On Leadership: Legal profession keeps changing over 40 years for Kelley
In each “On Leadership” column, Allen Lima Leadership Executive Director Matt Childers talks with a regional business leader. This week, he profiles Brad Kelley, attorney at law.
Matt: How did a guy from Boston get to Lima, Ohio?
Brad: I believe this is my 42nd year in practice. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be a lawyer. I was influenced by the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It fascinated me, growing up on the other side of the tracks, I always thought it must be cool to be a lawyer. I think by seventh or eighth grade I wanted to be a lawyer.
Matt: Let’s go a bit deeper on that?
Brad: I left Boston in 1970 to come to Ohio Wesleyan University to play football and baseball, and I met a cheerleader from LEE-ma, Ohio (laughs). We fell in love. I graduated college. We moved to her (Suzanne Burke) hometown in Lima. She taught school in the Lima City Schools, and I have been a lawyer here ever since. We raised our children here, and they all live in Lima.
Matt: What did you find here in Lima that kept you here all these years?
Brad: It was not easy. There was a brotherhood or good old boy network that was a challenge. I enjoyed that challenge and joined a firm with John Evans and Larry Huffman in 1978, and I have been there ever since. You make a pact with yourself, and you treat people right, everything kind of falls into place.
Matt: Would you categorize yourself as a general practice lawyer?
Brad: Yes. I do it all. Personal injury, divorce, DUI, OVI, wills, estates, just about anything. A typical day, just this morning, I was before two different judges in two courtrooms for pleas on the behalf of clients. I will be back in court at 4 p.m. today, and I am in court if not every day, every other day. Again, I do a lot of different things, which has served me well over the years. It’s nice to be diverse, as I have been steady thru the pandemic, where a friend of mine does mainly impaired driving representation has been off in the pandemic due to lack of businesses open and cars on the street.
Matt: What has changed the most in the legal profession in 40 years?
Brad: It is the civility. The civility that used to abound in this profession! I was always very proud to be a lawyer. The young lawyers would look up to you, and you had an opportunity to mentor young lawyers. I think today people have become less social, less civil. It is disheartening, to be quite honest. There was a time when I would do a lot of career days, and I cannot count the number of kids who have shadowed me over the years. I never hesitated to recommend a student to become a lawyer. Now I think twice about that. The other change is the paper barrage that used to be simple, but now has become so complicated and time consuming.
Matt: On a lighter note, what is the best TV show or movie that represents the legal system you know?
Brad: David E. Kelly had a great penchant for law. He was involved in L.A. Law and The Practice. Those were great shows. James Spader and William Shatner were the stars, and they would come on air and have four- to five-minute vignettes that were extraordinary. They were very realistic. Law and Order is also very good, and they encompass all the parts and the whole anatomy of the legal process: from the crime, to the arrest, the investigation, and the trial. They hold up.
Matt: What’s leadership look like for you in your firm?
Brad: We have 12 lawyers in our office. My name used to be at the bottom, and now it keeps creeping up to the top (laughter). It is not just symbolic; you end up with a lot more responsibility. We used to say that, “We do it right, we do it fast and charge a fair fee.” I think you have to treat people right, let them know your door is always open, be fair and be consistent. The toughest aspect of leading is everybody is not equal or the same. One person may be motivated in one way and another person in a different way. It is similar to raising children. Fair and consistent is the equation.
Matt: You did say earlier you may not have your kids or grandkids follow your path into the legal profession, but if a young person is thinking about the law, what advice would you give them?
Brad: All things being equal, I would be very proud if one of my kids or grandkids wanted to become a lawyer. They are so much more well equipped to deal with the changing technology. I do feel it is a very noble profession. It is an extraordinary experience, and I am glad I did it here in Lima.