Thomas P. O’Brien is a Los Angeles white-collar criminal defense and civil trial attorney and former fighter jet aircrew.
During his time as a United States Navy Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Tom logged more than 2,000 hours in F-14A Tomcat fighters and served on two overseas deployments. He is a graduate of the elite United States Naval Fighter Weapons School, more popularly known as TOPGUN, and even appeared as an extra in the Tom Cruise blockbuster 1986 movie.
But that was another life. Now, Tom O’Brien is a trial attorney with Ellis George Cipollone O’Brien Annaguey LLP, where he helps individuals and companies navigate through high-level government investigations and litigation involving the Department of Justice, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and many other agencies. He conducts internal investigations for corporations around the world to rapidly provide sensitive and vital information to Boards of Directors, Audit Committees, and General Counsel. He also handles numerous complex civil litigation matters, including tort claims, contract disputes, trade secret, whistleblower, civil rights, employment, and securities matters. He is one of the most experienced and successful trial attorneys in the country, having tried over 100 civil and criminal jury trials to verdict.
Thomas P. O’Brien’s path from TOPGUN to his partnership at an elite national law firm was an illustrious one. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy and the University of San Diego School of Law, he began his legal career as a Deputy District Attorney in San Diego County before moving to Los Angeles, where he won dozens of complex street gang murder trials as a Deputy District Attorney assigned to the Hardcore Gang Division.
From there, he joined the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and served as Chief of the Civil Rights Section, where he prosecuted federal hate crimes, human trafficking violations, and law enforcement misconduct cases.
Prior to his confirmation as United States Attorney, Tom spent more than two years as Chief of the Criminal Division, where he oversaw thousands of criminal investigations and prosecutions in the largest federal district in the nation, including several high-profile espionage cases and the first treason case filed in the U.S. since World War II.
Tom O’Brien was then nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, where in his term of office he filed the most felony cases in the history of the Central District.
Those cases included the largest gang RICO case in the history of the Department of Justice, and the largest tax restitution case in IRS history.
Tom also served on the President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force and the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee’s Cyber/Intellectual Property Subcommittee, and is a member of the National Trial Lawyers: Top 100.
Over his career as an attorney, he has received numerous awards, including from the Attorney General of the United States; Anti-Defamation League; Los Angeles City Council; Los Angeles Police Department; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Drug Enforcement Administration; United States Secret Service; Internal Revenue Service; United States Marshal’s Office; Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office; United States Postal Service; United States Postal Inspectors and Office of Inspector General; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Los Angeles District Attorney.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
One of my military professors at the United States Naval Academy was an F-14 Tomcat Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) who had joined the Navy following law school. He would sometimes discuss his experiences in both diverse careers, and I found it fascinating. I decided to follow his lead, only do it the opposite way: fly fighters first, and then pursue a career in the law.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
One of the most wonderful things about being a trial attorney is that no day can be called “typical.” Depending on the caseload and trial calendar, we might be busy with trial preparation, depositions, mediation, or arbitration, and each one of those subjects involves a myriad of mini-projects, such as witness prep, drafting cross-examination outlines, research and motion practice, etc. Throw in the daily client emergencies, and the day (and oftentimes the evening) flies by!
How do you bring ideas to life?
A trial attorney oftentimes must take mundane and/or confusing and complex subjects, and transform them into persuasive and coherent stories for the court and the jury. Frankly, the only way I am able to do this is to draft an outline, and then edit, edit, and edit some more.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The continued evolution of technology integration into the courtroom is nothing but a positive. Used correctly, technology permits counsel to paint a more clear and persuasive picture of the facts and the law to the jury…what’s not to love?
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?
I maintain a dynamic “Things to Do” list so I can reshuffle task priorities while not letting anything slip by.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Shake it off, quit whining, and move forward!
What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Restock the wine collection with expensive selections.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your career?
I have maintained contact and positive relations with as many people as possible, whether they are in my particular business field or not. One never knows where and when a referral will materialize, and larger networks are clearly more beneficial in this area. Along the same lines, I actively look for opportunities for others in my network, and connect folks whenever possible.
What is one failure you had in your career, and how did you overcome it?
One?!? I wish I could only look at one. In any career, not only will you make mistakes, some of them will appear to be devastating, at least at the time. The mistakes will lessen with experience, but the lessons will last forever.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A lovely bottle of Odette Reserve Cabernet — much better than my Peloton monthly payment, at least for the evening.
What is your favorite quote?
During Plebe Summer at the US Naval Academy, lowly Plebes (incoming freshmen) were required to memorize a seemingly endless amount of trivia, including quotes by famous military historical figures. My favorite was from Commodore John Paul Jones, the great naval leader during the American Revolution and considered to be the father of the American Navy, who said, “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.”
- To transform mundane, confusing and complex subjects into persuasive and coherent stories, it’s important to draft an outline, and then edit, edit, and edit some more.
- Keep a dynamic “Things to Do” list so you can reshuffle task priorities while not letting anything slip by.
- Maintain contact and positive relations with as many people as possible, whether they are in your particular business field or not.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.