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Attorney Finds His Niche in the Appellate World

Dennis Temko

As an appellate attorney, Dennis Temko ’12 fully understands his chosen practice area can be a tough row to hoe.

Temko readily concedes that writs and appeals are incredibly hard to win. “Statistically, in civil cases, I believe the odds of a reversal in an appeal are only around 20 percent—criminal and dependency are much worse,” says Temko. “Writs are even more difficult to win. Probably only 10 percent of those reviewed end in reversal.”

Initially reluctant to go into law, Temko credits California Western’s Summer Enrichment Program as the catalyst to not only his pursuing a law career, but also his enrolling at the law school.

“That course introduced me to the school, and cemented my decision to go to Cal Western,” states Temko. “It was also excellent preparation for the actual law school experience.”

Two externships while at California Western, as well as his legal writing course, motivated Temko to focus on appeals. His time at the San Diego Office of the Public Defender and the San Diego County Counsel in the Juvenile Dependency Division gave him the opportunity to write appellate briefs and appear in trial court.

“Research and writing for my externships was an incredibly positive experience, while the trial court appearances further cemented for me that I did not enjoy Superior Court trial litigation,” says Temko.

California Western’s legal writing courses gave Temko the confidence to know he was an excellent writer. “I pored over research for my final paper,” says Temko. “I found I could sit at my computer for hours on end glued to Westlaw. Writing the paper was fun!”

The paper Temko wrote ultimately earned him the highest grade in his class and was subsequently published in California Western’s Law Review.

Throughout his time at California Western, Temko remained laser-focused on one thing—passing the bar. He believes that the law school’s courses were geared toward bar passage and that its bar review program and professors were instrumental in his success.

“Cal Western is far better than any other school at preparing its students for the bar exam,” says Temko. “If it were not for that incredible preparation, I may not be practicing today.”

Temko singles out California Western’s Professor Joanna Sax and Adjunct Professor James Jefferies as hugely influential in his legal education.

“Professor Sax taught contracts in an easy to understand manner that gave me a good foundation for the future,” recalls Temko. “I remember she tried to relate scenarios to our own lives. I remembered the class so well that, just in the last four months, I recalled a case she taught that had application to a fact pattern I applied in an appellate brief.”

Today, Temko has developed a successful appellate practice together with his father, who is also an appellate attorney and an active mentor to his son. Temko has a string of published cases and prevailed in two writ cases in 2018. He has also been named a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers Magazine for the last three consecutive years.

In David L. v. San Diego Superior Court (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 359, a granted writ petition, he successfully argued California did not have personal jurisdiction over his client in a paternity action where the child was conceived out of state, and his client’s contacts with the state were insubstantial. The case is significant because it was novel, it’s likely to be invoked beyond California, and its resolution involved United States Supreme Court precedent.

It is not surprising that Temko’s advice to California Western students today is to find a niche and do it well. “A niche allows you to become the ‘go-to person’ in a given area. You then become a magnet for referrals from other attorneys who may not have the competence to handle a case in that specialized area.”

Describing the appellate system, Kathryn M. Werdegar, Associate Justice (Ret.) California Supreme Court writes, “Appellate courts are different from trial courts. The rules are different. The process is different. The goals are different.”

For Dennis Temko, that is precisely the reason he loves his niche in the practice of law.