James (Jim) Crosby: Veteran Trial Lawyer, Teacher, and Community Advocate
Kelly C. Smith*
Jim Crosby is a seasoned business litigator. Jim passed the bar in 1983 and started his own law firm in 1992. Since then, he has successfully and fearlessly represented clients across a variety of industries. Jim’s practice focuses on business and contract disputes, complex financial matters, intellectual property disputes, and employment law, but it has also taken him off the beaten path, including appearing in tribal courts, and suing the government of Mexico after agents seized his client’s gaming machines.
Outside of the office, Jim dedicates his time to the local legal community by serving as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, acting as a board member for many civic and legal organizations, mentoring young lawyers, and representing vulnerable populations through his pro bono practice. Jim is a family man, a friend to all, and an all-around good person, and the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association is honored to have him as this month’s member spotlight.
Jim was born in Los Angeles, grew up in California’s second-best city, Santa Barbara, and then lived in Victorville during his teens. He later moved to California’s (and America’s) finest city, San Diego, to attend college at San Diego State University. At the time, Jim was not planning to be a lawyer, and he majored in marine biology. After graduation, Jim worked as a marine biologist and tackled interesting, local projects such as studying the environmental impact of the San Onofre nuclear plant on surrounding marine wildlife. After some time, Jim felt a calling to obtain a graduate degree. His choices were advanced biology or a juris doctorate degree. Although he had no lawyers in his family, Jim went with the latter option—the first step in what would become a long and meaningful career.
Jim attended the University of San Diego School of Law. He loved this time in his life and found law school to be both fascinating and challenging. He formed a tight group of friends in law school, many of whom still work in town and have become referral sources for one another. While in law school, Jim squeezed in pick-up basketball games between school and clerking at the law firm of Muns, Mehalick & Lynn. After law school, Jim accepted a full-time position with that firm, and it was there that he learned how to litigate.
Jim worked at Muns, Mehalick & Lynn for 9 years—first as an associate and later as a shareholder. His practice was focused on real estate, construction, and general business litigation. Jim was given substantial responsibility early on. He was only a fourth-year lawyer when he represented the plaintiff and appellant in Baker v. United States, 817 F.2d 560 (9th Cir. 1987). Jim drove up to Pasadena by himself to argue before the Ninth Circuit, while his DOJ counterpart flew in from Washington, D.C. Rather than dwell on his nerves, Jim focused on preparation—a trick (and a trait) that he still carries with him today. Jim was successful in his first appearance before the Ninth Circuit, but he humbly notes how this win came on the heels of the loss of his first solo trial against three experienced litigators.
In 1992, Jim went out on his own and started his own law firm. At the time, he had two young daughters and another daughter on the way, but he had felt called to have his own practice for some time and his wife was supportive. He also wanted an office close to home so could have an active practice but still sneak out to his daughters’ activities and events. Jim is proud that he missed only a small handful of his daughters’ school activities and athletic events through their elementary, middle, and high school years. He opened his first office in Poway, which was close to home, and later landed in Carmel Mountain Ranch.
Jim’s early cases as a solo practitioner were unique and memorable. His first case involved a family battle over a local lumber company. He went on to represent general contractors and others involved in business disputes, then picked up a client that leased gaming machines. This would lead him to twice appear before tribal courts and later to sue the Mexican government under NAFTA after government agents seized his client’s gaming machines. Jim recalls ending up in an arbitration in Washington, D.C. fighting a swath of lawyers from a mega firm who were representing the Mexican government. But he was not intimidated. Instead, his focus was on the work as he stuck to his motto: “prepare then over-prepare.”
Over time, Jim’s practice expanded. Currently, he primarily represents clients in actions involving breaches of contract, business divorces, complex financial matters, and trademark infringement cases, as well as some employment defense matters. His clients are largely referred to him by lawyer friends and colleagues he has picked up over the years through work and involvement in professional organizations.
After 20 years in solo practice, in 2012, Jim ventured back into the world of law firms. He did so at the invitation of a trusted colleague and then spent two years as a shareholder with Klinedinst PC and two years as a partner at Henderson, Caverly, Pum & Charney, LLP. Jim fondly recalls his time with those firms as one in which his old friends became his colleagues, and his new colleagues became his friends. However, in 2016, the lure of solo practice called again, and it was time for Jim to open his own firm again where he remains practicing today at the offices of James D. Crosby, Attorney at Law.
Jim is a skilled business trial attorney and represents clients across a variety of fields. He estimates that 80% of his cases are in state court and 20% are in federal court, and he appreciates both experiences for their differences. A true litigator at heart, his favorite aspects of practice are going to trial and taking depositions.
Jim is a champion for the local community and dedicates his time to many important causes and groups. Jim is an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a trial advocacy course and mentors aspiring lawyers. Jim is also a longtime member of the Louis M. Welsh Inn of Court, where he says he gets to hang out with the best lawyers in town while also mentoring the next generation of lawyers. Jim is a member of the board of directors of the San Diego County Bar Foundation and a former board member of the San Diego County Bar Association and the University of San Diego School of Law Alumni Association. He remains involved with the San Diego County Bar Association currently serving on the executive committee of the Civil Litigation Section. Jim is also a longtime member of Lawyers Club, San Diego La Raza Association, Tom Homann LGBT Law Association of San Diego, and Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association.
Jim also speaks fondly of the recent three years during which he was a member of the State Bar of California Judicial Neutral Evaluation (JNE) Commission and participated in vetting judicial candidates with a focus on diversifying the bench. A former board member and fierce advocate for Casa Cornelia Law Center, Jim is constantly taking on pro bono cases. He has successfully petitioned for asylum and fought the removal of several individuals—work he finds highly rewarding. If you think you’re having a bad day, go represent someone seeking asylum, Jim says. He believes those individuals can come from the most challenging of circumstances and may have the full weight of the government against them. Jim is currently working on a pro bono impact case concerning fair housing rights, which he hopes will help people in underserved communities find housing in better neighborhoods, and recently finished up a pro bono prisoner rights case under appointment by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California under the Southern District of California’s Plan for the Representation of Pro Se Litigants in Civil Cases.
These are but a few examples of the causes that are important to Jim and the ways in which he contributes to the local legal community. Additionally, Jim is an esteemed member of the San Diego FBA.
Outside of the Law
Jim lives in San Diego with his wife, Jill. They have three daughters, Lauren, Jaclyn, and Rachael, with whom they enjoy spending time. Lauren is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law and a staff attorney for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Jaclyn is a triathlete and soon-to-be court reporter. Rachael manages all social media marketing for a high-end retail company.
While he moved on from his marine biology career many years ago, Jim’s love of the ocean remains. Jim enjoys sailing, spending time at the beach, and recently took up rowing. He also enjoys going to live music shows and SDSU Aztec basketball and Padres baseball games, exploring restaurants, and traveling with Jill. An avid biker, Jim also logs many miles trying, but generally failing, to keep up with his triathlete middle daughter.
Advice for New Lawyers and Solo Practitioners
Jim always tells young lawyers that they made a good career decision. Being an attorney, he says, is a wonderful profession that allows you to be creative, intellectual, and meet other like-minded people. To that end, he would encourage young lawyers to get out there and say “yes” to opportunities. He urges young lawyers not to see industry and civic groups as “networking” opportunities but rather as places to make friends. He also advises younger lawyers to take advantage of opportunities and trainings, like brown bag lunch seminars, and to find a mentor. For attorneys who want to start their own firm, Jim is highly encouraging. He believes that running your own firm is a most rewarding experience, but it should only be done by lawyers who have ample experience and are ready to hustle.
*Kelly Smith is a member of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and its Public Relations Committee. She is a commercial litigator at Snell & Wilmer LLP and a former clerk for the Hon. John A. Houston and the late Hon. David H. Bartick in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.