Nothing Plain About His Plaintiffs

Kevin Boyle sides with the little guy — and he’s darn proud of it

Published in 2004 Southern California Rising Stars — September 2004

Attorneys are sometimes surprised when they first meet 32-year-old Kevin Boyle. At an age when many attorneys are barely out of law school, Boyle has already clerked for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, worked for one of the top defense firms in California and is now fighting some of the largest and most sensitive plaintiff ’s cases in the country. Thankfully, he still has a sense of humor.

“I’ve walked into depositions where the opposing lawyer’s a senior partner and when they see me walk in they probably think that it must not be a very important deposition if they’re sending this young guy over here,” says Boyle, of Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler.

Boyle started litigating earlier than most, in the form of dinner-table debates in his hometown of Belleville, Illinois. His father — a seasoned defense attorney who has tried more than 400 cases — got hell from Boyle, who always argued for the plaintiff. “That’s when I realized that I really identified with the plaintiff ’s side and started to really get interested in doing that kind of work,” he says. “Some very heated debates would come out of it but I think it was good for him because he got to see the opposite side, and good for me because I got to learn to argue points at a very young age.”

Despite his early inclination toward plaintiff ’s law, Boyle didn’t start out working for “the little guy.” After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Arizona in 1997, he took his first associate job in the Los Angeles office of the defense firm giant Kirkland & Ellis. While there, Boyle recalls hearing about one of the biggest plaintiff ’s victories in recent history, when Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler secured a $4.9 billion verdict against General Motors. “I remember watching 60 Minutes and being sort of excited about it,” he says.

Before he had the chance to switch sides, Boyle was awarded the unusual privilege in 1999 of a year-long clerkship with U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. In Washington, D.C., Boyle learned about the realities of the law that are sometimes distant in academia. “It’s about how these academic legal arguments translate into real-world effects. When decisions are being made at the Supreme Court by these justices, they’re very well aware that every decision is going to have tangible effects on a lot of people, and so they look at cases in that way,” he says. “As a law student you don’t necessarily see things in that way.”

With his High Court and defense experience, Boyle set out to work for a plaintiff ’s firm. But getting the job at Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler was an arduous process. Because they often work on contingency, plaintiff ’s firms simply don’t hire unless they absolutely need another body to do the work. But after months of interviews, Boyle finally got the job he’d wanted since childhood.

“I like the idea of fighting for somebody who doesn’t have a corporation and an army of lawyers to back them up,” he says. “I like the idea that my work is going to have a direct and enormous impact on the rest of their life. It makes me very motivated to get the work done and get it done right. When I go in to argue a motion or at trial, I don’t have to get geared up, because I just naturally feel like I want to go to bat for that person.”

It’s easy to understand Boyle’s conviction. His most recent clients include Sidney and Christina Wu, whose two parents were killed on the Singapore Airlines plane that crashed after taking off during a typhoon in 2000, killing 86 people. Earlier this year, the court handed down a $15 million wrongful death verdict. Boyle recently settled a high-profile suit against Virgin Records, claiming that the company’s negligence caused the death of singer Aaliyah and her entourage in a plane crash in 2000. He settled a wrongful-death suit against Alaska Airlines and Boeing on behalf of the surviving family members of Flight 261. That plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean when pilots were unable to control a malfunction during the flight. “We think that was the first time that a major manufacturer essentially admitted that there was a defect in airplane design,” Boyle says.

It’s hard for Boyle not to get drawn in to his cases emotionally. Maintaining professional distance becomes an especially difficult challenge when he has cases like the Wu v. Singapore Airlines case. “That one was tough because Sidney [Wu] is my age, and so talking to him about what it’s like to not have your parents around — it’s pretty powerful and moving,” he says. “That one I feel very strongly about.

“It’s actually pretty inspiring, though, to see how some of these people who’ve been through some of these tragedies are able to bounce back. It makes you realize ‘Wow, if they can get through that, my problems really aren’t bad at all.’”

Since beginning his plaintiff work, Boyle says his work doesn’t feel like a job anymore. “There’s more on the line for my clients now because if they don’t win this case, that’s it. From a defense perspective, in a lot of the cases it’s if they lose one, so be it, there’ll be more,” Boyle says. “But if you’re representing a family — a wife and kids who lost their husband and dad in a plane crash — if they don’t get compensated now, they never will. They have one shot.”

It’s hard for Boyle to leave his work behind at the end of the day. When he does get a chance to relax, he likes to jog along the beach paths near his new California home in the Pacific Palisades. “I actually try to leave the office at a reasonable hour at night, but that said, it’s pretty much a non-stop job. I usually bring my cell phone along when I jog and end up taking two calls per mile,” he says.

At this point in his life, he can only imagine his career becoming more and more fulfilling.

“I look at the senior partners at this firm and I admire what they do, that they continue to work on these cases and they also do a lot of work in the community to try to help plaintiffs and consumers at the legislative level,” he says. “I’d like to do that as well; I’d like to try to get good at this.”

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