With more than 400 days in front of a jury, Gregory Brown, co-founder of Brown & Charbonneau, LLP is certainly comfortable advocating for his clients in front of an audience. He’s also used to winning. As a Board Certified Trial Specialist in Civil Advocacy, Brown has spent the last three decades honing his craft as an award winning business litigator. However, for a trial attorney so recognized and renowned in Southern California, Brown’s easy laugh, and candor is refreshingly authentic.
Indeed, there’s no bravado, nor pretenses to be found when speaking with Brown. Instead, when talking about his career, he’s the first to admit that he never intended to become an AV Preeminent attorney. He didn’t have childhood dreams of becoming a Super Lawyer, or being named a Top 100 Trial Lawyer, or a Leader in Law, per Forbes Magazine. And he certainly didn’t expect to be named one of the Best Attorneys in America.
Make no mistake, the Orange County native is incredibly friendly and witty, but he’s surprisingly open when admitting that success has come as the result of a willingness to learn from mistakes, an innate competitive streak, and a commitment to “keeping the edge of the knife sharp,” he says. Indeed, he attributes his 28 years of success and subsequent reputation as the go-to trial attorney for business disputes ranging from $500,000 to $150 Million, to unrivaled preparation, and a sincere desire to continue to remain at the forefront of his field. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he happens to love the thrill of winning, in whatever he sets out to accomplish.
“When I was young, I used to play checkers with my grandfather in Long Beach. He used to tell me I should be a professional of some type. At the time I thought that being a doctor or lawyer were the only options. I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor, but I didn’t want to go to college with a definite plan to be an attorney. I actually didn’t think I wrote well enough to be a lawyer. I studied business, and got my degree in Finance, with an emphasis on Accounting”, he says. However, he also earned the equivalent of a minor in English, just in case, and by the time Brown got to law school, his excellent writing earned him a position writing for the Law Review.
Brown admits that he’s a natural born competitor, which has fueled his refusal to back down from any challenge. “I grew up racing sailboats competitively in Long Beach and traveled up and down the coast to race from the age of 8 until I was 17. I also played football through High School and I was on the wrestling team. Throughout college, I played intramural football, A-level competitive volleyball, and competed each year in the intramural wrestling tournament and the intramural swim meet,” Brown says.
Suffice to say, his love of competition was far from a passing fancy. To this day, Brown remains a disciplined athlete, having competed in dozens of triathlons and marathons. Furthermore he’s included amongst the elite class of athletes to have completed the full Ironman Triathlon, in addition to multiple half-Ironman competitions and Olympic Distance Triathlons.
Early Lessons in Litigation
After graduating from law school, Brown took a position in insurance defense, and dove right into the work. “I was taking a Plaintiff’s Deposition the day I was sworn in,” he recalls. “Six days later, I was in a binding arbitration,” he laughs. Indeed Brown admits to being so eager for experience that the desire to learn far outweighed any fear he might have about his lack of experience. “I felt like I had a lot to prove when I got out of law school. I was afraid that other people would be smarter or more qualified, so I just wanted experience. I would take anything they would give me,” he says.
As such, roughly 13 months into his career, Brown found himself sitting first chair in a trial. “I did my first trial by myself. Most people do 2nd chair first, but I never had that luxury. I guess I learned by watching other people and doing things the hard way,” he chuckles.
To that end, he says one of the best lessons he learned early in his career, was during that first trial. Suffice to say Brown says he learned that no matter what, “you never talk down to the judge!” Moreover, he says that in those very early years, he learned that as a trial lawyer, “You have to expect the unexpected. You have to be prepared,” he says. Incidentally, this lesson was learned during a trial in which Brown experienced the death of his lead expert (the night before he was to testify), missing evidence in a case, and a judge who threatened to declare a mistrial simply because the case was taking too long. As it turned out, Brown would prevail in the case, and it would be the first of many, many more to come.
Brown also recalls a memorable quote which would become his guiding philosophy, sometime in the very beginning of his career. “I don’t know who said it, but I had it propped up on my Day-Timer, and it said ‘Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement,’” he says.
In the ensuing years, Brown would go on to become Partner and Managing Partner at Kring & Brown, LLP, where he would spend the first 14 years of his career. However, a transition in his practice area would ultimately lead him to form Brown & Charbonneau, LLP in 2002.
“My insurance defense practice had become commercial defense, which led to business litigation,” Brown says. In fact, by 2000, his practice had become 90% business litigation, and it remains that way today.
Maturation and Mastery
“There is no magic bullet,” Brown says regarding any singular catalyst for his success. “I like competition, and I like trying to win,” he says candidly. However, he does say that there is no substitute, nor frankly an excuse for being unprepared. “When I am in front of a jury it is imperative that I maintain credibility,” he says. “They must see me as the lawyer who provides the truth. There’s no trying to pull a fast one. I have to know the most about the case –not just my side of the case, but the entire case inside and out. I also want the jurors to believe that I can also educate them,” he says. “Ultimately, I try to ensure that the jurors always look forward to when I get up to speak.”
To reinforce his mastery of the facts of a case, Brown never uses opening or closing argument notes. “I don’t want to read, or look at notes. I’m able to do without because I study the facts as much as possible. This enables me to interact and truly connect with the jury. Under no circumstance will I be out-prepared for a case,” he says.
Subsequently, he says that it was his dedication to being proactive in his preparation which led him to embrace trial presentation technology early in his career. In fact, while representing a Trial Presentation Software company in a trade secret trial, Brown says he had to learn exactly how the software was made in order to clearly understand public domain and proprietary information. “It was an 8 week bench trial in San Diego, and I learned so much during that trial,” he says.
As it turned out, he had learned so much that he would go on to launch his own Trial Consulting Company, but soon found that many clients who hired him to help with their presentations ended up hiring him as part of the trial legal team. “What ultimately happened was that I wound up with clients who needed a trial lawyer, and they brought me on board as their attorney as well,” he recalls. “It was great for generating business.”
Year after year, Brown continued to deliver impressive results for clients, including a Defense Verdict in a fraud and breach of contract case involving the sale of a division of a public company, where the claims had been estimated at $30 Million, and a recent $2.9 Million Jury Verdict for a client who had been defrauded in the sale of a business.
His gift for advocacy does not go unnoticed, as evidenced by the fact that he has converted those he goes up against into his own clients. For example, “Many years ago, I represented an injection-molding manufacturer who was sued by one of Orange County’s largest bottled water companies. The founder of that company was actively involved in the contract and fraud litigation. The dispute was over the manufacture of injection molds to create the plastic valves for 2.5 gallon water bottles. The case did not settle and went to trial in Orange County. The jury found in favor of our client. 6-12 months later the founder/owner of the bottled water company contacted me to hire me to handle all of their business legal needs. That was in 1997 and we have been doing work for the company and its founders ever since,” Brown says.
Open Mind Leads to Opportunities
Over the course of his career, Brown says that having an open mind has served him incredibly well. Such was the case when Brown & Charbonneau, LLP was born, blending a business litigation practice, with a family law practice. Though he admits that at first glance the two practice areas seem wildly diverse, what has evolved is a firm with practice areas which happen to complement each other quite well. For his part, Brown is brought into family law cases both within his firm and into cases other firms are handling, when the family matter involves a complex business or financial issues. “At least 30-40% of our practice is family law,” he says.
Helmed by Michele M. Charbonneau, an experienced family law litigator, who has been practicing law since 1991, the family law practice at Brown & Charbonneau, LLP is equally as successful as the business litigation practice. This is because, at Brown & Charbonneau, LLP “the handling attorney is the handling attorney,” says Brown. “We do not pass off our cases to many different associates and other attorneys. We provide focused and personal attention to each of our clients. We limit the number of cases we take so that we can accomplish this,” he adds. “We are highly skilled and experienced in getting cases ready for trial and taking them through trial. Opposing attorneys are aware of this fact, which usually results in better settlements since they know they will not out-lawyer us in a trial.”
By way of example, Brown & Charbonneau, LLP obtained $5,600,000 for its client in a trial which dealt with community property versus separate property over a family business. “This was a long battle over ownership of a $157,000,000 company between family members,” Brown says. In that case, Brown & Charbonneau, LLP took on 5 defendants and their firms to win the 7 figure Trial Award.
Future of the Firm
As far as the future is concerned for Brown & Charbonneau, LLP, Brown says the plan is to stay the course. “I have spent my entire career working in Irvine. We are experienced, highly qualified attorneys for all types of business litigation matters and complex divorce cases. We are responsive and available to all of our clients. We represent medium to large sized businesses and their owners with shareholder/partner disputes, or individuals in business related family law matters.”
A member of ABOTA, the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and named one of the Top 5 Business Attorneys in OC, Brown is refreshingly humble when it comes to talking about himself. However, when it comes to raving about his law partner Michele Charbonneau, he’s clearly more comfortable. “I am married to Michele Charbonneau, who is my spouse and my business partner. We are at different ends of the hall, and we are engrossed in our own cases, for the most part. But when we go home at night we may talk about work. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in business, or life. We have five children. Two of our sons are studying for the LSAT and plotting to take over the firm,” he says with a chuckle.
In the meantime, Brown’s competitive streak rages on, though these days he’s often competing with himself, or incorporating sports and physical activities into family events. An avid snow skier, Brown continues to love sports, and relishes time spent with his family water skiing, paddle boarding, kite boarding, and river rafting. He and Michele are also passionate about travel, with Bora Bora being their favorite destination. Plus, Brown acknowledges with a laugh that he gets his “best kite boarding lessons” in the tropical paradise as well.
If it sounds like Brown has found the proverbial keys to the kingdom of personal and professional success, it’s because he’s certainly found something that works. “We are very lucky to do what we love to do. We will continue to do just that–provide premier, personalized legal services, but we don’t have a specific plan to grow just for the sake of growing. If we have to grow to ensure we are always providing quality services we will,” he says simply.
Brown & Charbonneau LLP
420 Exchange, Suite 270
Irvine, CA 92602
written by Jennifer Hadley