Second Career, First Love
Jeffry L. Weiler and Richard A. Killworth married their old professions with their new calling
Published in 2008 Ohio Super Lawyers magazine
By Kevin Featherly on December 21, 2007
Sometimes changing horses midstream—or, careers, as the case might be—is the right thing to do.
In that spirit, we approached two veteran Ohio attorneys who took the experience from their initial line of work and turned it into a successful legal career.
Jeffry L. Weiler
partner, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff L.L.P., Cleveland
There was a time when Jeffry Weiler held down a job in one of those rare occupations that is even more vilified than the legal profession: Between 1965 and 1970, he was an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service.
Not that any of his IRS co-workers had particularly mean dispositions. “I enjoyed working there,” he says. “They were very nice people.” A lot of them, like Weiler, went in with an escape plan. “There was about 20 of us that were going to night law school at that time,” he says. “Many of those people moved on to practice law.”
For him, Weiler says, the decision to change fields was a matter of economics. “Government employees have a limited number of hours that they work, and they have limited compensation,” he says. “In the practice of law you can work harder, and you can earn more.”
As an IRS auditor, Weiler’s job was to examine tax records and income tax returns to determine whether they were properly filed, or whether people owed money or—and this really does happen sometimes—whether they were entitled to receive money back from the IRS. He usually performed civil examinations, and occasionally criminal investigations. It turned out to be excellent training for his later career. As a lawyer, Weiler concentrates on estate planning, closely held businesses and, occasionally, IRS audits.
Now, at Benesch Friedlander, Weiler has attained notoriety as a legal activist, working with groups like the Ohio State Bar Association and the Ohio Funeral Directors Association to lobby the Ohio State Assembly for a statutory change related to burial rights.
The revised law gives legal force to wills that indicate the burial preferences of the deceased. Before the change, things could get complicated, particularly when the deceased was remarried and had children with a former spouse. Who gets to bury the loved one, the second wife or the children? Now the law allows the deceased to fill out a form before the time of death stating a preference, and that document has standing in the courts.
Weiler is working on another law change that would create special provisions for an attorney whose client carries a deadly communicable disease, and needs a will signing witnessed. “The law would allow the will to be signed in the hearing of the person signing it, and not necessarily in the person’s sight,” he says.
The idea was born of Weiler’s personal experience. “Early on, when AIDS was just developing and it was not known how it was transmitted, I did have to get a will signed with somebody who was afflicted with that at a certain end stage,” he recalls. “I didn’t fully understand how it was transmitted, so I was somewhat nervous about that.” He realizes his fears were unfounded, but the issue remains germane in other contexts of potential terror attacks involving smallpox or anthrax.
The idea has just been approved by the state bar and will now move toward the state legislature.
In his day-to-day practice, Weiler says his former job doesn’t give him an inside track, but he can recall one instance, about a decade ago, when it did.
At the time, the IRS was auditing one of his clients, claiming a multimillion-dollar tax debt was owed. “I remember I was trying to get a report out of the IRS auditor that was doing the income tax work, and there was a delay,” he says. “I called the auditor up and I discussed the delay with her, and I said at the conclusion of the conversation, when we were done with the business related to my client, ‘By the way, I just voted for you in the National Treasury Employees’ election.’”
The auditor, needless to say, was taken aback. “How can you vote for me when you’re an attorney?” she asked. “I’m a retired Internal Revenue agent,” Weiler said. “I’m a dues-paying member of the union, retired status, and I vote in elections.” There was no delay in receiving needed materials after that.
Richard A. Killworth
partner, Dinsmore & Shohl L.L.P., Dayton
Richard Killworth once thought about becoming a chemist, and even went so far as to apply to the doctorate program in chemistry at Purdue University. But the prospect lost all appeal during the program’s intake interview.
“One of the questions that they asked was, ‘What compound do you want to study for the rest of your life?’” Killworth recalls. “Their position was you studied a compound until you either got the Nobel Prize, or you died.” Unfortunately for Killworth, there was no chemical compound on earth riveting enough to devote his life to. “So, at the last minute, I switched into law as a graduate program at Indiana University,” he says.
Afterwards, he remembers, “I was sitting around, saying, ‘What did I do and why did I do it? And what do I do now?’”
He was searching for a way to combine chemistry and law when one of his Indiana University professors provided it: “Go into patent law.” And so he did.
From 1967 to 1970, at night Killworth studied at George Washington University in D.C., and during the day he worked as an assistant patent examiner at the Patent Office. It was a good job, but what Killworth remembers most is that he worked with a lot of hyper-intelligent, borderline odd people.
“One guy would only walk in straight lines,” he remembers. “If there was a curb or a curved divider or something, he wouldn’t take the curve around it. He would stop, do a 90-degree turn, walk a distance, do another 90-degree turn, and go around the object that he was trying to get around.”
Peculiarities aside, the patent office job provided valuable preparation for the future attorney. In the patent office, he specialized in chemical coatings and laminations, and today, many of his clients have patent applications in those areas. “What [the patent office job] did do is you got to know what the place looked like, how it worked, what it took to deal with patent examiners,” he says. “So that when you practiced patent law, you did have at least that bit of insider information.”
His career as a patent examiner got off to an intriguing start, to say the least. “The first patent application I was asked to examine was for an early version of the padded bra, for Playtex,” he says. Why? Because in technical terms, the bra was a “laminated” product, comprising two layers of fabric with coffee-cup style Styrofoam padding in between. “I wanted to reject it as being in the public interest,” he jokes. “From the male perspective, I thought the padded bra was fraud and deception.”
Once he made the switch to law, he found his legal career fulfilled his eclectic needs—his patent law clients have invented everything from zip-lock sandwich bags to anti-schizophrenia pharmaceuticals, not to mention a bevy of clients that specialize in laminations. Interestingly, after four decades in private practice, Killworth says that his career has come full circle. Lately, he has been doing a significant amount of work as an expert witness. Expert, that is, in the workings of the patent office.
“In patent litigation a lot of times when questions of patent office practice and procedure come up they have an expert witness who tells the judge, ‘Here’s what happens in the patent office,’” he says. “That’s probably the best example of where my experience as a patent examiner comes in handy.”
Killworth says there is a logical explanation for his sudden desirability as an expert witness. “There is a brief window where you are old enough and experienced enough to be an expert, but not so old that you’re an old fart,” he chuckles. “Though I’ve got partners who say I’m on the other side of that window.”
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