When Robert Odell (JD ’12) steps into a courtroom to try a case he could easily be mistaken for a junior associate or second chair in the trial. It’s not very often that the lead trial attorney on a multi-million dollar case is just a few years out of law school. Odell, who has developed an impressive trial record, credits his success to the skills he learned at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law.
“The oral advocacy skills I learned at Chapman have been critical to my early success as a trial attorney,” Odell said. “Although I didn’t realize it at the time of graduation, I had been molded from a timid law student into a sharp advocate capable of winning these types of high-stakes civil trials.”
After passing the bar, Odell founded Workplace Justice Advocates with Orange County attorney Tamara Freeze, for whom he clerked as a law student. Just this month, he and Ms. Freeze secured a $25 million whistleblower and wrongful termination verdict against medical device company Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. The award, which included $22.4 million in punitive damages, is one of the largest single-plaintiff whistleblower verdicts in California history. The case was brought on behalf of a former sales manager who was fired after complaining about illegal kickbacks to doctors and promotion of medical devices for off-label uses.
“The fundamentals, instincts, and style I learned from Chapman were instrumental at trial, especially the skills I learned from Orange County Superior Court Judge James Rogan,” Odell said. Judge Rogan has taught Trial Practice and related courses at the law school since 2005.
Odell’s most valuable experience prior to working with Freeze came from Chapman’s Mock Trial Competition Board.
“Mock Trial was incredibly daunting for an introvert like me, but I quickly grew to love it,” he said. “I was practicing day after day with my classmates and being taught by trial masters like Professor Nancy Schultz and skilled alumni coaches Robert Beggs (JD ’04) and Bradley Schoenleben (JD ’07). Being carefully trained and critiqued by these courtroom experts completely reshaped my ability to argue and persuade as an attorney.”
The turning point in Odell’s career came just over a year after founding Workplace Justice Advocates, when he took on his first jury trial and secured a roughly $2 million total verdict for his client.
“I was 28 years old and up against a seasoned trial attorney with literally decades of experience,” Odell said. “I had never stood in front of a real jury before and I was absolutely terrified on the inside. I was unaware, however, that the training I had received in law school was more than enough to prepare me for this trial.”
Odell practices exclusively plaintiff-side labor and employment law in Irvine and will soon celebrate his fifth wedding anniversary with his wife and Chapman alumna, Sadaf Nejat (JD ’11). Odell credits Nejat with giving him the initial push he needed to join Chapman’s Mock Trial Competition Board – a decision he states was “well outside my comfort zone, but completely changed the trajectory of my legal career.”