Lou Gilligan ’68 Talks About the Importance of Lawyers
Distinguished Alumnus Lou Gilligan ’68 hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Scranton, a Jesuit college in upstate Pennsylvania, where he majored in business management. After finishing his undergraduate studies, Gilligan debated between getting an MBA or law degree, or entering the workforce right away. “I asked several people for advice, and they told me ‘Now is the time to go to law school if you want to do it.’ So I decided on law school.”
Although he was initially accepted at UC, Gilligan attended Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh for his first year of law school and then transferred to UC College of Law the following year, where he completed his law school degree and graduated as President of his law school class. He liked Cincinnati and decided to remain here after graduation, rather than returning to Pennsylvania.
While he attended UC College of Law, Gilligan worked for the law firm of Lindhorst & Dreidame. He continued to work there after graduating, focusing on litigation. After a few years, Gilligan changed firms to Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL, where he has remained. Initially, he focused on corporate law and business transactions at KMK. “I maintained my interest in business from undergrad,” he said, “and one of the reasons I changed firms was because KMK provided an opportunity to experience practicing corporate law.”
A turning point in Gilligan’s career came in 1977, however, from the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Cincinnati. The fire was a tragedy of calamitous proportions, and a number of people affected by the fire contacted KMK to represent them. Gilligan decided to get involved in the matter, and was ultimately appointed by the presiding federal and state court judges to the Plaintiffs' Lead Counsel Committee to represent the Plaintiff Class in the ensuing litigation. From then on, he has specialized in litigation. “The Beverly Hills Supper Club fire was the first big class action tort case in history,” Gilligan explained, “and, after that, class actions became a big part of KMK’s business.” As a result, Gilligan focused on several different kinds of litigation. This has provided him with the unique opportunity to represent both plaintiffs and defendants across many practice areas, whereas a lot of attorneys specialize in just plaintiff or just defense work, or focus on one practice area.
Because he has been able to practice in such a variety of areas, Gilligan has worked on numerous interesting and important cases. He has represented Rumpke throughout his career, and has developed close friendships with the company’s owners. Several years ago, Rumpke was sued by many of its neighbors who sought class action certification. Gilligan defeated class action certification and proceeded to trial against the multiple individual plaintiffs. After an eight‑week trial in which Rumpke’s corporate identity was on the line—what Gilligan referred to as “bet the company” litigation—Gilligan was able to get a defense verdict for the company. Over the years he has also represented several American Financial corporations and The Hillman Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in securities‑related class actions across the Country. He also brought a medical malpractice case against Children’s Hospital. “Children’s had never lost a case,” he explained, “and I had resisted doing plaintiff’s medical malpractice cases because my father had been a medical doctor and I had a great deal of respect for the medical profession.” Gilligan added that the severely brain‑damaged baby involved in this case was the daughter of one of his firm’s legal assistants. “I had a close relationship with the family who, coincidentally, also had parental linkage to the medical profession.” Gilligan took the case to trial and was successful in obtaining a multi‑million dollar verdict against the defendants.
One case of particular importance to Gilligan involved a young girl named Colleen Boeckmann, who, at the time of the accident, was a 20-year-old University of Dayton college student from Louisville, Kentucky. She was involved in an accident with a semi-truck on Interstate 75 and was badly injured. Gilligan represented her and her family in a suit against the trucking company. The case was in front of Judge S. Arthur Spiegel in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and involved a summary jury trial in which the attorneys summarized the evidence to the jury rather than having witnesses testify, with the hope of bringing about a settlement. “The jury returned an advisory verdict of $22 million in compensatory damages,” said Gilligan, “which was huge, considering this was about 25 years ago.” The parties did not reach a settlement, however, until after a jury trial had begun six months later. “We ultimately settled for a rather substantial sum of money,” he said, “which was really satisfying because Colleen was seriously injured in the accident and needed a lot of help. This case was very important to me because I was able to help a family who truly needed it.” Colleen and the Boeckmann family have remained good friends of Gilligan in the years since the accident and court case.
Throughout his career, Gilligan has also been a great believer in pro bono work. He has headed the Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor program at KMK, and has volunteered his services to Legal Aid. Just a couple of years ago, he filed a case in federal court on behalf of Legal Aid: “Someone was misusing the name ‘Legal Aid’ by putting a similar name in the phone book in an effort to defraud poor people,” Gilligan explained, “and the scam had been repeated in several cities across the country.” Gilligan got an injunction against the perpetrators, and they were required to pay back the money they had received through their fraudulent activities.
In addition to his commitment to pro bono work, Gilligan also believes strongly in the betterment of the legal profession, in general. He expressed a particular concern related to the lack of professionalism among attorneys. “Lawyers are an important part of our society, and our legal system is the foremost system of law anywhere in the world—it’s unique to this country, and it’s important. As a lawyer, I hate to see abuses by lawyers and others who don’t respect the profession and who don’t act with professionalism.” He went on to stress the importance of doing something positive with a law degree: “Some people are just takers—they use the practice of law just to make money and don’t do anything for anyone. More people need to realize that you can make a good living as a lawyer, but you also have an opportunity to do a lot of good for many people and society, in general. My hope is that people coming out of law school will have the vision and desire to make the profession better in the future.”