As president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, Ken Vuylsteke was duty-bound to serve the profession.
And though his days of commuting to Jefferson City to lobby and testify are over, he continues to serve the profession as a legal mentor, continuing a career-long commitment to preparing young associates facing their first trials.
“A lot of lawyers get involved in the practice and kind of lose sight that they owe a duty to the legal system as well as to their clients,” said Vuylsteke.
Vuylsteke’s nominator, who was hired by Vuylsteke fresh out of law school, cited that sense of duty when nominating his mentor.
“He immediately became a teacher after he hired me as a law clerk,” the nominator wrote. “My story is just one of countless others where he has always put the teaching of the practice of law as more important than just winning or losing . . . That defines what a mentor really is.”
An Illinois native and 1980 graduate of Washington University School of Law, Vuylsteke has served on MATA’s Board of Governors since 1988 and its executive committee since 2005.
He was enlisted by MATA leadership to work with doctors pushing for tort reform in Missouri.
Though he joked that the decision came down to whether there was “any trial attorney that the doctors would like,” Vuylsteke had established credibility with the medical community through his work on managed care as chair of MATA’s HMO Health Law Committee since 1998.
“We had worked together to try to protect their right to practice medicine in the best interest of the patient rather than in the best interest of the HMOs,” he said. “So they asked me to lead the talks on tort reform.”
Asked to reflect on his most memorable courtroom wins, Vuylsteke cited his work on behalf of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, a breakaway parish that prevailed in an 8-year legal fight with the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. For that work, Missouri Lawyers Media honored him and three other lawyers with Missouri Lawyers Awards as Legal Champions for 2012.
Initially, though, he demurred.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “For your client, every case is the biggest case. And that’s how you have to approach it. Maybe it’s a small amount of money, or maybe it’s a life-changer.”
In addition to his informal teaching, Vuylsteke has been an adjunct professor of law at both his alma mater and the Saint Louis University School of Law, as well as an instructor of medical ethics in the Wash U School of Medicine.
Following his one-year term as MATA president in 2014-15, Vuylsteke was president of the Lawyers Association of St. Louis in 2016-17 and served as a commissioner on the Missouri Commission on Patient Safety. His articles on medical ethics have appeared in state, regional and national publications, including the AMA Journal.