Karen Kovach Talks about Technology, Law Review, and the Value of Good Client Service
A theme in Karen Kovach’s life has been a preference for variety. This resulted in what might be considered a non-traditional career path to law. At the dawn of the age of computers, Kovach’92 worked for eight years in the field of computer programming, partially due to some advice she took from her father. “I didn’t know a lot about computers, but I knew it was going to be a growing field,” she said. “My dad has always been a big influence in my life, and on his recommendation I gave it a try. It turned out to be the thing I enjoyed best since leaving high school.”
After spending nearly a decade in the computer programming field, Kovach came to UC Law. “I really thought I would continue to work in the area of technology after law school, whether it be copyright or otherwise,” she explained of her expectations as a law student. However, while she was a student here, Kovach worked on Law Review, writing a piece on an issue in the area of criminal law. It interested her so much that she ended up externing in juvenile court. After law school, she became a magistrate in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, which was something she had not anticipated at the outset of her legal career. What had started out as a daunting law review assignment had turned into a passion and a career.
After more than 10 years on the bench, Kovach left the court and worked for the next 11 years at PowerNet Global Communications, a leading telecommunications company. It was there that she honed her skills in issue spotting and project management, while helping her colleagues understand the legal angles of their business plans and ideas. Now, she employs these skills as Deputy General Counsel for the University of Cincinnati.
Having started last April, it has been an enjoyable year for Kovach back at the university. “I consider myself very fortunate to have started working here,” she said. “Coaching and management are aspects of my job, and I love that I get to lead a team working with some great attorneys here as well as the young folks around the university.”
The variety of legal issues at UC serves to keep her on her toes and always learning something new. “Leaving PowerNet Global I remember thinking that I might miss the focus on technology that I had working at a telecommunications company,” she explained. “But as it turns out, UC has technology issues as well, and also all of the free speech, religion, and labor and employment concerns that come with a public institution.” The diversity that UC offers her in terms of assignments has turned out to fit well with her preference for variety. She compared the job to law school in how she continues to learn about different issues as they arise.
Kovach reflected on her career path, noting that the desire to do something is the most important factor. “Nothing is ever out of bounds,” she said. “You can always do something that you want to do; you just have to figure out how to get to where you want to be.” From computer programming to the courtroom to different roles as a general counsel, Kovach ‘s path has certainly exemplified this theme.
In parting, she shared this advice: “Work really hard at learning to provide really good client service. Regardless of the context of your job, whether it be as a general counsel, as a firm attorney, or otherwise, it’s all about concentrating on what your client needs. If you can do that, you’ll be successful in whatever you choose to do.”
Thom Jackson’85 Shares the Biggest Lessons of His Career and the Importance of Homework
Hamilton, OH born Thom Jackson ‘85 loves to share what he calls “the story my CV doesn’t tell”: the account of one of the biggest breaks in his career – how a proposed $1500 settlement led to a position on a national taskforce, a $5 million settlement, and a big lesson. Students and alumni alike can all learn from this basic, but important, tenet: do your homework.
Jackson studied political science at DePauw University before coming to the College of Law. Here, he was involved in many student organizations, including the Black Law Students Association, the Student Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition to making some lasting relationships, the classroom lesson that has perhaps impacted his career in the biggest way has been the skill in analyzing complex regulations that he learned in his third-year regulatory class focusing on drug approval. That class and lessons learned would soon come in handy.
Instead of going into private practice in his hometown as a general practitioner—something he had strongly considered doing—Jackson made a decision that would ultimately impact the direction his career would go. “In Chicago I started out in a litigation position with the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said. “I gained tremendous litigation experience, and I excelled, in no small part, due to my third-year classroom experience dealing with complex regulations.” And tremendous his experience was. He argued cases in federal district courts and in the United States Court of Appeals in the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Circuits.
Then came one of the biggest turning points of his career. Working on several cases, he saw one that was a much smaller case than the others, so Jackson decided he would try to settle it quickly. “When I called opposing counsel to get an agreement for the $1,500 I thought this case was worth, he told me something I will never forget: ‘Do your homework.’”
Noting that to a young practitioner those words hit home, he began to look deeper into the case, and he soon found that there was regulation which, if enforced, could get Medicare $10 billion that it was otherwise without. “I wrote a 15-page memo on enforcing the regulation. The next thing I knew, I was on a national taskforce.” Jackson tied the story together by sharing that the $1,500 case from earlier actually resolved in a settlement of about $5 million. “Doing his homework” paid off after all.
Jackson set his sights on becoming a general counsel. He supplemented his litigation skills over time with experience in mergers and acquisitions, a move to which he attributes much of his success. After working as general counsel in several companies, he has risen through the ranks and is now the CEO and President of EdisonLearning, Inc., a company that has pioneered bringing business metrics into the education context. The company is a leading international educational services provider, creating effective and sustainable solutions to raise student achievement.
Today, EdisonLearning serves 150,000 students in the United States and the United Kingdom, and has recently signed agreements, expanding to Ghana and Botswana.
“There are several things, looking back, I would say to myself as a law student,” he shared. “First, finish strong. While your grades may not ultimately serve as an indicator of how successful you will be in the profession, it has a great impact on where you start out. Second, don’t stop planning. Plan your career as much, if not more, than you planned your education. The best way to get to where you want to go is to have an idea of what steps you need to take to get there. Study the people who are succeeding in the field you want to get into and emulate them. Third, remember that no opportunity is too small. What I initially thought was only a $1,500 case turned into a $5 million case and a huge step forward in my career. Finally, I would tell myself to dream bigger. While it is easy to look at my successes and see that I have done many things right, I often think back to a number of decisions where I turned down an opportunity because I did not feel I was ready for them. Especially as a young lawyer, I found myself to be too self-guarded.”
Professor Sperino’s Article Cited by Hawaii Supreme Court
Professor Sandra Sperino’s article "Beyond McDonnell Douglas," 34 Berkeley J. Emp. & Lab. L. 257 (2013), was cited by the Hawaii Supreme Court in its discussion of how to use the McDonnell Douglas test in the context of state law. The citation is Adams v. CDM Media USA, Inc., 2015 WL 769745, No. SCWC-12-00000741 (Hawaii Feb. 24, 2015).
In her Friend of the Court Blog, Sperino discussed the case. (read the post)
Professor Mank Quoted in Tennessean News Story on Environment Battle
Federal regulators have weighed in on a long-running lawsuit alleging that the city of Franklin’s sewage treatment plant has illegally polluted the Harpeth River — a rare move, some said, that reflects the case’s broader significance.
In a brief filed last week by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, regulators roundly rejected claims by the city that a local environmental group couldn’t sue in federal court over alleged sewage discharge permit violations, which include allowing untreated waste to flow into the river and failing to properly monitor the condition of the water.
Though the city relies on those claims in asking for the lawsuit to be moved down to state, rather than federal, court, the brief concluded that “those arguments fail.”
The brief added that enforcement of the provisions of that permit, which allows the city to pump treated wastewater into a protected waterway, is “squarely within the scope” of a federal pollution mitigation program and that citizens can sue over alleged violations.
Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey said the city stands by its claims that state — not federal — court is the right place to make arguments about whether the city has been complying with its permit.
He emphasized that the brief doesn’t say anything about the lawsuit’s allegations and that neither state nor federal regulators have cited the city for violations.
Rather, it’s just a question of “where is the appropriate venue to have this discussion.”
“We think we have made good faith efforts to comply (with the permit),” he said.
But the Harpeth River Watershed Association, which filed the lawsuit, said the EPA’s decision to get involved in the lawsuit speaks volumes.
The association “appreciates the rare step the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in town took … to confirm that citizens like us may indisputably enforce a law designed to protect public health and the environment,” board president Matt Dobson said in a statement.
“We have renewed optimism that our efforts will result in improving the water quality to meet state-required standards for this Tennessee gem that belongs to everyone,” he said.
Anne Davis, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who is representing the association in the case, added in a statement that she was unaware of any other cases in which the EPA decided to file a similar statement.
It’s a move, she said, “that highlights the gravity of Franklin’s attempts to undermine the Clean Water Act.”
Though the document, a friend of the court brief, isn’t a binding ruling, it makes a strong statement that probably will catch a judge’s attention, said Brad Mank, a University of Cincinnati College of Law professor specializing in environmental law.
And it’s unusual for the EPA to get involved at this stage in the case, he said.
Typically, he said, federal regulators hold off until a case has reached an appeals court, where a ruling could have the weight of precedent.
Mank said he couldn’t speculate why the EPA would choose to weigh in now.
However, he said, it’s possible that the federal agency is “trying to clarify the law” — about who’s allowed to sue over water pollution issues and in which court — without waiting until a case goes through a lengthy appeals process.
Furthermore, he said, it makes a difference whether the case is heard in state court or federal court: State court judges, who are elected to regular terms, could be more sympathetic to the city’s arguments and they may be less accustomed to hearing highly complex environmental cases.
Federal judges, by contrast, have lifetime tenures.
Still, Mank emphasized, “it’s complicated” because each federal environmental law is different.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman said the agency wouldn’t comment beyond what was in the brief.
Franklin city officials said that attorneys are working on a more detailed response to the brief to be filed within a 21-day deadline.
Professor Mank’s Articles Accepted for Publication
Congratulations to Professor Brad Mank, who recently received notice that two of his articles have been accepted for publication. Standing to View Other People's Land: The D.C. Circuit's Divided Decision in Sierra Club v. Jewell, will be published in Volume 40 of the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law (2015). Volume 18 of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law will feature Prudential Standing Doctrine Abolished or Waiting for a Comeback?: Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., sometime in 2015 or 2016.
Kari Jones Talks About Giving Back to UC Law
Originally from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” (aka Minnesota) Kari Jones ’04 moved to Northern Kentucky before attending the University of Kentucky for her undergraduate studies. As a UK student, Jones studied journalism and advertising. After graduating, she considered law school, but when she married her husband and started a family, she chose to put her legal aspirations on the back burner. In the interim, Jones worked for 12 years with a software development company in Blue Ash.
“I always had a plan to return to the classroom to study law,” she shared, and she did so in 2001. She enjoyed her experience as a law student, during which she was a member of Law Review and involved in the Student Bar Association. After working with Ulmer & Berne LLP as a summer associate during law school, Jones continued on with the firm after graduation in 2004. As an associate, she was on the civil litigation team working on a variety of cases, including those involving medical malpractice, construction defects, and personal injury. “The variety and activity of working in litigation was something that I enjoyed,” she shared. “While it was still very much an office-setting job, I enjoyed the opportunities outside the office, whether it was at court or taking depositions or visiting clients. You’re never really sure what you’re going to encounter.”
Jones resigned her position with Ulmer & Berne LLP with the arrival of her next child, and spent several years at home. She picked up the hobby of running and ran in several half-marathons. After five years at home, Jones was back in the job market and noticed a job opening with the College of Law. “I had always thought to come back to UC Law,” she said. “My time at the law school had been truly enjoyable, and to be able to come back and contribute once again to the law school community was an opportunity I could not pass up.” Now, Jones is an associate with the Office of Academic and Student Affairs. She works with both the law school’s Registrar’s Office, assisting with requests and reviewing files, and the Admissions Office, talking with prospective students and handling marketing and outreach work.
Jones Shares How to Excel at Work and Life
“Find your passion,” advises Jones. “Don’t do something just because it is the only thing you think you can do.” There is no denying that there can be a lot of pressure on law students, and she readily acknowledged that; however, she also has seen what a little patience and drive can lead to. “I’ve seen my friends and classmates go out and do so many different things since we graduated, and it has really stood out to me that those who have found what they love doing are excelling in work and in life.”
Kate Christoff Joins the CPD Team; Shares Tips for Career Success
“I’ve always had an affinity for legal education and I appreciate the opportunity to help guide the future leaders of the legal profession,” said Kate Christoff ’08, Private Sector Coordinator and Counselor for the Center for Professional Development. As a CPD coordinator and counselor, she will provide career counseling to students and alumni, coordinate on-campus interviews with local and national law firms, and compile employment statistics for submission to multiple national reporting entities. In her new role Christoff will be able to draw from a variety of experiences she has gained since earning her law degree.
Originally from Lima, OH, she attended Miami University (OH), studying finance and international business. While in college her business skills were honed when she took advantage of the chance to study internationally – at the Institute of Business Studies in Moscow, Russia; at the Miami University Dolibios European Center in Differdange, Luxembourg; and at the Australia National University & University of Queensland, in Canberra and Brisbane, Australia. She also interned at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. Of these opportunities, Christoff said she learned how to build relationships with different people and how to work in cross-cultural environments.
Following graduation, Christoff worked as an aide for State Representative Sally Conway Kilbane, former Ways and Means Committee Chair, of the Ohio House of Representatives, on tax reform legislation and constituent issues. But coming from a family of attorneys—her father, John Christoff, was a law professor for 30 years at Ohio Northern University Claude W. Pettit College of Law—she had always planned on attending law school. “My father and his work ethic left a deep impression on me,” she said. “I remember many dinner time conversations between my dad and law students as they discussed current issues. My dad was so dedicated to his students and their success that he had no problem going the extra mile. In fact, he was with a student when she gave birth--in the delivery room!”
The time came for Christoff to return to the classroom to seek her degree in 2005. While at the College she was involved in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, Black Law Students Association, and Law Women. In addition, she gained significant professional experience working as a summer associate at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and as a law clerk at Beckman Weil Shepardson LLC.
Upon graduation from UC Law, Christoff returned to Lima, clerking with Hunt & Johnson. After admission to the Ohio Bar, she became an assistant city prosecutor. Later, she returned to Cincinnati, working 15 months at brand design agency Libby Perszyk Kathman as a project leader, serving as the first point of contact with multi-billion dollar, multinational clients, drafting proposals and contracts, and handling various management responsibilities. In 2012, Christoff moved to Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL, conducting electronic document reviews associated with complex litigation matters. Most recently, she worked as Director of Community Engagement in the Office of City Councilmember Yvette Simpson (a 2004 UC Law graduate) and as a CLE programs assistant with the Cincinnati Bar Association. She has amassed significant professional experience since leaving the College, which she looks forward to drawing upon while working with students and alumni.
“Today’s young adults change jobs more often than in the past. In fact, I’ve read that they’ll change jobs three to four times in 10 years,” said Christoff, noting the difference from previous generations. With that in mind, she commented, the best equipped students will prepare themselves for this new world of multiple career opportunities, by creating the best professional armor for whatever may come.
Putting Your Armor On: Kate’s Tips for Career Prep for Law Students
- Always remember: classmates will be your colleagues and potential referrals for clients.
- Look people in the eye; stand tall; give a firm handshake.
- Attend events. Be engaged!
- Don’t just network when you’re job searching. Maintain relationships throughout your career.
- Know that faculty and staff are here to help.
Christopher Varner, '96 Elected Tennessee Bar Foundation Fellow
Christopher T. Varner has recently been elected a Fellow of the Tennessee Bar Foundation, an association of 801 attorneys across the state. Invitations to membership, which is a position of honor, were extended to 29 attorneys this year by the Board of Trustees. The introduction of new Fellows took place at the annual Fellows' Dinner in Nashville.
The Bar Foundation's purpose is two-fold: to honor attorneys who have distinguished themselves in the profession and to administer a grant making program. That project, known by its acronym “IOLTA” (Interest On Lawyers' Trust Accounts), has awarded grants in excess of $20,000,000 to law-related, public interest projects throughout Tennessee.
Mr. Varner is a partner in the firm of Evans Harrison Hackett, PLLC and has been practicing law in Chattanooga, Tennessee for 19 years. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and of the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
Alum and Brinks Attorney Rashad L. Morgan, '06 Joins The National Black Lawyers–Top 100
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—Rashad L. Morgan, an attorney at intellectual property law firm Brinks Gilson & Lione, was recently invited to join The National Black Lawyers–Top 100, a professional honorary organization composed of the top 100 black lawyers from each state.
Members of The National Black Lawyers–Top 100 exemplify superior qualifications of leadership, reputation, influence, and performance.
Eligibility criteria include nominations from one’s peers, board certification in the attorney's respective area of specialty, leadership in other legal organizations, and rankings by leading national evaluation organizations.
Trained as a chemical engineer, Morgan focuses on patent litigation and prosecution for domestic and international clients with cutting-edge, complex technologies. His legal experience includes landmark litigation at the Federal Circuit and at the International Trade Commission.
Along with helping clients succeed in today’s evolving patent landscape, Morgan is deeply committed to increasing diversity in the law. Active in the North Carolina State Bar Association’s Legal LINK diversity pipeline program, Morgan also participates in programs including The Just the Beginning Foundation and Legal Prep Charter Academies. He provides volunteer legal assistance through Lawyers for the Creative Arts, and has mentored minority attorneys through The Chicago Committee. Morgan also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and serves on Brinks’ recruiting, hiring, and diversity committees.
The mission of The National Black Lawyers–Top 100 is to promote excellence in the legal profession for accomplished black attorneys in the United States through advocacy training, marketing, networking opportunities, and continuing legal education. The invitation-only organization highlights its membership by providing a public online search tool that identifies the top black attorneys in 20 areas of legal specialty. More information is at www.nbltop100.org.
Michael Stewart, ’07 received the designation as “Rising Stars” by the 2015 publication of Ohio Super Lawyers
(SANDUSKY, Ohio) - Recently three attorneys at the law firm, Murray & Murray Co., L.P.A., received the designation as “Rising Stars” by the 2015 publication of Ohio Super Lawyers® for their outstanding legal work.
Specifically, Ohio Super Lawyers honored Murray & Murray partners, Florence J. Murray and Leslie O. Murray, and associate attorney Michael J. Stewart, naming the group among its “2015 Rising Stars.” “Rising Stars” undergo a rigorous selection process that begins with peer nominations by fellow attorneys. The honor recognizes exceptional up-and-coming legal talent, as it is only awarded to attorneys who are under the age of 40 or have been practicing law for less than ten years. Indeed, selection to the “Rising Stars” list is a rare and exceptional accolade, as no more than 2.5 percent of lawyers in the State of Ohio are named to the list each year.
ABOUT THE FIRM:
Founded in 1931, Murray & Murray is operated by the Murray family. The firm has fourteen attorneys including nine Murray partners. Located in Sandusky, Ohio, Murray & Murray provides legal representation for clients throughout Ohio and offers a free initial consultation. Involved in many landmark decisions and settlements, Murray & Murray’s main practice areas are personal injury, wrongful death, consumer protection, business litigation, and class actions.