Q&A: David Noonan on The Value of Listening

Published in 2009 San Diego Super Lawyers magazine

By Seth Woehrle on June 14, 2009


At Kirby Noonan Lance & Hoge, David J. Noonan handles commercial and business matters for both plaintiffs and defendants.


Super Lawyers: What drew you to the law?

David Noonan: There were no lawyers in my family, so I can’t blame genetics. It probably started as an outgrowth of my academic interest in history. My major in college was British history—development of the common law, the trial of Sir Thomas More against charges of treason and the like—and that sparked my interest in the legal field. Then in the late 1960s we had a number of national events that put the spotlight on the courtroom—the trial of the Chicago Seven and the Sirhan Sirhan trial, among others—which showed lawyers out front on significant societal and historical issues. It seemed like a fascinating way to make a living.


What would you have done if you hadn’t become a lawyer?

The only other option I seriously considered was becoming a football coach—high school, then college. I actually did some scouting for my college team after graduation. I continue to delude myself into thinking that I would have been fabulously successful at that.


What led you to your particular practice area?

I never considered really doing anything other than trial work, although in law school I was convinced initially that I was going to be a criminal defense lawyer. I have always been very competitive (football and lacrosse in college) and trial work seemed to meet that need and fill that post-college void.


When you actually started practicing, how did it differ from what you expected? 

The most striking thing was the reality of dealing with and resolving real-life practical problems of businesses and individuals, as opposed to wrestling with the high-level constitutional or ivory tower issues we dealt with in law school. It was different but frankly more gratifying and equally interesting.


Whom do you consider to be your role models, legal or otherwise?

It starts with my family. My father was a successful businessman, but before that he served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific in World War II. He was an officer in the 1st Marine Division that landed on Guadalcanal. My mother served as a WAC in Northern Africa during the war, and my older brother served in Vietnam and later became a three-star general in the Army. So obviously there was a strong sense of duty running in my family. In the practice of law, I had the good fortune, as a very young lawyer, of handling cases that involved some of the best trial lawyers in San Diego—Tom Sharkey, Jerry McMahon and Doug Reynolds, just to name a few—and I took something away from all of them.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Stop talking and listen. As trial lawyers we spend so much time talking and preparing to talk that we forget to listen to what is going on around us. I firmly believe that all great trial lawyers are great listeners.


What advice would you give to young lawyers?

Get up out of your office and get out in the community, legal and otherwise, and see what is going on. Get involved in the community in whatever way your skills best dictate. The practice of law can become so all-absorbing that you can lose perspective on real-world people and problems. This can become extremely limiting to your growth as a trial lawyer.


What was your most memorable case?

There are many. I have successfully tried a number of class action cases, securities and antitrust, on both sides of the aisle. But the ones that I am most proud of was when we took a couple of pro bono cases of injured victims in the September 11th attacks and successfully represented them before the Victims Compensation Fund in New York City. It was tremendously gratifying and instilled a real sense of history—part of what drew me to the law in the first place.


What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?

Practicing at a very high level for this many years while still maintaining a balance in my professional and family life. My work with the San Diego County Bar Association, the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program and numerous other organizations keeps me balanced and grounded, as do my wife and four great kids.


Finish this sentence: “Every lawyer should …”

“… not take themselves too seriously.”


Who is your favorite fictional lawyer and why?

Vinny Gambini in My Cousin Vinny. See above about not taking yourself too seriously.

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