January 2020 Cover Story - Scott B. Garner: A Lawyer’s Lawyer

by Dean J. Zipser and Robert E. Gooding, Jr.

We have the distinct pleasure to “introduce” the OCBA’s incoming president, Scott B. Garner. But Scott hardly needs any introduction to this readership. He’s been a leader in the Bar—both with the OCBA and other professional organizations—for decades now, and already is known to many. As each of us has worked with Scott for many years in various capacities, we could use this opportunity to share some of his deep dark secrets or embarrassing moments. But we can’t—not because we choose to not to do so, but because there’s really nothing juicy to share. As many of you know, and the rest of you will learn, with Scott, what you see is what you get.

So, what are we getting? A smart, thoughtful, practical, and humble leader. More on that in a bit, but first some background. Scott was born in New York and moved to Orange County when he was ten years old, growing up in Fullerton. He moved away for college (Stanford) and law school (Harvard). (His law school graduating class includes former President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.)

After law school, Scott returned to Orange County, where he has practiced continuously since 1991. In 1993, Scott married his college sweetheart, Karen, a physician practicing internal medicine. Ten years later, they had their first child, Espen. After debating whether to stop at one child or have just one more, they decided on the latter. But it didn’t quite work out like that. They were blessed with identical twin girls, Annika and Helena. Although Scott is an incredibly hard worker, he has always been a devoted family man who has managed to achieve and maintain a work-life balance that eludes many of us. An avid sports fan, when not at the office or in court, Scott can often be found cheering on his beloved Angels, Ducks, and Rams, as well as the Stanford Cardinal. (Neither of us can recall any instance where Scott touted the athletic prowess of the Harvard Crimson.)

Scott began his legal career at Latham & Watkins and stayed with large firms (Howard Rice, Howrey, and Morgan Lewis) until moving to Umberg/Zipser in 2015. Over the years, Scott has handled all kinds of complex commercial litigation. For the better part of the last two decades, he has focused his practice principally on counseling individual lawyers and law firms on issues of professional liability, legal ethics, and professionalism. During that time, he successfully represented scores of large, mid-sized, and small law firms in state and federal court on claims of legal malpractice and ethical breaches. Many of the cases involved high-stakes “bet-the-firm” claims against large national and international law firms with the underlying disputes ranging from securities litigation to international patent filings to class action defense to commercial transactions. More recently, he took a malpractice case all the way through jury trial and brought home a defense verdict.

Scott has applied the expertise gained through years of client representation to the public good. Among other things, he served as a member (from 2010-16) and Chair (2014-15) of the California State Bar’s Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct and as Co-Chair of the OCBA Professionalism and Ethics Committee. When the OCBA sought to develop new Civility Guidelines, Scott was tabbed along with Justice Richard Fybel to lead the Civility Task Force. Their work resulted in the OCBA’s Civility Guidelines—guidelines that are now pointed to by many of our judges. (Not surprisingly, Scott was a primary draftsperson of the prior version.)

Scott’s service does not stop at professional responsibility and ethics, or with the OCBA. Scott has a list of published articles and speaking engagements a mile long. He’s a past president of the Orange County Chapter of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, and also has held a leadership position with the ABA. Scott also is a long-time board member of the Junior State of America Foundation, an organization that helps high school students acquire leadership skills and the knowledge necessary to be effective debaters and civic participants. At the same time, he also regularly takes on pro bono matters. John Hueston—whom Scott credits for pushing him to get involved with the OCBA—sums it up well: “Scott has long been a key pillar in the Orange County Bar. His prodigious work ethic applies to the broader legal community, for which he generously brings his unique balance of careful analysis and practical solutions.”

Not surprisingly, he is routinely sought after as an expert witness and for counseling on legal ethics issues. In all of this, Scott has become the epitome of the “lawyer’s lawyer.” For him, though, it’s more than just a matter of reading and interpreting the rules on the printed page; the fundamental principles of professionalism, ethical behavior, and civility underlying the rules of professional conduct come naturally to him because they are a central part of his character and DNA.

Not only does Scott “talk the talk,” he “walks the walk.” He carries his professional responsibility and ethics knowledge and advice into his own practice. He is the consummate professional, always displaying the civility he teaches, while remaining a vigorous advocate for his clients. Scott has fans from across the bar. For example, Mark Wilson of Klein & Wilson commented: “I have worked with Scott Garner as co-counsel and also have had Scott as opposing counsel. At all times, Scott conducted himself professionally and represented his clients at the highest level. I regularly refer clients to Scott because he is smart, has integrity, and treats people respectfully.”

As two of his law firm partners, we echo those sentiments. Scott has been a “go to” person within his law firms, whether to discuss ethical issues or litigation strategy. He is the consummate professional and business partner, a team player, and a role model for others. In sum, Scott is a good, caring individual.

He brings all of these same qualities to the OCBA, where others look to him for guidance. Scott typically listens and evaluates all viewpoints before arriving at a position and commenting on an issue. Indeed, for those of us old enough to remember, he is reminiscent of the E.F. Hutton commercial: When Scott talks, people listen. Nikki Miliband, 2018 OCBA President who has worked side by side with Scott on the OCBA Board since they both joined the Board in 2011, notes that “the OCBA members are fortunate to have Scott at the helm this year—he is thoughtful, ethical, respectful, and even-keeled. Scott is unflappable. I look forward to watching all of his accomplishments this year.” The OCBA’s Immediate Past President, Deirdre Kelly, who has known Scott for decades, is confident in passing the gavel. She remarked, “Scott is one of the most intelligent, hardworking, and thoughtful people I have ever met. I know he will be a tremendous OCBA President!”

We couldn’t agree more. There could hardly be a person better qualified to lead the Orange County Bar Association, and we all look forward to the year ahead.

Dean J. Zipser is a founding partner of Umberg Zipser LLP, a past president of the OCBA, and a recipient of the Franklin G. West Award. He’s known Scott for about twenty years, and now has the pleasure of working with him at their law firm. Robert E. Gooding, Jr. is a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. He has known Scott for more than twenty years and had the good fortune to practice law with him at Howard Rice, Howrey, and Morgan Lewis for all but the last five years.