Steve Geise: A Leader on Multiple Fronts
The ranks of the Federal Bar Association, San Diego Chapter include nationally-recognized trial lawyers. Steve Geise is one of them. But he is not just a leader of award-winning trial teams. Mr. Geise also leads Jones Day’s San Diego Office, where as Partner-in-Charge he focuses on supporting every one of his colleagues and recruiting talented attorneys.
Steve Geise’s story began in Olean, New York, a small town in the western part of the state. During his childhood, Mr. Geise thought he was destined to become a high school history teacher or a basketball coach. While he still has a decent jump shot, Mr. Geise’s humble beginnings serve only as the introduction to an impressive career. He’s tried dozens of product liability cases en route to becoming an experienced trial lawyer and leader in his office. His journey to this point is full of lessons for all members of the Chapter, from the newest to the oldest.
After graduating from Ohio Northern University Pettit School of Law, Mr. Geise clerked for the Honorable G. Ross Anderson, Jr. at the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. He would not be where he is today without his clerkship. From witnessing the best, and worst, that South Carolina had to offer, Mr. Geise learned how to be persuasive in open court. He absorbed the ins and outs of advocacy. Mr. Geise also developed a close relationship with Judge Anderson, who was a teacher at heart. After every oral argument or trial, Judge Anderson would coach Mr. Geise on what worked and what should or should not have been said. Mr. Geise cannot recommend a clerkship enough to anyone who wants to be a litigator.
Following his clerkship, Mr. Geise started out his career working in Jones Day’s Cleveland office. Early in his career, Mr. Geise was fortunate to work with some outstanding trial attorneys. They taught him how to identify themes and prepare a case for trial. Mr. Geise learned so much from his mentors because they welcomed questions and took the time to explain their strategy and illustrate it with entertaining war stories. He would ask what the team hoped to get out of a certain motion or why they decided to argue a specific point. He immersed himself into the team and the material, trying to make himself indispensable.
Mr. Geise advises all aspiring trial lawyers to become a go-to person as a source of knowledge and information for your team. Doing so allows you to take ownership of the case and push the ball forward—two traits he looks for in every young associate.
After rising through the ranks in the Cleveland office, Mr. Geise had the opportunity to relocate to Jones Day’s relatively new San Diego office where he learned from talented lawyers and exceptional leaders like Anthony Insogna and Karen Hewitt. Since coming to California, Mr. Geise has tried a plethora of product liability cases and obtained defense verdicts in federal and state courts across the country. For example, earlier this year, Mr. Geise’s team prevailed on behalf of R.J. Reynolds in a closely watched personal injury trial in Portland, Oregon, that was one of the first in-person, jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic. And in 2017, he led a team that secured a defense verdict in a Bay Area product liability trial that earned the Daily Journal’s “Top Defense Verdict Award.” Most of Mr. Geise’s trial practice, around 80%, is in state court because plaintiffs’ counsel seem to prefer to try product liability cases in state court. Just like his mentors before him, Mr. Geise also collaborates with teams on trial themes, presentation, and strategy.
Mr. Geise recently started a new chapter in his legal career. In January 2020, he was named Partner-in-Charge of Jones Day’s San Diego office. This new chapter has been one of the most challenging and rewarding of Mr. Geise’s career.
As Partner-in-Charge, Mr. Geise oversees all functions of the office, but he doesn’t do it alone. He is fortunate to be able to lean on a talented team of attorneys and staff who help get the job done. In his view, a successful office requires having exceptional people around him who are leaders in their own right and can handle different tasks. That way he can focus on a crucial, but largely unspoken, role for a Partner-in-Charge—providing support. Mr. Geise makes it known to every associate, partner, and staff member that he is available should they need anything. He sees himself as the office motivator, a role he doesn’t take lightly. For example, Mr. Geise has held bi-weekly all associate and all partner calls for the entirety of the pandemic to keep the office connected, up-to-date on any developments, and give the attorneys an opportunity to raise any concerns and suggest ways to improve the office.
Running an office has its challenges. The biggest challenge Mr. Geise faces in leading the office is talent acquisition, development, and retention. He believes the lifeblood of any firm is talented attorneys. His first step is to seek out and hire good attorneys. Much like a sports team, individual talent is important but the ability to function in a team environment is critical to success. To help the team succeed, his next steps involve putting the right mentors and support systems in place in order to help attorneys develop and flourish. Mr. Geise believes that every new associate has the ability to be a future leader within the firm. It is the office’s responsibility to train developing lawyers and provide them opportunities for professional growth.
In addition to being a member of the Federal Bar Association for over ten years, Mr. Geise was a Lawyer Representative for the Southern District for four years. As a Lawyer Representative, he was exposed to other leaders in the San Diego legal community who are at the top of what they do. It was incredible for him to work with and learn from attorneys from different fields to try and improve the district by bringing its members access to justice and access to the law. Mr. Geise also admires the judges in the Southern District for their accessibility and interest in working with the Lawyer Representatives to achieve the aforementioned goals. Through this position Mr. Geise developed a personal and professional relationship with the bench. It was a rewarding experience that reinforced how fortunate we are to be part of the San Diego legal community.
Outside of the Law
Mr. Geise lives in San Diego with his wife and, when college or grad school is out (or operating virtually), their four kids. When he finds the motivation, Mr. Geise likes to exercise but admittedly spends too much time watching sports. His favorite outdoor activity is golf, yet he has this weird phenomenon where he seems to get worse the more he plays. Realizing that golf is more about camaraderie, he enjoys traveling with friends to famous golf locations to play a round.
Advice for New Attorneys
Support those around you and treat everyone with respect. Mr. Geise cannot stress enough how important it is to be kind to every member of your team and most importantly, the attorneys and staff who support you. He also encourages all attorneys to take every opportunity to mentor someone when you can. Mr. Geise’s professional journey was shaped by his mentors—Judge Anderson and Steve Kaczynski, Ted Grossman, and Bob Weber at Jones Day. His journey wouldn’t have led to leading Jones Day’s San Diego office without them.
* Josh Dutton is a member of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and its Public Relations Committee. He practices labor and employment law at Jones Day and externed for the Hon. Cynthia Bashant in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.