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Lyle Cavin Jr. was born to practice admiralty law. His father, uncle and great-grandfather were longshoremen, and as a college student in the 1960s he occasionally worked as one too. “In those days you could work a day or two a month and have enough beer money to last you the next month,” Cavin reminisces. Then, while Cavin was studying law at Golden Gate University, his father’s legs were crushed in a ship hold accident. Today, Cavin has made a career out of representing injured seamen and longshore workers. His is the first name mentioned when judges and mediators are asked to identify the top plaintiffs attorneys in the Bay Area’s admiralty bar. He has tried more than 100 cases to juries or judges, he says, and just in the past several years has both a $5 million and a $3 million verdict to his credit. “He’s a trial dog,” says one lawyer familiar with Cavin’s work. “Number one, he has jury appeal as a regular guy,” says a judge who has seen Cavin in court. “Second, he has great presence of mind. You throw him a curve ball, he can hit it. And he organizes his cases very, very well.” Cavin says he was fortunate to get his start at a firm — Sullivan & Johnson — that allowed him to try cases right off the bat. Within two years he was a name partner, and two years later, in 1974, he formed Law Offices of Lyle C. Cavin. Cavin seems to have immersed himself in his practice. The five-lawyer shop he heads in his hometown of Oakland is decorated with life preservers, a ship’s wheel and model vessels. Lawyers remark on the personal connection he has with his clients, some of whom are family friends or former colleagues. “I handle the cases as if it’s my money and my life,” says Cavin, 59. “I’ve had to tell more clients to reject settlement offers than encourage them to take them.” A graduate of the East Bay’s Castlemont High School and St. Mary’s College, Cavin says he has tried cases in most of the major U.S. port cities, while investigations have carried him as far away as Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea. Although he loves trials, he’s says he’s doing fewer nowadays and more mediations. “Mediation has just exploded in volume and effectiveness,” he says. “But I pity the young lawyer today who wants to be a trial lawyer because of the pressure that’s put on lawyers to settle in mediation.” He’s not completely out of the game, though. “I have a trial in December,” he says, “that I’m already preparing for.”

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