Published in 2023 Ohio Super Lawyers magazine
By Steve Knopper on December 20, 2022
It was 20 years ago that the first Ohio Super Lawyers magazine hit the mailboxes, complete with our inaugural list of the state’s top attorneys. To mark the anniversary, we spoke with six of the lawyers whose faces have graced our covers over the years. Here they reflect on what’s changed in the past two decades for the law, for society, and for themselves.
Some are still going full-steam; some have shifted priorities. Dave Kamp’s life has changed dramatically since 2018, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; he maintains his health and practice through rigorous daily workouts. Fred Nance’s most famous client, LeBron James, has stuck with him despite leaving town for both Miami and Los Angeles—in between, leading the Cavs to victory in the 2016 NBA Finals. For Nance, life was altered in 2020 by the murder of George Floyd and other high-profile verbal and physical assaults on Black citizens. But he sees one positive emerging from that year of tragedies: White colleagues are beginning to understand the challenges their Black counterparts face.
What’s changed in your life since we last talked?
Fred Nance, Squire Patton Boggs, Cleveland; Entertainment & Sports; 2005 Cover: In 2014, we merged with D.C.-based law firm Patton Boggs. I was the partner from the Squire side that led the committee to integrate the two firms. Very different cultures: K Street versus a law firm that had its roots in Ohio. But we were able to retain most of the assets. When I started in our firm, we were 175 lawyers in three cities; we are now up to 1,550 lawyers in 44 cities in 22 countries.
Phyllis Bossin, Phyllis G. Bossin & Associates, Cincinnati; Family Law; 2013 Cincinnati Cover: I no longer do a lot of contested-custody cases. I’m still handling very complex, high-end-high-asset divorces. So we go to mediation a lot. I’m restricting it a little bit more at this point in my life; just don’t want to do that kind of work anymore. I had a really terrible custody case, probably four years ago, that was enormously stressful. When you’re lying awake at night and can’t sleep because you’re worried about a case, at some point it takes a toll on you. … I always joke attorneys have a shelf life—a certain number of horrible custody cases they can handle, and they reach their limit. That’s kind of what happened to me.
Carolyn (Candi) Taggart, Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, Cincinnati; Civil Litigation; 2015 Cover: I’m seeing fewer clients; I’m working a lot more remotely. I am mentoring younger lawyers—a lot more pro bono work than I did before. I’m serving on boards.
Mike Ungar, Ulmer & Berne, Cleveland; Business Litigation; 2019 Cover: I retired from Cleveland Heights City Council because my ultimate boss thought it would be a good idea. My daughter had a son—our first grandchild—who’s down in Columbus now, and my wife said, “Think about your priorities.” [On the council], I gave out my cellphone number freely. I joked when I was first sworn in, “I’ve taken on 46,000 new clients.” But at the end of the day, I sat back and said, “I feel like I’ve given everything I’ve got to the city I love.”
Dave Kamp, Dinsmore & Shohl, Cincinnati; General Litigation and Mediation; 2010 Cover: At the end of 2018, I basically folded the tents [at White, Getgey & Meyer], because I had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and I knew it was going to be a challenge to continue administrating the firm and keep up with a fairly busy litigation practice. Beginning in 2019, along with the two lawyers that worked closely with me, I moved to Dinsmore & Shohl, a huge firm that has national reach, to have more resources and less administrative responsibility. I actually started with Dinsmore when I became a lawyer in ‘81. I was excited to come back.
Nance: I was invited by the National Football League to compete to be commissioner. I eventually became, out of more than 100 initial applicants, one of the five finalists competing against Roger Goodell [who became commissioner in 2006]. I got to meet with all 32 owners, arguably the most exclusive club in America, talk to them about their business, get to know some of them personally—flying around the country with them, having us check into hotels under pseudonyms, doing secret interviews. It was just a complete thrill. That happened within a year of my being on the cover.
Kamp: I’ve had the diagnosis for 13 years. The way you manage it—because there’s no cure—[is] basically challenge yourself with vigorous exercise every single day and take the medication. I’ve been able to flatline the progression pretty effectively through vigorous physical therapy and personal training. You can’t trust anything to be done involuntarily, like when you’re walking. All those things you do that would just happen without interventions and brain activity now require you to do them on purpose.
Bossin: I’m just not in court as much. I have a couple big cases that are in litigation right now that will go to trial. I’m not not taking cases if they’re going to go to litigation; I just try to see if there’s an alternative path.
Kamp: In 2010, I did occasional mediations in complex cases. Now I’m doing a lot of it, because mediations allow me to basically control my influx. I can control the amount of energy I need to devote to that, and the amount of free time in between, to catch my breath intellectually and be ready for the next challenge. I’m very up-front. I go into a mediation, and people I don’t know see my hand twitch when the medication wears off. I don’t want them to be concerned.
Ungar: I have more time to spend coaching and mentoring and paying it forward to junior lawyers inside and outside of my firm. That’s a very important thing to me. Law has been an amazing career for me, and I hope people get out of it as much as I did.
What cases/activities have kept you busy since your cover story?
Craig Bashein, Bashein & Bashein, Cleveland; Personal Injury; 2016 Cover: I’ve been involved in hundreds, if not thousands, of significant cases since then.
Taggart: The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati has the Volunteer Lawyers Project; it matches up attorneys with people who can’t afford an attorney. They have consumer-related or employment-related [cases]. A car dealership and finance company was, in my opinion, trying to take advantage of people, and coming up with retail installment contracts that supposedly the client had signed that obligated them to make payments on a car. It turned out some of these signatures had been forged. Instead of pushing back, the car dealership and finance company just dismissed the lawsuit and went away. Legal Aid has picked up on this and brought it to the attention of the Ohio attorney general, who is doing some investigation.
Nance: I became the volunteer board chair of Cleveland’s 15,000-person Greater Cleveland Partnership [2006-2008]. We were involved in transforming Cleveland from an old industrial city to a much more technology-oriented, service-oriented and healthcare-oriented mecca. We played a very meaningful role in building a half-billion-dollar convention center, attracting national conventions, supporting all sorts of sports coming to Cleveland. I decided during the [1966 Hough] riots in Cleveland, when I was a pre-teen, that the law was a way to make my hometown better—and that is something I got a real chance to do.
Bashein: I’m currently involved in a case involving the death of a sorority pledge who died as a result of hazing, in which millions of dollars in legal fees have been incurred by both sides, and over 40 depositions, most of them all day, have been taken.
Nance: I’ve been representing LeBron James since he was a senior in high school. He left Cleveland in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. He’d never lived anywhere other than Akron [and] Cleveland. He said, “Look, I wanted my time away to have a different experience, broaden my horizons.” They won two championships and he was MVP. But after his fourth season there, in 2014, he decided to re-sign with Cleveland, because he felt he had an obligation to bring a championship to the city.
Kamp: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I have a personal trainer and/or physical therapist that I meet with, usually around 7 in the morning. I exercise for a solid hour. And I have my own gym in the basement; I’ll go down there for another half-hour. I’ve got a drum set in the basement. I’ll play drums for half an hour to an hour. I played in bands when I was in high school. My wife [realized] I sort of missed it. One Christmas 20 years ago, a drum set shows up in the basement. I’ve enjoyed putting on the headphones and dialing up some tunes and pretending like I’m, you know, Ringo Starr. I can tell you this: I’m the best drummer in my basement.
The COVID Interlude
Taggart: I found myself with some extra time, since I wasn’t commuting 30 minutes to and from work. One thing COVID did was let me discover I could work remotely from home on my laptop, and I could be a little more removed from my assistant. I guess if there’s a positive, you could look at that as a positive.
Bashein: We’re seeing some normalcy again, but for quite a while, courthouses were shut down, cases were not getting tried. A lot of significant cases were not getting resolved because they weren’t headed to the courthouse steps.
Bossin: That was not good for a lot of families. People were stressed. Their kids were now home. They were trying to make sure their kids were trying to attend an online class while they were home, or somebody lost their job and there wasn’t any money. People who had substance-abuse problems, or just bad tempers—there was definitely a problem and an increase in domestic violence. And just the whole way people had to have discussions about quarantine. Maybe your former spouse wasn’t being careful and you didn’t want to send your child [to that home] because they were exposing them.
Ungar: I’m a people person. I didn’t enjoy working from home one iota. I still don’t. I got hit by this subvariant BA.5 that affected the president. I had almost the exact same symptoms. My doctor put me on Paxlovid and I recovered. It was no worse than a bad cold. Anyone who’s taken a virtual deposition knows it’s not as good as a live deposition. Anyone who’s conducted an arbitration or a trial by Zoom knows that it’s not as good. When you are confronting a hostile witness, there is just no substitute for confronting him or her, or they, front and center in that courtroom. And there are few better feelings in the legal profession than when you’re cross-examining someone and you’ve got him or her just where you want them.
Taggart: People now understand they can do some small matters by Zoom. It’s disappointing. But from a practical standpoint, it’s less expensive. People don’t have to travel long distances. I haven’t had a jury trial by Zoom, but if you do it, you have to find a way to be really noticeable on that smaller screen.
How has the law changed?
Nance: About diversity: For much of my career, while there were good intentions; there wasn’t a whole lot of progress. It was always one step forward and two steps back. The percent of Black partners in big law is still just south of 2%. Black folk are definitely starting out with an arm tied behind their back. You can be doing great work 12 hours a day for years; you don’t know if you’re going to be rewarded with partner. You may not see any other people who look like you who’ve done it. You don’t have the social network that suggests you’re going to generate client work on your own. There are other [jobs] you can do and other people banging on the door saying, ‘Come work with me.’ Why take the risk? Why hang in there? It really takes a special effort to get young, talented minorities to be willing to do that. And the supply is smaller than the demand.
Bashein: Litigation costs have risen dramatically. The insurance industry wanted their files fully worked. Many years ago, somebody picks up the phone and says, “This is a great case, it should be settled early, let’s try to get it done and not run up litigation fees and expenses.” Those calls rarely get made anymore. The insurance industry fully defends and works up their cases. For the trial attorney representing a family who’s lost a loved one, you have to be prepared to fully work up that case in discovery, and be prepared to try the case. Experts are more costly. Discovery’s more costly.
Bossin: Tax laws changed in 2019. Spousal support became no longer taxable to the payee and no longer tax-deductible by the payor. It’s now a non-taxable event. At the end of ‘18, everybody was scrambling to get their agreements done, because we could shift the tax burden … and make adjustments. Now it’s much more complicated. It was a big change for us in terms of how we negotiate our agreements and how spouse support is determined.
Ungar: I’m a Democrat, and I thought Donald Trump was and is a threat to our democracy. The good news is that, when it comes to the federal judges whom he appointed in the 6th Circuit and in the Northern District of Ohio, while I may not be on the same political spectrum, I know a fair number of them personally. He appointed some very fine judges to our bench. President Biden has followed suit.
Taggart: Social media has changed things. If there is a witness in a case, or even in a jury, there are a lot more ways to find out about those people.
Kamp: To some extent, the polarization of our democracy has influenced the contentiousness of some of the litigation I see in mediation. The manifestation of that polarization really protracts the mediation process, because, fundamentally, people are there to try and settle their disputes. But the emotionally charged nature of our dispute resolution in this country in general seems to facilitate hardline positions.
Nance: Then came the summer of George Floyd that changed everything. [Also] that bird-watcher in Central Park, where this guy is just trying to watch birds and this white woman called the police and said, “He’s threatening me;” what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, run down by those vigilantes in Georgia, who murdered him in their pickup truck—all those things happened in very quick sequence. In lots of law firms, most of these organizations had some minorities, and suddenly everybody was interested in, “Well, do you still have to worry, Fred, about being pulled over by the police?” [They] realized their Black colleagues were dealing with things they had no idea were going on. The Black folks who had, to that point, bitten their tongues, spoke up. I belonged to a managing-partner group. I’m the only Black partner who’s ever been in the group.
Everybody was so distressed: “We thought we’d come further than this.” [But] I was excited. “What is it you’re so happy about?” “Finally, we can have this conversation. Finally, the Black folks get the benefit of the doubt. Yes, I have to worry about my kids having encounters with the police. Yes, I have to have ‘the talk’ with my son, who, by the way, is autistic.” And the Black partners sort of bared their souls. Someone said, “Why didn’t you say something about this sooner?” The response was, “If I had, I wouldn’t be sitting in this chair. You didn’t want to hear it.”
Heading Toward the Future
Kamp: I want to make sure there’s plenty left in the tank for us to enjoy some respite at the end of the road. I’ve got to slow down, just because [full-time legal work] is just not healthy long-term, even with my vigorous attempts to mitigate the disease. I know lawyers that have similar experience, and without the regimen that I’ve committed to with my healthcare providers, they’re using walkers and wheelchairs. I don’t want that to be my retirement plan.
Taggart: I’m worried trial lawyers are not going to have the opportunity to hone their craft in the courtroom, because jury trials are less frequent than they were 30 or 40 years ago when I first started. That’s a shame, because it is a craft. A lot more cases are mediated or arbitrated. Clients are very aware of the cost of jury trials, so they’re more amenable to making compromises. I think that is sad.
Bossin: I get up in the morning and still want to come to my office. I still really like what I do, so I’ll do it as long as I continue to like it.
Nance: I quickly realized that, as a young associate, carping about [social justice] would accomplish exactly nothing except submarine my career. I had to put that to the side and first become successful. Because I [now] have credibility as an established managing partner, I can bring that stature to the topic of diversity. The final chapter has not been written in terms of how much progress is going to be made. Clients have gotten serious about diversity. Now almost the entire industry values it. [But] it’s not something you can flip a light switch and say, “OK, now we’re going to do this” and expect results six months later, or even a year or two later.
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