For the past 12 years, Kevin Kita has led and advised clients through all aspects of litigation as a Shareholder and Partner at Sutter O’Connell Co. He has represented corporate and individual clients in matters involving insurance bad faith, breach of warranty, and product liability. In addition to growing his practice, Kevin is an adjunct professor at the University of Akron School of Law and supervises the mock trial competition program. Through his coaching and supervision, the program achieved six regional championships, two national championships, and three consecutive national runner-up finishes.
Kevin was selected as the Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2014-2021. Since 2016 he has authored multiple chapters of the New Appleman Ohio Insurance Litigation Guide.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Kevin Kita explains how a mentorship generated a long-lasting employment opportunity
- What to do when communication is difficult: have patience
- How the right leadership can generate incredible growth
- Kevin shares how mock trials are an efficient educational tool
- Kevin talks about being an equity partner and growth development
- The importance of keeping your clients updated on their case
In this episode…
Before entering a courtroom, you’ve prepared your argument for the jury. How can you stay true to your strategy and engineer great results? What can you do to manage your nerves?
While the feeling of intimidation may never go away completely, Kevin Kita refocuses his efforts on what he can control: advancing his client’s case. To prepare the next generation of lawyers, mock trial cases can help attorneys handle the unexpected challenges they endure in court. Kevin has experience with mock trials settling nerves and creating confidence in the courtroom. There can be a steep learning curve to practicing law, but with practice, you are better prepared.
In this episode of 15 Minutes, Chad Franzen sits down with Kevin Kita, Shareholder and Partner at Sutter O’Connell Co., to talk about preparing for opportunities. Kevin discusses practicing open communication, leadership as a tool for growth, and preparing future attorneys with mock trials.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Chad Franzen on LinkedIn
- Gladiator Law Marketing
- Kevin Kita on LinkedIn
- Sutter O’Connell Attorneys
- Matt O’Connell on LinkedIn
- In Memory of Lawrence A. Sutter
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential.
To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition.
You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know, but likely don’t.
Chad Franzen 0:12
Hi, Chad Franzen here I am the host of 15 Minutes where we talk with top notch law firms and lawyers about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential to have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI. Your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more go to GladiatorLawMarketing.com where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. For the past 12 years, Kevin Kita has been establishing himself as a go to advocate for businesses facing civil claims that present significant exposure and equity Park partner with the law firm Sutter O’Connell, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, Kevin’s practice includes defensive first party insurance claims, warranty and product liability claims, employment disputes and high exposure claims arising from catastrophic accidents nationwide. While he’s personally licensed in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and California and is soon to be licensed in Illinois. He has also represented clients via pro hac, vice, and Federal Bar admissions in several other states, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Wyoming and Missouri. Hey, Kevin, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?
Kevin Kita 1:32
Thank you. I’m doing well appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Chad Franzen 1:35
So tell me how you got started in the legal industry?
Kevin Kita 1:38
Sure. I’ll give you a little bit of my first background and mine personally, because the firm predates me but the founding partners of our firm were originally part of a larger kind of regional civil defense firm. And really were the some of the best trial specialists at that firm and decided that they kind of wanted to break off and do their own thing. And so around 2000 is when they formed this law firm. I joined in 2011. Originally as a law clerk when I was a three Oh, and in law school. I’ve been named the namesake of our formulary, Sutter had a long time connection to the University of Akron School of Law where I was attended as a adjunct professor, and he was teach trial advocacy. He’s Larry was one of the most well known and recognized trial attorneys in the country. And he shared the skills that he had learned and developed over the course of his career with students. I was one of his law students. And he coached me through competition and following the competition. And he said, You know, I’d like to have you come work for me. So I’ve actually been working at the firm that they had broken away from. And I said, Yeah, I’d love to be a part of it. And you kind of became my initial mentor and an employer along the way. So brought me in right in beginning of 2011. And I’ve been around ever since.
Chad Franzen 3:10
Wow. So your your first kind of job in the legal industry is with this firm.
Kevin Kita 3:15
Yeah, exactly. I mean, your clerkships and stuff in law school, but the first job as an attorney was with this firm, and I’ve been with them ever since.
Chad Franzen 3:24
When did you know you wanted to be an attorney?
Kevin Kita 3:27
It was later it wasn’t till after undergrad. I, my family. Strangely enough, I have a family of attorneys, my father’s an attorney, my older brother’s an attorney, I have a couple of uncles that were attorneys. And growing up, I saw how hard the work can be, you know, weekends and time away and going to trial and things like that. And so I think I just kind of wrote it off. And like, I’ll never be interested in that I want to do something else. But following undergrad, I was working a couple of jobs trying to figure out where I wanted to go to grad school, I was working in psychology and things like that. And I just started kind of spending a little bit more time talking to some of my friends who had gone to law school, talking to my brother, someone what they were doing, what their actual job was. And they were all very much into advocacy there appellate or trial level advocacy. And I said, you know, I kind of wrote this off my whole life without really considering it. Why not? Maybe I should give it a look. And kind of started to dabble in taking the LSAT. You see how I score and see what opportunities are out there and kind of got into it. You know, kind of back kind of back into the career I got a full scholarship, University of Akron School of Law so when I went there, it was like well, I can roll the dice if I don’t like it, you know, it’s kind of no harm no foul, but it took to it and the more I the more involved I got and the harder I worked at it the more I enjoyed it, or just going to happen that you know, the opportunity approached I just took advantage of it and next thing you know it’s a career.
Chad Franzen 4:55
So you got a full scholarship to Akron School of Law you must have been a pretty good student what were you you know when you were Going through undergrad, what are your goals? In undergrad
Kevin Kita 5:03
I was kind of finding myself. But the one thing that really took to an undergrad was psychology. And so I kind of found myself the same way there is I took, you know, a gamut of classes and go which ones I like, I’ll look more into those. And so I really thought initially, I was gonna be a clinical psychologist, I really find people very interesting learning about individuals and kind of what makes people tick. And as I later found, I really lent itself when I got involved in law, especially trial law, when you’re trying to formulate, you know, an advocate, formulate your argument and advocate on behalf of your client to think, how is this message going to be received? And how can it be best received so people can understand our perspective and why they should find for us on these particular issues? So yeah, originally, it was up to the, you know, clinical doctor taking notes, putting on a comfy couch and asking about, you know, what you’re feeling. And it turned out to be, you know, consulting and advocating for people in a much different way.
Chad Franzen 6:03
So you said, after you finished undergrad, you had been working a couple of different jobs while you were considering law school, what what kind of things were you doing,
Kevin Kita 6:10
I was actually teaching children with special needs, I worked at a special school for children that were on the autism spectrum. I’d also worked part time at a private high school, basically kind of function like an RA wouldn’t college, they had a dormitory and things. So you know, there’s unfortunately not a whole lot of money to be made and a down economy, in the special needs education business bill that got put a roof over my head, and then I would work some extra shifts working with other children. And there were residential setups that had various behavioral and psychological issues that needed to be worked with, as any of that experience helped you in in your current position, you know, if not, necessarily on a daily basis. But I think one thing that you need, in that profession, working with people that have specific challenges, and that I think is applicable to any number of professions, and certainly related field is a level of patience. It’s certainly tested, you try when there’s difficulty communicating, and that’s a lot of what you read, and what a lot of the frustration, both for a child with that type of condition dementia is going to be is their inability to communicate clearly. And your, your effort to try to assuage that and help them out. And when you’re in this profession, it takes that you still need a level of patients need to think about clear communication, and being able to handle you know, they can get frustrating, and I’m unexpected, you know, it just kind of a general open mind. I think that definitely is carried through.
Chad Franzen 7:57
So tell me a little bit more about your journey with Sutter O’Connell, you started there, you kind of kind of developed, you had a mentor there, and they hired you. And how is that? Look? Now you’re an equity partner? Tell me take me through that process?
Kevin Kita 8:11
Sure. Well, I was very fortunate. And that’s been the culture of our firm, where I refer to as a smaller, almost boutique firm, but with some very specialized attorneys in the sense of not a lot of people really know how to try cases and or really have the experience taking cases to trial. And that’s what Larry solder, Matt O’Connell, the founding partners really instilled is that everyone that works here is going to know how to do this stuff and do it well. So I give you that background. So when I was first brought in and sworn in, in 2011, within a few weeks, I was second chairing a trial, a medical malpractice trial was a week live, Larry and Matt and the other partners at the firm at that time, were very quick to say, you know, we know we trained you in law school, we’re going to get everything we want you involved and we want you to do and stuff going up on your feet, you know, unlike some experiences and other firms that everything’s everyone’s a little different, but there are definitely offices out there where you’re brought along much more slowly, and giving much more maybe basic tasks, kind of legal research and writing maybe even for several years, and you’re very separated from the client. You know, I was trained from the time I was, you know, one day lawyer onward, that I need to be carrying myself and be approaching every file online as if I’m the partner and that was my client. And I was given a lot of access to clients and they’re given a lot of opportunity to take cases make evaluations make judgments. You know, I be supervised supports and I get recommendations when I was wrong and everyone’s wrong early on, and you learn it as you go. But I was able to get into trial right away. So within my first two years of the lawyer, I think I’ve tried six or seven cases, which in a civil setting is pretty rare, either one or two to go in any given year, that’s usually pretty good. And that’s been changing and getting less and less now, even more recently with COVID. And everything else that may have changed in the marketplace in verse 30. But so early on, I got a lot of really good experience. And because I was able to prove myself there, you know, partners felt more comfortable putting me on bigger cases, and we’re gonna, you know, my third year, I was filing pro hot VJ to go try a case, a federal court for two weeks in Tennessee with Larry Souter, you know, read primary support, and getting up and arguing that, and so on, and so forth. And so I was able to gain a lot of experience and be advanced as an associate very quickly. And then it really became about how you go about developing your own clients, and networking. And that was another thing that the partners here in the culture here is always really advanced is pushing our associates like Secretary yourselves a partner with the files, not just here, but then we want you going out and carrying yourself as a professional. Getting involved with bar associations are networking events, finding ways that you can meet people and kind of expand your own name, the name of the firm, etc. Because you really never know when an opportunity is gone or not. And so about thinking with the moment, fifth, fourth, or fifth years, and then associated, an opportunity came through LexisNexis. At the time, they were looking to write an Ohio insurance guide, a practical guide, saying, look, what do you have to do to defend these types of cases? How do you handle these types of issues and give strategic pointers. And I’d had a little bit of experience with insurance work. But that is to say, becoming an insurance company directly as opposed to being hired by an insurance company to become somebody else. So they said they need some chapters, and I said, I’ll do the legwork. So I agreed to write two chapters for the guide. And the chapters they need help with were bad faith, defense, bad faith claims, and responding to tender. And so I went ahead and did the legwork and wrote and that got published. And I still update those. And about six, six months to a year for I published those. A friend of a friend was working in house at a major insurance company and said, you know, we need an insurance, that fence attorney in Ohio that knows how to try cases, because our our current bench just really isn’t kind of living up to our expectations, would you give it a shot and I said, I’d love to give you to prove myself. And then that became one of my big clients. And, you know, that kind of put me on the radar of partners going okay, well, he can develop his own work, he started to generate this. And so that really laid the foundation for by my seventh year in that’s when you’re up for be considered. And I wrote it in at that point. So it was a great journey of having the right types of leadership, leaders partners that were here that were willing to put me up to the challenge, but also kind of push me out there and say, Look, sink or swim, you got to do this, right? You know, and just having the right kind of support there at the same time to have the confidence to take advantage of those opportunities. And the right things falling into place a little bit of serendipity as well, where I just was fortunate enough to meet the right people at the right times, to kind of develop the business and expand what I can do.
Chad Franzen 13:37
We talked about having the confidence to meet those opportunities. So when you’re when you’re first getting started, and you find yourself, you know, in these trial cases, knowing that other lawyers maybe take years before they could do six or seven, you know in in this in the time that you did them? Or you what was your reaction when you like?
Kevin Kita 13:57
Yeah, you know, when you’re going through the trial program, Akron and you hear the kind of messaging around the program was always very, very highly spoken. So area Oh, Larry Sutter, he’s a great trial attorney and aspirins, one of the top trial programs in the country. You know, you really learn the right way to do and you hear that and you go through it and you compete in these competitions with the tools you feel good about it. But then you get out into the real practice of law. And you know, there’s a big steep learning curve you know, they teach you how to do a whole lot of thinking in law school a lot of think like an attorney but to do the day to day the see the practical way this all works is something you just got to experience so you get into your first trial. I get in my first trial and I’m thinking alright, well now we’re really going to see, you know, how do we measure up and, you know, they get up and they do their opening statement. I like, oh, I can do that. I’m not you know, it’s a weird moment. There’s always nerves and butterflies when you know because this is a big deal. he’ll, and as soon as they start talking, like all of a sudden it all washes away. They’re like, No, I’ve done this before, you know. And the nice thing about that was, you know, Larry taught us how to try cases and how to prep your case and prep across and all these things. And then you got to go to trial with him. And that’s a $5 million $10 million exposure occasions, multiple weeks. And exactly the way he taught you to do it in this like three hour Law School mock trial, is exactly the way he practiced law in real life energy, because that helps create the confidence because your athlete I spent hundreds of hours doing this in law school, prepping and training. And now I see, you know, this wasn’t some gag, this wasn’t some game. This was a real life skill that I have. And I’m hundreds of hours ahead of other people, because I get
Chad Franzen 15:47
so it really, really. So let me ask you this, what what? What Didn’t they teach you in law school that you’ve realized that you’ve needed to know or be able to do? You know, since that time?
Kevin Kita 16:00
Well, one thing that was referenced in law school, but certainly something that hits home, when you begin to practice law in real life, is that the law and the rules of evidence, at least in a trial courts are not necessarily what you find in the cases and what’s in the books, or even in the statute. It’s whatever the judge thinks, got it. Right. So what you have to deal with in any given day, because the judge is making a ruling, and obviously, there’s different arguments and how this case should be interpreted. Or you can, you know, depending on which court you’re in, and your which jurisdiction and, you know, the culture and the nature of the town, or the people in that area, you never really know what you’re going to get. And frankly, the judge was sitting beside, you know, what this case seems right on point, yes, you should win, but I’m gonna deny your motion, we’ll just see what happens. Or you can settle it, you know, you can spend another $50,000 defending this case, or undeveloped melanoma case, or you can just sell it right now, I’m gonna give you that choice, because it’s my, we’re gonna do defend it, then appeal it and put Spanish Prime even more. So there’s a kind of reality to how are these things really going to play out? It’s not necessarily just, well, the law says this, Therefore, that’s what’s going to happen. And there’s a level of just a school of hard knocks kind of thing where you kind of figure out how these things really play out. And it allows you to provide a much more accurate thorough prediction and evaluation for clients. You know, as a first year associate, you just can’t do it the same way. Someone has been doing attention to your desk, because they’ve just seen it enough.
Chad Franzen 17:41
As an equity partner, How involved are you in kind of the business of the firm? You know, I talked to a lot of attorneys, and they say, I knew I was an expert lawyer. But I didn’t know I had to learn a lot about running the running the business, what has that gone for you.
Kevin Kita 17:56
This is something that’s growing and developing. You know, it’s not something like once I became an equity partner, they’re going on right now you’re handling all the budgeting for the firm this year, all the hiring, whatever. But my partners were very enthusiastic about getting me involved. They’re not like, Oh, he’s the new guy. Let’s keep it on the outside. So it’s been something that’s grown and developed over the years, and yet it very much is different. And running a business is different than practicing law. There are two different skill sets. So I definitely lean on the experience of my partners who have been doing it for a much longer time. And we try to bring something a new perspective to it as well. I’ve been actively involved in hiring, and like diversity and inclusion type efforts that we have, in part, after Larry Sutter passed away. Well, really before around that time, when, but in the years leading up to his passing, I stepped into his place. And I now run the trial program at Akron that he’d been running for about 25 years, I’ve been doing that now, for the better part of the last 10 years. And, you know, so that’s one way I keep in connection with law students in the area. And I’m kind of somewhat in tune there. And I can bring that type of perspective into our interviews, and we’re bringing people in. And I can also recommend young students, there’s overlooking for that kind of position. I’ve been asked to kind of give my commentary on what our policies are going to be as a company. And as we’re looking at new hires, we really want to grow on a growth mindset. So, you know, it’s been a love for me, they’ve really allowed me the opportunity to have my voice be heard, and at the same time, allow me to feed off the experience that they’ve had over the last 20 plus years running law firms to go okay, you know, set me up for success. You know, when it’s my turn to maybe take over reins or something like that affectations calm.
Chad Franzen 19:48
It sounds like you’ve been you’ve been really fortunate to have kind of some some great mentors. Is there any advice that you’ve ever received from one of them that has something that maybe you think about somewhat regularly
Kevin Kita 20:00
now they’ve given me so much advice. Here throughout the years in any sort of context, it’s hard to pick out just one thing. But I want, I guess, very integral, one thing I’m reflecting back on the way my career has developed. You know, Larry Sutter was always about keeping your eyes open for opportunity, tend to be ready when opportunity knocks, right. And I kind of talked about that a little bit in the way my career started unfold. And I found it to be true throughout, is, you know, there’s no substitute for hard work and preparation. And some eleri always going to be in their heads, and the other guy or the guy or woman on the other side of the aisle, or the other, the other counsel table may be smarter than you may have gone to a better school may have done, you know, of all the accolades in the world, but if you outwork them, you’re gonna have the best chance to do it. And that’s being mindful of opportunities, and being ready to see them when they when they come. And so that’s what I’ve always tried to do. And I imagine it’s, you know, advice, that’s good for everybody everywhere, and I’m sure a lot of people do. But I’ve been very, very fortunate now that and I’m very mindful of that. But the one thing I kind of hang my hat on is, when opportunities have arrived, I’ve just tried to do my best to seize them. And that’s played out better for me than anything else. I think it’s been kind of the echo of our firm, we’ve been able to do that.
Chad Franzen 21:29
You know, as a young attorney, when you were especially when you were starting, were you when you see like grizzled attorneys on the other side, or like, you know, guys, maybe you’d heard of before or something, what, you know, how did you keep from being maybe intimidated or something like that?
Kevin Kita 21:44
Well, I’m not sure I can stop myself from being a little intimidated, but you, you kind of just focus on what you can do, or at least that’s my concept, but I can’t control their kids, right, and then I get into any trial, I’m not trying their case, I’m trying my case. And it sounds a bit cliche, but it is really important. You know, I’ve prepared, there’s a story, I need to tell this jury, there’s an argument, I need to advance this jury. And I can fully expect this guy’s gonna say something completely else. But if I completely different, but if I spend all my time trying to swat flies, and trying to defend the things, he’s saying, I’m not advancing my clients case, right? So it’s time to recenter and refocus on the things I can control. And the chips are gonna fall with a man because you can try the perfect case. But a jury is going to do what they want to do with it. Right? You can’t guarantee 100% that you’re going to get anything you want. So you do the best thing you can and you let the chips fall. And more often than not, when I’ve been successful in staying true to my preparation, my plan my strategy, I get great results. You know, it’s situations where I find myself making an argument and emotion hearing or something where I find while I’m chasing rabbits or something, I’m going after what he’s saying. And I’m not focusing on my point where I feel like I haven’t been at my best. So it’s certainly one thing. Great, great. Hey, I
Chad Franzen 23:13
have one more question for you. But first, tell me how people can find out more information about Sutter O’Connell.
Kevin Kita 23:19
Absolutely, you can go to our website, www.sutter s-u-t-t-e-r-law l-a-w.com. Sutter-law.com. And you can get any of our information about me and my partners or associates. All of our contact information is there a little bit about our background and kind of the unique setup of our firm. without going too long there. I mentioned we’re a relatively small firm, you know, Blockchain size between 10 and 2025. Attorneys maybe at any given time, depending on the market and what’s going on. But we’ve tried cases in close to 40 states. And we are you know, trial counsel for a lot of experts ensures that. They recognize our specialization and a unique skill set that we can bring in cases when things are really at risk. So you know, we’ve been all over and we really offer I think, a unique set of skills that you won’t find necessary everywhere else. So I welcome anybody to look us up and give us a call. Okay, hey,
Chad Franzen 24:24
last question for you. Tell me a little bit about what’s kind of a typical day for you? And
Kevin Kita 24:28
are there any rituals that you find to be particularly important is a typical day, I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a typical day in my world. You know, the, any given day is going to require, you know, kind of a game plan. I try to set that out the night before the day before the week before depending on the to do list and the checklist of things that need to be addressed. You know, I don’t like to have any file or any kind of working on go more than you know, a hand For weeks, without hearing from us and an update as to what’s going on, I feel like that’s the most one of the most important assets or resources that we can provide to a client is keeping them in the know of what’s going on with their case. This is really their case, we’re here to assist them and to help them with it. But you can any given day is going to include a lot of that is including making sure the clients are up to date on what’s going on and are aware of the strategy and what you’re pursuing, and how those efforts are proceeding. And then from there, it’s really going to depend on Ed’s and flows where you could have in the modern, you know, legal field, we’re going to be doing zoom depositions with people sometimes zoom hearings in various courts. And in my practice, where I’m going to be attending a hearing over the phone in California, and then zooming into Michigan, and then I might be driving down the road to step into a hearing, you know, or mediation and a local Ohio court or going even now to the federal courthouse. So really, I have a variety is the spice of life. I have a very spicy practice for that.
Chad Franzen 26:06
Very nice, very nice. Hey, Kevin, it’s been great to talk to you. I really appreciate your time and your perspective. Thanks so much.
Kevin Kita 26:11
Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity to invest in you and your program moving forward.
Thanks so much. So long, everybody. Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.