When he started his own firm in 1970, Skip Keesal had almost nothing but unshakeable principles, a good heart and a true command of his litigation skills. It turns out, that’s all he needed to set the foundation for Keesal, Young & Logan, a full-service firm with locations in five cities, a team of over 50 attorneys and a long-held commitment to doing what’s right both within and outside the practice of law.
Keesal himself has tried more than 250 cases across a wide range of industries and issues. His prolific work has earned him numerous accolades, including induction into Lawdragon’s Hall of Fame in 2021. He is also a member of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and the American Board of Trial Advocates.
While the firm’s lawyers have earned acclaim for their legal work, they are also widely recognized for their commitment to their community and the promotion of diversity in the legal field. Among others, the firm has received the Humanitarian of the Year award from the National Conference of Community and Justice, the ABA’s Long Beach Community Hispanic Association’s Nuestra Imagen Award and three separate distinctions from Long Beach’s NAACP.
Lawdragon: The firm celebrated its 50th anniversary recently. How did it feel to hit that milestone?
Skip Keesal: Well, it was exciting for all of us. The most important thing in the last 50 years is that I've had the privilege of practicing with genuinely delightful people. Any good fortune that's come to the firm, such as its longevity, really comes down to having people who are brilliant, hard-working lawyers who share the same values.
To me, one of the most exciting things about the anniversary was that we had a virtual party, and it was just great to see the smiles on people’s faces. A number of them have been with us for more than 40 years, and the pride that they all had, and the fact that they could see their friends of 40-plus years, was palpable. And the new attorneys who have only been with us a year or two could see the whole thing come together.
LD: That sounds like an amazing experience. And, yes, I was going to ask about the firm's retention rate – 81 percent of your attorneys started their careers with you. What do you think it is about the firm's environment that encourages people to stay for so long?
SK: When we started, we had a blank slate. It was just me, a very loyal secretary and a $60 used typewriter for five years. We had no clients and no money because I didn't feel comfortable taking cases from either of the two firms that I had worked with previously.
With that blank slate, we could say that we were only going to take people who were empathetic, straightforward, hard-working and brilliant lawyers. And, as the years went by, it followed the expression: “good begets good.” We’ve created a real community.
The good fortune that we're talking about today is due to many families – wives, husbands and significant others who have been patient while we were trying to do our jobs. In addition, we have to thank our staff and our paralegals. One of our paralegals who just retired had been with us for 41 years. Another one retired a year and a half ago at 41 years with us. A woman who takes in the checks has been with us for 44 years. And then, we have the people who've served lunch or served dinners or benefit charities by having our dining facility available – all of them, the whole team, should get the credit for the successes we’re discussing.
LD: Absolutely. You talked about shared values within the firm. What would you say some of those values are?
SK: Well, integrity is certainly one of them. Genuine caring for others, diversity and inclusion and trying to be the most gracious person in any setting – including an adversarial setting in the courtroom.
LD: Yes, I was amazed by your firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. D&I is at the forefront of cultural conversation right now, as it should be, but this work isn’t new to you at all. Why is diversity so important to your firm?
SK: Well, the importance of diversity is something that everyone here naturally knows. It’s not about the statistics. When we can help, in any way, we do.
LD: Tell me about some of the programs you’ve created and been involved with.
SK: Oh, we've been involved with I don't know how many organizations: The NAACP, the NCCJ, CAMEO and the YMCA, to name some.
I hesitate to mention any specific programming because the point isn’t to emphasize how great we or our programs are. It’s about the fact that diversity and inclusion work is a great thing to do spontaneously, not because you’re trying to attract business by doing it.
We've been doing this work for over 50 years. We were one of the founding sponsors of the California Bar Association’s Diversity Scholarship program, which offers scholarships to underrepresented students. One of our shareholders is the president of the California Bar Association, and one of our associates is on the board of the Washington State Bar Foundation, which promotes diversity in law.
We just hired five of our clerks from last summer, all of them diverse individuals. But we didn’t hire them because of that – we hired them because they're great lawyers. I feel a responsibility to them and to continue to do this as long as I can be effective doing it.
LD: Absolutely. Speaking of hiring, when you started the firm, I'm assuming you didn't expect it to grow as large as it did. Tell me about the moment when you realized it might become the massive firm that it is now.
SK: I haven't been asked that question in years, but I immediately flash back to that moment. I was on a weekend cruise in Long Beach, and I had my yellow pad out on the deck, getting some sun. This guy asked, "What do you do?" And I said, "Well, I'm a lawyer." He asked how many lawyers there were in the firm, and I said 35. He said, "That's a big firm." And I thought to myself, geez, I guess it is.
There was no grand design. I believe that I started the firm for reasons pertaining to my values. I left another firm for what I felt was a very good reason on one day's notice, just because of my principles. My first wife had some medical problems, and we weren't insured, so we were hopelessly in debt – I think around $56,000 in debt.
So, I thought I'd go down to Long Beach and rent an apartment for an office. I thought, if I didn’t get business, I'd go down to the beach and play volleyball. But what actually happened was a lot of really nice people gave us a shot.
LD: That’s amazing. Tell me about how you met your other name partners, Bob Logan and Steve Young.
SK: Well, with Steve, I needed a law clerk and his dad, who was a client, asked me to interview him. Fifty years later, we're the wind beneath one another's wings.
I feel the same way about Bob Logan. Bob tells a fun story about his first conversation with me. I said, “I really like you. I think you're going to be a great lawyer. I want to hire you, but I'm not sure I'll have the work for you, and if I have the work, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to pay you." He just said, "I'm in." Fifty years later, not much has changed.
LD: Spontaneity seems to lead to longevity in almost every aspect of your firm.
SK: That's exactly it. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, "Some people say why, and we say why not." We've had a lot of good fortune in the work that we've done for the people over the years. I think that good fortune comes 100% from just asking ourselves what the right thing to do is, and then doing it. If it’s a case you believe ought to be won, the jury will understand that.
LD: How have you seen the legal field change since you started your firm?
SK: First, the tech component has accelerated almost beyond belief. We responded to that shift by starting an independent tech company for our firm. They now have 30 employees and have received numerous awards for their work.
But the second thing that has changed is the graciousness with which lawyers deal with one another. When we got started, lawyers tended to be more gracious with each other. This is really a simple business. You should be able to go home, have a glass and a half of a Chardonnay, look back on what happened during the day and say, "I was up against a real lady, or a real gentleman, and I learned from them.”
LD: Tell me about some of your most memorable past cases.
SK: Well, there have been a lot of cases, and most of them have some kind of interesting story to tell.
One that comes to mind involves our medical practice. A large tech company – I won’t name any names – sued a respected local hospital to collect money that was owed on a cath lab. A cath lab is a series of x-ray type equipment that involves running little cameras up through your body when they’re looking to remove blockages and the like. They’re obviously very delicate. They ought to work, and they ought to work right. This one didn't.
They wanted us to pay another $400,000 on a million-dollar cost of the machine, and the head of that hospital’s department said, "We’re not going to pay it. This thing has never worked. It's been both dangerous and an embarrassment to us."
One fun part of that trial involved one of the witnesses, a world-class cardiologist at this hospital. My examination of him went something like this:
I said, "Doctor, as I understand it, you're a cardiologist, you practice at this hospital, and you do cath lab procedures. Is that right?"
He said, "Yes."
"When is the last time you performed a cath lab procedure?"
"How many did you do this morning?"
"How many would you estimate that you did in your history?"
"Maybe six, seven thousand."
"Did you use this particular cath lab we’re discussing?"
"How would you describe it?"
I asked him to tell the jury what he meant by “lousy,” and he was very direct. This guy knew this machine, knew he didn’t like it, and if you asked him any more questions, he was just going to paint the wall red again and again.
We won the suit, and sometimes the good guys – in this case the hospital – really do win. We ended up cashing a check for about $3.5M against the company because of the way that they tried the case, and, frankly, the way they misled people regarding the quality of those machines.
LD: And what about cases now? I know you’re still very active.
SK: Well, sure. I love what I do. People ask, "Are you ever going to quit?" I say, "I'm going to go face down in the Jell-O on my desk, just like the people I practice with who've been with us forever."
People like Steve Young and Bob Logan signed onto working here when there were never any promises made, and I knew that if they did, I’d have responsibility over the rest of their lives. They did, and I do feel that responsibility to continue doing this work as long as I’m able.