Jon Cieslak: Antitrust and Competition Law Attorney
Jon Cieslak is an antitrust and competition law Partner at Bona Law. After starting his career as a judicial law clerk, Mr. Cieslak spent almost a decade at a national law firm before joining a boutique firm to further develop his career. At a high-level, he describes his antitrust practice as helping companies that have been accused of—or victimized by—anticompetitive business conduct. That, however, is just the tip of the iceberg for what his practice entails.
Mr. Cieslak grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has fond memories of his time in the Twin Cities, but after having lived in San Diego for 20 years, he has no plans to go back to the frigid Minnesota winters. Mr. Cieslak moved away from Minnesota to attend college at Princeton. Princeton is part of the fabric of Mr. Cieslak’s family, as both his dad and oldest sister attended college there. At Princeton, Mr. Cieslak majored in comparative literature and wrote a thesis analyzing major folk tale compilations in three languages. He graduated from the school in 1999.
Upon finishing undergrad, Mr. Cieslak had no intention of obtaining a graduate degree. He got a job with the Boy Scouts of America doing fundraising, and he worked for the organization for the next six years. While he was working, Mr. Cieslak’s girlfriend at the time (and now wife) went straight from undergrad to law school. He was exposed to the law through her, and he realized he was more interested in her work than his own. Mr. Cieslak was also inspired to go to law school by his father, a JAG attorney, and his sister, who thought the law would be a great fit for him. Mr. Cieslak enrolled at UCLA School of Law in 2006.
Mr. Cieslak lived in San Diego while attending UCLA. Having worked for the last six years, Mr. Cieslak approached law school differently than most of his peers. He treated it like a job—arriving early each morning and staying until he finished his reading for that day. This approach allowed Mr. Cieslak to return home to San Diego on the weekends and spend quality time with his wife.
While Mr. Cieslak was unsure of what he wanted to specialize in during law school, he knew he wanted to be a litigator. He ended up taking a couple of classes on white collar criminal defense work and found them to be fascinating. His favorite class was criminal trial advocacy because it gave him the opportunity to experience all of the different stages of a criminal trial. Mr. Cieslak carried this passion with him following his graduation from UCLA School of Law in 2009.
Early Career and Transition to Bona Law
Fresh out of law school, Mr. Cieslak clerked for the Honorable Jeffrey T. Miller at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Mr. Cieslak’s clerkship was invaluable. He got a behind the scenes look at district court procedure and he learned what does, and does not, make a brief persuasive. What Mr. Cieslak enjoyed most about his clerkship was the culture of the Southern District. From the bench to the clerks to the courtroom staff, Mr. Cieslak relished the collegial nature of the District. Mr. Cieslak was part of one big family during his clerkship, and he couldn’t think of a better way to start his career.
Mr. Cieslak joined Cooley’s San Diego office following his clerkship. At Cooley, Mr. Cieslak was a member of the general business litigation group. He worked on a variety of cases in the group, including large business disputes, class actions, and white collar criminal defense. In his second year, Mr. Cieslak joined an antitrust case involving an alleged price fixing conspiracy amongst several manufacturers. Mr. Cieslak was hooked. From that case on, he knew he wanted to specialize in antitrust law, and he was fortunate to have several outstanding mentors at Cooley to guide him through the field, including Michael Attanasio, Beatriz Mejia, and John Dwyer.
After nine years at Cooley, Mr. Cieslak transitioned to Bona Law in 2020. He saw Bona Law as a place where he could take the next step in his career. The firm’s platform allowed Mr. Cieslak to focus on building out his practice by being the lead attorney on matters and developing his own clients. Mr. Cieslak described his three-fold, head-on approach to one of the major challenges attorneys face when transitioning to a boutique law firm—obtaining clients. First, he credits Bona Law’s online presence. Mr. Cieslak and his colleagues maintain an antitrust blog—www.theantitrustattorney.com—that is updated regularly with insightful and thought-provoking pieces. For example, Mr. Cieslak authored a post examining the consolidation of radio station ownership during the late 1990s and 2000s, asking: Did Antitrust Kill the Radio Star? Through the many articles posted on the blog, prospective clients get to become familiar with the firm and the attorneys themselves. Second, Mr. Cieslak is a member of several professional groups. Instead of joining as many networking groups as possible, he stresses the importance of finding the right groups with a mix of potential clients that will generate referrals for your specific practice area. Third, and most importantly, he believes it is important to maintain and cultivate relationships. Mr. Cieslak has received a number of referrals because he made an effort to stay in touch with friends he made in law school and college.
At Bona Law, Mr. Cieslak works primarily on antitrust cases. What most people don’t know, however, is that antirust law comes in multiple flavors. There are two main subsets of antitrust law: transactional and litigation. Mr. Cieslak works almost exclusively on the litigation side while other members of his firm handle the transactional side. The transactional side consists of merger compliance—ensuring proper approval from the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission if the merger is large enough—and counseling—helping the parties navigate antitrust laws.
On the litigation side, antitrust involves both criminal and civil work. This aspect is what Mr. Cieslak enjoys most about his work; he gets to experience vastly different facets of the law on a daily basis. Many of Mr. Cieslak’s cases start out as a Department of Justice investigation and then turn into a complex civil case. One of Mr. Cieslak’s favorite antitrust cases involved an alleged conspiracy to fix prices of lithium ion batteries. He “came of age” working on that case over many years—drafting discovery responses, arguing motions, and negotiating settlements. In addition to doing both criminal and civil antitrust work, Mr. Cieslak represents clients on both sides of the aisle. He has represented emerging companies trying to break into a monopolistic market, and he has defended companies whose dealings come into question. Mr. Cieslak’s diverse practice has allowed him to become familiar with all corners of the San Diego legal community.
Mr. Cieslak also handles white collar criminal defense cases at Bona Law. One of his favorite cases came before he joined Bona Law. It involved a client who, while represented by other counsel, pled guilty to money laundering and missed his sentencing hearing. The client insisted he was innocent and sought to withdraw his guilty plea, a risky endeavor that would likely lead to a longer sentence if unsuccessful. But when the dust settled, the client’s guilty plea was withdrawn, and all charges were dropped. Mr. Cieslak shares that success was the result of a bold and brave client, a trusting attorney-client relationship, and many hours of hard work.
Finally, Mr. Cieslak maintains a healthy pro bono practice. Among others, he has represented children in immigration custody seeking due process rights, victims of fraudulent mortgage modification services, clients seeking Social Security benefits, and veterans.
Mr. Cieslak has been a member of the San Diego Federal Bar Association for over 10 years. Whether it be through the courtroom conversations with judges or the annual conference, Mr. Cieslak loves how the FBA keeps him connected to the bench in San Diego. His favorite program is the FBA’s Supreme Court Case Review featuring Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. He believes there is no equivalent to hearing Dean Chemerinsky’s insight into the Supreme Court’s decisions for that term.
In addition to the Federal Bar Association, Mr. Cieslak is a member of the Welsh Inn of Court. He has been a member for 9 years and believes it is a great way to network and meet other attorneys in the San Diego legal community.
Outside of the Law
Mr. Cieslak lives in San Diego with his wife and their ten-year-old son. Mr. Cieslak also has two dogs—one dachshund and a retriever/beagle mix he affectionately calls a “retriegle.” After adopting the retriegle, they took him in for a checkup, and the veterinarian discovered he had a bullet lodged in his hip. The retriegle is thankfully fully recovered.
In his spare time, Mr. Cieslak enjoys spending quality time with his family. He jumps at every opportunity to take his son to the beach or to go on an adventure to Legoland. When he’s not spending time with his family, you can catch Mr. Cieslak practicing guitar or playing in various sports leagues. While his first allegiance will always be to the Minnesota sports teams, and specifically the Timberwolves, Mr. Cieslak has become a fan of our local San Diego teams as well.
Advice for Newer Attorneys
Mr. Cieslak has two pieces of advice for newer attorneys. First, have an open mind about the various options that are out there for practicing law. In particular, Mr. Cieslak believes many students would benefit from seriously considering options in criminal law, where courtroom experience is more common. Second, the most important factor in long-term happiness is working with people you like and respect, particularly the more senior attorneys that supervise and teach you. Find a place with the right colleagues and any practice will be rewarding.
*Josh Dutton is a member of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and its Public Relations Committee. He most recently practiced labor and employment law at Jones Day and will be clerking for a District Judge in the Southern District of California.