Justin Berger, 34, senior associate
Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy
Berger got his early training working with marginalized populations in a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Ecuador, where he worked with kids in after-school programs and helped promote a grassroots community bank for women. The Yale undergraduate continued public service work as an AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer at Casa Cornelia Law Center, a nonprofit immigration law firm in San Diego, before heading to UC-Berkeley School of Law. His practice focuses on False Claims Act, consumer protection, financial elder abuse, employment law and other complex civil litigation. His wins include Komarova v. National Credit Acceptance, one of the largest Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act) verdicts for an individual consumer in history; and, with Cotchett partner Niall McCarthy, brokering the largest False Claims Act settlement in California history in California v. Quest Diagnostics, in which they recovered $241 million. Berger is vice president of the San Mateo County Barristers and is active in the Northern California Peace Corps Association.
Word that best describes you?
Most interesting place you've traveled?
Ecuador during the time I was there, I was lucky to visit the Galapagos Islands, which has the most amazing array of flora and fauna imaginable. You literally can hardly move without stepping on some rare animal penguins next to tortoises next to flamingos next to iguanas, and on and on.
Most unusual hobby?
My favorite current hobby is mowing the lawn I like to see the tangible results, on a much shorter time line than civil litigation.
Best advice you ever got?
It takes five years to gain minimal competence as a lawyer. I took it as a challenge at the time, but five years later, I think it's true; keeping that in mind now helps me to be more patient in developing my skills as an attorney and in helping younger associates develop their skills.
Trial or deal you wish you could have worked on?
The Lincoln Savings and Loan trial, to see two of my biggest mentors Joe Cotchett and Judge Susan Illston in their prime, taking on the biggest financial scandal in the country at that time (and of course, prevailing).