The Verdict Is In

Top Dog Distinguished Alumnus shares how Fresno State led him to excel as one of nation’s leading trial attorneys

By Lucero Benitez

Brian PanishIn his west Los Angeles office of Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, personal injury trial attorneyBrian Panish displays dozens of awards recognizing him as a leading attorney in the United States. Having won more than $500 million in verdicts since 2011, he’s been named one of the top 100 most influential lawyers in the nation and was the 2019 California Lawyer Attorney of the Year.

Among those awards in his office sits a Fresno State football, a reminder of the hard work he put in to be where he is today. And don’t be surprised if his newest piece of Fresno State hardware ends up right alongside it.

On Sept. 20, Panish was presented with the Top Dog Distinguished Alumnus Award — the highest alumni honor given — for his extensive professional accomplishments and support of community and University causes.

Each year, one alumnus or alumna is chosen from each of the University’s academic schools and colleges, the Department of Athletics, the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and the Division of Graduate Studies to receive the Top Dog Outstanding Alumni Award (see Page 34 for other honorees). This year, Panish represented the College of Social Sciences. He was previously recognized as the Department of Athletics’ Top Dog Outstanding Alumnus in 2010.

Panish, who graduated from Fresno State in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in political science before going to law school, says attending Fresno State to play football for the Bulldogs was one of the best decisions of his life. He attributes his success and training to the academic, athletic and socialization opportunities he received at Fresno State.

Fresno State Magazine asked Panish about his experience as a student.

Fresno State Magazine: How did it feel when you first stepped on campus?

Panish: It was different than I was used to. It was a wide-open space, a lot of green. Coming from the Los Angeles area, it seemed like more of a country environment.

What is your favorite Fresno State memory?

Being on the football team, that was clearly a highlight. I played for the great Jim Sweeney, had a great coaching staff, and I became friends with all the other players who turned into lifetime friends. In the classroom, I had great teachers who mentored me and helped me look into my future. Socially, joining the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. I had the best of all worlds at Fresno State.

What was it like to be a student-athlete?

It was unique in that you had a group of people that you’re with all the time, and then you’d go to class. A lot of the football players didn’t major in political science,

so I didn’t have many players in my classes, and I was able to meet other students and interact with people that didn’t have anything to do with football. And so, that was also a big part of my learning, my life lessons, my education in the classroom, but also outside.

How did Fresno State prepare you to excel as an attorney?

Coming from Fresno State, no challenge is too big. And if you say you can’t, you won’t. I learned at Fresno State — not just in the classroom, but on the football field — that you can do things that people think you can’t and it’s up to you to take on challenges and be successful. If you apply what you’ve learned, and you’re passionate about it, and you outwork everyone else, you can be successful.

Why are you passionate about sports?

I think sports are one of the three areas in life in which there’s always a winner and loser. In politics, in sports and courtroom law. There’s always a winner and a loser. Everybody gets a trophy in today’s society, but in real life there’s a winner and there’s a loser, and it’s tough to lose and get up and continue on. But that’s what we learn as lawyers and advocates, that we can’t win every case, but we need to be strong for the next case, for the next client that needs us, and to persevere and get through the practice of law, dealing with the ups and the downs and the emotions of the clients and the traumatic experiences that they’ve been through.

What is your advice for students?

You need to take advantage of all the things that are available to you. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Not everything’s going to work out, but the more things you experience, the easier it’s going to be to figure out what you really are passionate about.

What do you miss about Fresno State?

The football games. I don’t miss the practices. I miss the football games and the post-parties, and being in the fraternity and all my friends. Doing things outside of football and socializing and having a good time. I had so much fun, and every time I see my friends from those days, it’s like we haven’t missed a step, and we just click right back.

Why is it important for you and others to give back to your alma mater?

I was always told that from those who have much, much is expected. Fresno State did a huge thing for me, offered me a scholarship, taught me, educated me. I’m forever indebted and grateful for what they’ve done for me, and I’m always there to help any way I can to let other people have the great experience that I had at Fresno State. We continue to be Bulldogs for life.

—  Lucero Benitez is a communications specialist for the College of Social Sciences at Fresno State

 Two Top Dogs

Top Dog Alumni Awards

Distinguished Alumnus
Brian J. Panish, 1980

Arthur Safstrom Service Award
Antonio Petrosino, 1953

outstanding alumni

Outstanding Alumni

Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology
Helder Domingos, 1980

Craig School of Business
Jim Vagim, 1985

Division of Research and Graduate Studies
Timothy Kotman, 2007, ’10

College of Social Sciences
Jan L. Kahn, 1969

College of Arts and Humanities
Charles Sant’Agata, 1957

Kremen School of Education and Human Development
Eimear O’Farrell, 1995, ’06, ’10

College of Health and Human Services
Cher Teng (Bee) Yang, 1994, ’96

Department of Athletics
Chris Pacheco, 1985

Lyles College of Engineering
Ken A. Meme, 1986

College of Science and Mathematics
Christopher Daniel Bencomo, 1989

Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management
Barry W. Maas, 1994