their horses, trail riding and team roping. He is active in California’s youth rodeo association, serving on the board of directors for the California Junior Rodeo Association. “My daughter rides horses and competes in junior rodeos, barrel racing and team roping.” On weekends, he can be found on the road, hauling horses to a competition. He competes in team roping in Southern California when possible, but he focuses his limited time on family and his practice. “Since my daughter started competing, my team roping and golf game have taken a back seat.” He was on the college rodeo team at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and qualified and competed in the College National Finals Rodeo in bull-riding and steer wrestling. “The things I learned in the rodeo arena 30 years ago are still with me today. Now, it’s just a different arena. You’re going to get knocked down in this business. It’s how you pick yourself up and you keep going that counts.”

» EDUCATION

  • Western State University College of Law, J.D., cum laude, Law Review, 1993–1996
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, BS, Business Management, 1987

» HONORS & AWARDS

  • AV Preeminent rating, Martindale Hubbell
  • Orange County Trial Lawyer of the Year, 2015
  • Orange County Trial Lawyer of the Year, 2017
  • Super Lawyers, 2009–2013, 2015–2018
  • Top Attorneys, Orange Coast Magazine

» BAR ADMISSIONS

  • California
  • U.S. District Court Southern District of California
  • U.S. District Court Central District of California
  • U.S. District Court Northern District of California
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit
  • U.S. Supreme Court

Contact
Richard E. Donahoo
Donahoo & Associates, PC
440 W. First Street, Suite 101
Tustin, California 92780
(714) 953-1010
Donahoo.com

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