Thirty years ago, on November 8, 1993, my journey to become a lawyer ended, and my practice began. I was sworn in on that day in Columbus in the Ohio Theater. You can get sworn in at the ceremony in Columbus, or in front of another judge. I had the honor of Justice Paul Pfeifer being the one to swear me in. He had just been sworn as a Justice the year before. He served on the court 23 of my 30 years of practice and was generally one of the nicest and fairest judges on there. And in case you think that is because he was my party or sided with me always, wrong on both counts. I got to be one of the attorneys on an appeal that was decided just a month or so later, and well, it didn’t go our way.
In 1986 I had started in college as a business major, but I decided not to be corporate suit and switched to political science. Thinking I would be like one of the characters on the West Wing, a professional political operative. In fact I have certification in running political campaigns, elected officials offices and running a Political Action Committee (PAC). And I did later in life become one too. But at the time of my undergrad training I went through internships at a Congressional Office, at a Mayoral Office, and for a Congressional Campaign. What I noticed was if these people had spouses they were ex spouses. If they had kids, the kids didn’t want them in their lives. I decided having a wife and kids who actually wanted me around was more important, so law school it was.
If you don’t know in most states you have to get an undergraduate degree, a bachelors and then a Juris Doctorate (JD) to practice. A few states allow you to take the bar exam without the JD so long as you work as a paralegal or legal assistant in a law firm for a sufficient time. For me, 7 years of college. Thanks to a scholarship I ONLY had to ring up $55,000 in student loan debt, adjusting for inflation that’s $117,000 today. BTW, the cost of just that JD today from the same school is about $165,000.
I remember being at conference with a bunch of young lawyers, law students and older lawyers the year after I graduated. Our speaker at the time, then a national expert on the practice of law as a business, now my friend, had all of the students and recent grads stand and he asked us to stay standing until he got to the level of student loan debt we owed. When he got into the $100,000's back then, he said to the older attorneys, no they’re not money hungry, there are in debt.
That conference was the biennial Phi Alpha Delta (PAD) Law Fraternity International Convention. PAD is the largest legal organization in the world. It has members in the United States and it’s territories, Canada, and Mexico. By sheer coincidence the day of the founding of PAD. PAD was founded to help a group of potential lawyers who were, after reaching the end of the process being denied a chance to take the test and practice, due to a new requirement. They got a waiver for those already in the process. The group stayed together to help law students and lawyers be better. So If you like the lawyer I became, you can thank them in part.
Thanks to the training of law school, PAD, and my mentors and family, I’ve had an amazing ride so far. I had the chance to appear before the Ohio Supreme Court and a second chair a jury in my first week. I got to take my first workers’ compensation hearings. In my first few years, I got to practice in a variety of different areas of law including trying criminal and traffic cases both adult and juvenile, domestic relations, personal injury, social security disability, zoning and real estate, bankruptcy and probate. And who knew probate would be the one with the most harrowing story, I’ll tell it some other time, but there are guns drawn in it.
I’ve had the chance to appear before planning commissions, municipal courts, common pleas court, district courts of appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court and the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland and Toledo, and the Social Security Office of Hearings and Appeals and the Appeals Counsel.
I was one of the first batch of Ohio State Bar Associations first crop of specialists, in my Ohio Workers’ Compensation law. And thanks to that, appear before dozens of common pleas courts hundreds of times, four district courts of appeals on dozens of occasions, the Ohio Supreme Court 12 times the actual Industrial Commissioners 17 times and District and Staff Hearing Officers over 19,000 times and climbing.
And I had the opportunity to help out teens of thousands of people, from pro bono efforts, thousands and thousands of working people, and even two of our last three presidents. Ok, the last one I was appointed by the party to be one of their lead observers in multiple counties in multiple elections.
And on that professional political operative thing, well I’ve gotten to stand on the floor of a state party convention as a delegate, and pick the Electoral College Elector from my congressional district. To stand on the floor of the Democratic National Convention to scream an enthusiastic second (along with a few thousand other delegates) as we made a belief of my wife and mine a plank in the party’s platform and also to be there, at the courthouse to make sure that belief came to be reality in my county, and even to meet one of the people who made that a reality. And had the honor to serve as a member of my city’s city council, as chair of my county party’s Executive Committee, to serve on the State Party Executive Committee, and on our county board of elections.
And in the legal field, I have had the honor of serving as the Ohio Captain for the Work Injury Law and Advocacy Group, a national organization for attorneys like myself who represent workers in their workers’ compensation claims. I have had the chance to serve as the Workers’ Compensation Section Chair of the now Ohio Association for Justice (OAJ) and on the Board and Executive Committees and as a PAC Board Member. I’ve had the chance to serve as the Workers’ Compensation Committee Vice Chair and Chair of the Toledo Bar Association. And I currently serve on the Ohio State Bar Association’s Workers’ Compensation Governing Council and Committee.
Now, I wouldn’t be here without the help and encouragement of my Mother, who recently left us after 80 years of life. She encouraged me to look at law, to apply myself, to care about others and gave me the financial backing to get through law school, and when the time was right, the money to start my own law firm.
I also want to thank my wife and kids who had my back, put up with my stress, and encouraged me in all of that. Also an amazing team of secretaries, paralegals, law clerks, firm administrators, and fellow attorneys who helped me be a better attorney along the way. And to the teens of thousands of you who have trusted me to help you out over the years.
Finally, I want to give two special thank yous, beyond my wife, mom and kids. First, and to all the teachers out there, this is why you do what you do, my 7th Grade Teacher, Mr. O’Shea. He took me aside (and it was a Catholic school before anyone panics) and said that I had been given a gift from God, the ability to talk to and relate to people from all walks of life, and that was something I needed to make full use of. I think I did Mr. O’Shea.
And the second to Uncle (my Dad’s Brother) and Aunt, who gave me a graduation card in college, that I framed and sits in my office. It’s a poem Success by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it’s a definition of what it means to have succeeded, and my favorite line is at the end “to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeed”.
As I look around my office at little tokens of thanks that my clients have gotten me, and little symbols of battles won & a few lost, I’ve been told I have. Thank you all for making that possible. Now there is no way I’m going to be around and capable for another 30 years, but I’ll keep up the fight as long as I can help out people who need a voice.
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