Ken Bean started his legal career doing tax work, but he quickly found he didn’t have a taste for it.
“The litigation group asked if I would help them with some files,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Sure.’”
That turned out to be Bean’s entry into health care defense litigation, where he often works in high-risk obstetric medical-malpractice matters. Of 13 such matters involving brain-injured children which Bean has taken to completion, he has won 11. He’s also tried and won four out of five psychiatric suicide cases.
For the Lexington, Kentucky, native who came to St. Louis in 1970 to attend Washington University, it is all in a day’s work.
“I like mixing medicine with law, and I enjoy meeting and interacting with really bright physicians who understand medicine and can explain it to all of us in simple terms,” he said.
Inspired by the example of an uncle who practiced in St. Louis, Bean discovered early in college that he wanted a career in the law. In 1979 — two years after beginning his legal career — he became a founding member of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard, where he’s practiced for more than 40 years.
He advises new attorneys to remain optimistic even when things seem bad.
“Don’t get discouraged by early failures,” he said. “Learn from them and improve your practice from them.”
Bean, who was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers in 2006, said he feels the legal profession has gotten more confrontational through the years — a trend he finds problematic.
“It is really important to keep in mind that your opponent is only trying to do what you are [doing], which is to marshal the facts and the law and try to get a win,” he said. “They are not generally bad people. You need to keep sight of that as you work on your files every day.”
He said that could be why the public often has a negative view of attorneys as dealbreakers more than dealmakers.
“I think it is because most of the time when they need a lawyer, there’s a problem,” he notes. “They only see lawyers getting involved in problems.”
Bean said one of the reasons he loved law school was that it taught him to think in terms of issue-recognition — the ability to look for pitfalls that might not always seem so obvious. He likens it to a test of peripheral vision.
“We can see what is directly in front of us,” he said. “Your job as a lawyer is to figure out what’s on the side of the road. You can manage everything that’s coming at you. But it is the stuff on the side of the road that gets us and our clients into trouble.”
In any event, Bean believes that attorneys can play a valuable role in making all parties feel as though they’ve been heard — regardless of the verdict.
“I can tell you that there have been some significant losses I’ve had where the clients were still very happy that they’d gotten their day in court and still felt they’d had a fair airing of the facts and despite the loss were comfortable with the process,” he said.