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Dave Carothers knew since he was nine years old that he wanted to be a lawyer. That’s when he fell in love with the courtroom while watching “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“The role of Atticus Finch was so noble to me. I thought that’s a modern-day warrior,” Carothers, a partner at Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger, told Bloomberg Law Feb. 28.
In particular, he wanted to be a trial lawyer, which he defines as a person who tells a story “so the jury sees his client’s side of the story and agrees with it.”
Now, Carothers is a seasoned trial lawyer who’s handled about 100 jury trials. He is a name partner at CDF, an employer-side employment, labor, and immigration law firm that recruited him in 2000 to open its San Diego office. CDF has 47 lawyers throughout California, a state often considered a trendsetter in employment law developments.
In the 32 years that Carothers has been practicing law, he said he’s a growing “lack of professionalism and lack of collegiality among members of the bar.” Some lawyers try “to get the client upset” as a litigation strategy to “ramp up settlement discussions,” he said. “I like a good fight,” but “I’m going to be nice and win.”
One case that illustrates his ability to do both involved an age discrimination wrongful termination suit by an employee who was laid off amid major consolidations in the banking industry.
“We got a complete defense verdict” after the employee rebuffed his efforts to settle, Carothers said. He spotted the plaintiff crying in the court hallway after the trial, so he asked his client’s human resources department to help the unsuccessful plaintiff find a new job. “I love trying cases. I love winning,” Carothers said. “But I don’t think you have to abandon your humanity.”
Carothers also has a unique method of preparing for trial. “I work backwards,” he said. As soon as his client is sued, he digs up the standard jury instructions for each of the causes of action listed in the complaint. “I look at the jury instructions from day one because I think they give you the guide to prepare that case for trial.”
Carothers was raised by a single mother in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood. He joined the Navy after high school, which gave him a chance to see the world. “I spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East,” he said. He was awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal for his service in Iran.
Carothers started college while in the Navy and finished at California State University. Then he went to law school at the University of Southern California, graduating in 1985.
His regard for veterans is evident in his firm’s involvement with the Wounded Warrior Project. In fact, on the day he spoke to Bloomberg Law, Carothers was wearing a T-shirt and jeans as part of a fundraiser that allowed firm employees to come to work in casual attire in exchange for a $5 donation.
Carothers, who is black, is also active in diversity initiatives. He is co-chair of CDF’s diversity committee, which established a mentoring program for young diverse lawyers at the firm. CDF helped start the Diversity Fellowship Program, through which law firms recruit diverse students from local law schools for a summer program that gives them professional training and opportunities.
“Everybody brings something to the table,” Carothers said. “Go forward. Be comfortable with who you are, and know that who you are can add to this.”
In past years, Carothers was associated with Inner-City Games. That organization raised money for recreational equipment so children would have constructive after-school activities.
Carothers is also active in the American Board of Trial Advocates. “I love being around trial lawyers,” he said. “They’re usually very entertaining and very clever.”
Carothers’ wife works as a litigation manager at CDF, and his stepson works overseas for the State Department. Many of his other relatives work in Hollywood. One of his daughters is a costume designer, and the other works for a production company. His twin brother is a cinematographer.
That relationship led to an amusing mix-up once when Carothers was out with clients. They ran into actor Ice Cube, who apparently mistook Carothers for his brother and chided him for not returning his phone calls. “My clients thought it was so cool,” Carothers said.
To unwind, Carothers rides motorcycle. He owns five, and he likes to ride them in the desert. “It’s so relaxing,” he said. “You just focus on riding. I feel so mentally refreshed after a ride.”
Lawyers can be a force for good, Carothers said. “Part of being a lawyer is taking the law and applying it in a way that has a positive impact” on society, he said. “A lot of people forget that or don’t know how to channel that.”
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