Craig McClellan: Life in the Law and the Fast Lane
Craig R. McClellan is the founder of The McClellan Law Firm and a staple in the San Diego legal community. He is one of San Diego’s most accomplished attorneys with over forty years of practice. He has won numerous awards including the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego’s “Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award” and is the first and only personal injury attorney in San Diego selected for the Inner Circle of Advocates. He credits much of his success to the many community organizations that have helped build and maintain his career. Mr. McClellan has had a long and successful career in San Diego, but his love and inspiration for the law started in Portland, Oregon.
From Portland to Luce Forward
Mr. McClellan was born and raised in Portland. From a young age, he knew he wanted to be a lawyer. He watched every legal show he could, just to get a taste of the exciting life of a trial attorney. He also learned a lot from a friend’s father who was a lawyer. He loved to hear his stories of exciting cases, clients, and trials. Early on, his mind was made up: he wanted to become a lawyer.
In 1969, Mr. McClellan graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Science degree. He very nearly went to the University of Chicago, but his love for his hometown and the University of Oregon’s prelaw program kept him in “The Beaver State.” After graduation, he joined the United States Marine Corps. He was a marine from 1969-1972 and reached the rank of Captain. Following the Marines, he was set on going to law school. He was accepted into many schools but had to defer acceptance for a year to act as Director of the Oil Policy Subcommittee of the Cost of Living Council, in the Executive Office of the President in Washington, D.C. After his stint as director, he found his home in San Diego at California Western School of Law.
Mr. McClellan was a natural at Cal Western. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the California Western Law Review and graduated magna cum laude in 1976. After law school, he joined the firm Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps. He was finally an attorney, just as he had always dreamed. He spent over ten years with Luce Forward from 1976-1986, becoming Partner after five years. And over time, he wanted to branch out and start his own firm.
The McClellan Law Firm
In 1987, Mr. McClellan started The McClellan Law Firm. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. He started his firm with a plan in mind: start a plaintiffs’ practice limited to no more than fifteen cases at a time, so he could spend more time on bigger cases and give each case more attention.
And over the years, Mr. McClellan worked on many interesting and high-profile cases. He has obtained more than 140 verdicts and settlements in excess of one million dollars each over the course of his career. He has experience in many areas of law including personal injury, wrongful death, product liability, insurance claims, and general business litigation.
Mr. McClellan’s practice has brought him to both state and federal courts in Southern California. Around eighty percent of his cases over the years have been in state court. But Mr. McClellan has seen his fair share of federal court cases. These are typically diversity cases or those brought under federal statutes such as the Federal Tort Claims Act. To him, the biggest difference between state and federal courts is the federal requirement to have expert reports and have them early. These reports require attorneys to be as diligent and prepared as possible long before trial preparation.
And outside of work, Mr. McClellan loves staying involved with many community organizations. This would include his recent presidency of The William B. Enright Chapter of the American Inns of Court, his presidency of the San Diego Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), his membership in the Inner Circle of Advocates, his status as Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, his seat on the Board of Directors for California Western School of Law, and his seat on the advisory committee of the Federal Bar Association, San Diego Chapter, to name a few.
For Mr. McClellan, these organizations offer tremendous benefits. For instance, the San Diego Chapter offers tremendous networking opportunities and helps attorneys, young and old, build and maintain their reputations. To him, organizations like the San Diego Chapter offer exposure to the exceptional judges and lawyers found in San Diego and beyond. They also help your business grow and offer many opportunities for practical learning.
Mr. McClellan also appreciates the focus these organizations place on the skills and attributes necessary to successful lawyering, such as the San Diego Chapter’s recent theme of civility. To him, the most important thing lawyers have is their reputation. And a great reputation requires the three Cs: competence, credibility, and civility. It must extend to everyone an attorney meets. Because, unfortunately, bad personality traits and a lack of civility will show up in everything a lawyer does. Good practice is to think a judge will see whatever you will send and rewrite accordingly.
Outside of the law and his professional organizations, Mr. McClellan makes great use of the beautiful City of San Diego. He runs, lifts weights, and plays a lot of tennis. And the beautiful weather pairs well with his love for racing cars. He has always loved cars—the faster the better. He had a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing license. Most importantly, he loves to spend time with his family. He has always made it a point to attend as many family functions and activities as possible. He felt that if he could work harder than anyone and use his time efficiently, he would avoid missing too much time with family.
Mr. McClellan is an accomplished attorney with decades of experience. He owes much of his success to his love of the law and love for the work he does day in and day out. To him, looking at a new case and doing research is often more fun than the latest box office hit. He credits his success to the dedication, drive, and time he has put in. He loves the work, and when you love what you do it is hard to put it down. And that is the advice he often gives to young lawyers. You never know what’s going to come up in your career, so make it as fun and exciting as you can. And you will want to go at it every single day.
* James Gaeta is a member of the Federal Bar Association, San Diego Chapter, and its Public Relations Committee. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 2019 and is serving as a Judicial Law Clerk to U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.