Our guest Steve Chappelear was inspired by literature to start a career in law at a young age. From King Arthur and His Knights of The Round Table to To Kill a Mockingbird, Steve found a unique correlation between what excited him in these books and what excited him about the potential of working in law.
During this episode, Steve details how his love of reading naturally evolved into a love for writing, which has become a defining attribute of his nearly forty-four year career. He also explores the importance of public interest work and how providing legal services to the indigent can be elevated through Bar Foundations and grant programs. Finally, Steve discusses how the process of finding the right expert has changed throughout his career.
Steve Chappelear, Of Counsel at Eastman & Smith LTD., is interviewed by Dan Rubin on this episode of Engaging Experts.
Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Host: Dan Rubin, National Business Development Manager, Round Table Group
Guest: Stephen Chappelear, Of Counsel, Eastman & Smith
Introduction: Welcome to Engaging Experts, the podcast that goes behind the scenes with influential attorneys. Our guests will describe their practice and expertise. Then, we will go deep on various topics related to effectively using expert witnesses.
Dan Rubin: Hello, and welcome to another edition of Engaging Experts. This is Dan Rubin, the National Business Development Manager of Round Table Group and one of the hosts of this podcast series. Today, we have another great guest. Steve Chappelear is a senior litigation attorney in the Columbus, Ohio office of Eastman and Smith. He focuses his practice in the areas of business and complex litigation, including construction, patent and trademark, probate, and employment, as well as dispute resolution and appeals. Steve has over 43 years of litigation experience, including more than 60 trials. Among his many career accomplishments, Steve has been listed in Best Lawyers in America for over 25 years and has been named as an Ohio Super Lawyer for 16 consecutive years, top 100 in Ohio twice, and top 50 in Columbus three times. Steve is also past president of the Ohio State Bar in Columbus and the current first two-year president of the Ohio State University Varsity O Alumni Society. Steve welcome.
Steve Chappelear: Thanks, Dan, I am delighted to be here. It is very kind of you to Invite me.
Dan Rubin: Our pleasure. I am looking forward to it, Steve, but before we dive in, let’s pause for a brief sponsorship message.
Announcer: This episode is brought to you by Round Table Group, the Experts on Experts®. We’ve been connecting attorneys with experts for over 25 years. Find out more at roundtablegroup.com.
Dan Rubin: So, Steve, I would like to start by asking a question that I ask of all our guests. What led you to the practice of law?
Steve Chappelear: It all started with a couple of books I read as a teenager. I was an avid reader as a child and the first book that made quite an impression on me was, interestingly enough given the name of your organization, The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This is the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I thought that was a tremendous story. I was very inspired by King Arthur, Sir Galahad, and Lancelot. These noble individuals were champions of the oppressed and I saw them as heroes. I saw them as having integrity by being all about the truth. That was very inspiring to me as a teenager, but there is not a lot of work in the 20th or 21st century for knights to go around searching for holy grails or rescuing damsels in distress.
That led me to the next book that made an impression on me, and that was To Kill a Mockingbird and I read about Atticus Finch. I saw Atticus as having some of the same traits as the Knights of the Round Table. He was honest. He was fair and true to justice. He fought for justice and did what was right. That was very inspiring. I had never met a lawyer. I was the first college graduate in my family. I saw Atticus Finch and I thought about those Knights of the Round Table, and I thought lawyers do those kinds of things. That is what I want to do. I want to help people. I want to do what is right. I want to seek justice. That is what led to my career as a lawyer.
Dan Rubin: I love the Round Table parallel, and we are certainly grateful that you have taken your seat at the Round Table as a current and former customer over the years, Sir Stephen. Take us through the chronology of your legal career following law school.
Steve Chappelear: Since I had never seen or met a lawyer before law school and then it was law school professors, I did not know what I was going to do when I got out of law school other than being a lawyer. I had watched some Perry Mason TV shows and if you would have asked me during my first year of law school, I would have probably said, “Well, I will be a solo practitioner and I will defend people who have been unjustly accused of murder and in an hour, I will get them acquitted.” I got a little more sophistication as law school went on and I did well in the moot court program at the Ohio State College of Law. I also did well in the trial advocacy program. I worked as a summer clerk at a nice law firm in Columbus. We were able to do work in all kinds of areas. It was primarily a business law firm, and I did work in a lot of different areas. What I enjoyed the most was litigation, and I thought this must be what I am destined to do. It did fit in with those same themes from The Knights of the Round Table, Atticus Finch, and from being a college wrestler that this is all about being in combat with rules. That seems like what civil litigation is all about. I started in 1977 as an associate in a law firm doing litigation, and that is what I have done ever since. I have resisted breaking that down into any narrow finite areas as you mentioned in the introduction. I worked in several different substantive areas, so whether that is trust and estate litigation, corporate litigation, personal injury cases, business disputes between 50/50 owners of a small business, or a limited partnership. All kinds of things. I enjoy that because it does allow me to get expertise and learn about different areas, learn about people and different kinds of settings, and learn about different ways that people go about making a living. It has been fascinating and I continue to learn every day, so that is been the chronology of my career. Just working these nearly 44 years in a law firm doing civil litigation of a variety of sorts.
Dan Rubin: You may not be as well-known as Harper Lee, but I understand that you are a frequent author and speaker yourself. Tell us a little about some of your writings and speaking engagements.
Steve Chappelear: Thanks. I have enjoyed not only reading but writing since I was a child and so I like to write. I have written many articles for bar association publications. I used to keep track of every single civil jury verdict in this county in Columbus, Ohio, which is Franklin County, and our Common Pleas Court here, which is the General Division Court. I started back around 1985 keeping track of every single jury trial. This also has an expert witness component to it because what I would do as part of my research would be to bind the case first, then research it, so it is Smith versus Jones, and I would write up a summary of that trial. The Smith versus Jones trial involved these lawyers. These were the basic facts of the case. Here is what the settlement negotiations were. The last demand, the last offer, and who the expert witnesses were. That was an early way for people in our community to see in a certain kind of a case, an employment case, a medical malpractice case, whatever it is. Here [are the people] using as expert witnesses and that was published in our bar publication for the Columbus Bar Association. That was one of the things that I wrote. Then I wrote several books summarizing all those cases so that you could draw trends and patterns to figure out if an average verdict is a mean or a median verdict in a particular kind of case, and see how that changed, or did not change, over time. Those are the kinds of things that I enjoy writing now. More recently, you mentioned the Varsity O Alumni Society and I write a residence page column in that every quarter. I have one due in a week and that is fun. It is something I have enjoyed doing over the past year. I did a column that was centered on the theme of COVID and how this is a tough time, but we are all former athletes who have dealt with adversity before. We have dealt with trouble, and we do not shrink from it. We stand up to it and will get through it. So that was one column.
Last summer I wrote a column after the George Floyd killing that dealt with how athletes look at one another in the locker room. We are all on the same team and it does not matter what we look like or our backgrounds. We are all on the same team and we work together to achieve a common goal. I did another column on Joe Burrow, who was a Heisman Trophy winner and played at Louisiana State University on the national championship team. He used to play at Ohio State and got hurt when he was playing for the Cincinnati Bengals about a year ago. When that happened, two former Ohio State teammates who were on the other team came over to him and put their arms around him and were showing compassion. So, the theme of that article was all about how you are always a Buckeye. No matter what happens in your life, you have people who will be with you and who are your teammates for life.
The most recent column was inspired by a Budweiser beer commercial during the Super Bowl. The commercial’s theme was, “Do you win because you are happy, or are you happy because you win?” This was a very profound beer commercial that led me to explore that thought and write about it in my column.
Dan Rubin: That is great, I love it and I remember that moment when Joe Boro got hurt because my son and I had him on our fantasy football team. That was a painful moment, but I remember his former teammates on the other side, showing that sportsmanship and it was wonderful. This ties into how you have given back to your community, Steve, and to Ohio as an attorney in particular. I understand you were the recipient of the Public Interest Law Foundation Excellence in Public Service Award, which for our listeners is given by the Public Interest Law Foundation of Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law to two outstanding attorneys annually for their pro bono legal services and other public interest work in the community. Can you expand on your public interest?
Steve Chappelear: Sure. It is nice of you to ask. It comes down to two things. One is the direct rendering of legal services to the indigent. I always have several cases through the Legal Aid Society of Columbus or the Columbus Bar Association, which have some programs. For example, we have programs helping veterans in any number of capacities. There is no problem finding cases to work on. Generally, they are not in my field of expertise, but there are areas where people need help, and I have some skills, talents and I can learn things. I have done that for many years, so that is a part of it. Many lawyers do that, and I am proud of our profession. We have lawyers who do that and do it eagerly.
The other part is, and I think you mentioned in the opening comments, work I have done with the Columbus Bar Association and the Ohio State Bar Association. They each have related entities which are bar foundations and I have been the president of the Ohio State Bar Foundation and then an organization called the National Conference of Bar Foundations, which is bar foundations all around the country. If you just take the Ohio State Bar Foundation, that is a group that has a corpus of about 35 million. They award about $1,000,000 in grants every year and their mission is to help educate the public about the law, the justice system, to improve justice, and access to justice. Rather than just working as one lawyer helping one client, the Bar Foundation in Ohio, and around the country, have similar missions where they can leverage this. For many of us, we went to law school to help people who are in need. These grants are awarded and designed to do exactly that. Whether it is providing money to have brochures available at the courthouse or on a website that are multilingual so that people who do not speak English can figure out where small claims court is or where to get help with child custody or child support issues. Those are the kinds of things where you can make a difference by working with a bar foundation to serve not just one client at a time, but thousands.
Dan Rubin: You get so much satisfaction from it. At Round Table Group we pride ourselves on giving back as much as we can, both through charitable donations in our client’s names and through our pro bono expert witness program. It is very near and dear to the owners and founders of Round Table Group and obviously to you as well. Speaking of Round Table Group and expert witnesses, I know you recently presented to Ohio attorneys on the use of expert witnesses. Can you tell us a little about the substance of that presentation?
Steve Chappelear: First, let me tip my hat to Round Table Group on their pro bono efforts because I know that working with veterans is important to Round Table Group. Working with the experts provided by Round Table Group and having them assist in pro bono cases. It is a great contribution to our justice system.
The talk I think you are referring to was about a month ago and it was to the Ohio Attorney General’s office where the Ohio Attorney General provides essentially in-house CLE to the assistant attorneys general. These people do great work, and it is a wonderful public service. They have people come in to help train not only their younger lawyers but lawyers of all ages. We put on an all-day program about working with experts. I was the lead-off presenter, and I spoke for an hour giving an overview and then throughout the day, others gave examples of how you do a direct examination of an expert and how you do a cross-examination. My topic was more about how do you select a good expert witness, why you need an expert witness, what are the standards, what is Daubert, and what is that all about? I spoke about Kumho tire and what it means for something to be reliable and how you challenge the qualifications of an expert? That was what I went through. Whenever I do a CLE, I try to put movie clips up and I have found that I get much better evaluations when people don’t have to look at me. They can watch fun and interesting movie clips with handsome and beautiful movie stars playing the parts of lawyers. I had five or six movie clips about expert witnesses in that CLE presentation.
Dan Rubin: I think you have more than a face for podcasts. Radio as well. In all seriousness, thank you for those kind words. Sticking with the topic of expert witnesses. Can you expand on your use of experts and how you go about finding the right experts?
Steve Chappelear: Sure, it has evolved, and I think for the better in more than 40 years. When I first started it was largely a process of asking my client if they knew anyone. Asking my partners at the law firm if they knew anyone. This was all before the Internet and so going to the library and trying to find things was pretty happenstance. I think I ended up with some good experts, but I really cannot take any great credit for that. I think I lucked into it several times and so I was delighted when 25 years ago, Round Table Group came into existence. Now you have an expert on experts that you can turn to, and it is an easy sale to my client to say, well, we need to work with these people because they will find us the expert that we need for this case. It will be much more efficient, and they will find a better expert than I can. If I get any pushback which sometimes happens, I have a pretty simple question. “Do you want to win the case?” The majority of the time they will say, “Yes.” I will say, “This is the way we need to go. These people at Round Table Group have a long history and have a great database of existing experts. They know whether they have prior testimony experience in depositions or trials. To have that kind of expertise of knowing what their credentials are, to know whether their qualifications fit our case or not. That is where we need to go, Miss Client. We need to go to Round Table.”
I have been very grateful that Round Table Group exists so that I can lay out who my parties are and make sure we do not have a conflict. Here are the basic facts and what I am looking for in an expert, and then for no fee I can get several names that my client and I can vet further to see if we have a fit. We want to find out first about qualifications. That is basic. We want somebody who is going to meet those standards and is not going to get disqualified. We want somebody who can be a good teacher. Who can speak the language of either the judge or the jurors, depending upon who the factfinder is here? Who is credible? We need qualifications and credibility. We need someone who is a teacher who has some modicum of understanding about persuasion. Not that they are a great used car salesperson, but they are going to persuade in that traditional sense. People who are smart enough to know when you need to make concessions that will make you more believable when you go back and forth from advocate mode to teacher mode, that is an art. Not everyone has that. Fortunately, some people have great credentials. They are smart people in this narrow field, and they know how to talk in a way that people can understand, relate, and can learn from them.
Dan Rubin: You just made the case for Round Table Group and stated our value proposition better than I ever could. Thank you for that Steve. I just wanted to close by asking you a question that we started asking our guests. Is there a particular local restaurant in Columbus or Greater Columbus that you would recommend to visitors to your fine city?
Steve Chappelear: My recommendation would be for The Refectory. The Refectory is a four-star restaurant under the AA guidelines. It has been around for at least 30 years. They have contemporary American cuisine and classic French cuisine. It is an outstanding restaurant. The bonus for me, personally, is the kind of thing that happens when you live in the city where you grew up. I say with a combination of pride and a little embarrassment that I have never been outside Columbus, Ohio for more than two weeks in my entire life, which either tells you that I am about as Columbus, Ohio as you can get, or I have no life or a combination of those. The Refectory is located in an old church building. The church was built in Columbus around 1850. It was the church where I went to Sunday School as a child. When they converted this church into a restaurant in about 1982 or so, the first time I went there, I was shocked to see that the choir loft where my mom sang was now the bar. I thought lightning was going to strike. Fortunately, it did not, and I have gone back many times because The Refectory is a wonderful restaurant. When we have people come in from out of town, that is where we go.
Dan Rubin: What a great story and what a great endorsement for The Refectory. I cannot wait to dine there the next time I am in Columbus. Hopefully, it is soon. Steve, this was great. Thank you for sharing your time, stories, and wisdom with us today.
Steve Chappelear: Thank you, Dan. It was wonderful.
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