John Kassel, a managing partner at Kassel McVey, was honored on April 14 as a Platinum recipient of the Compleat Lawyer Awards, the highest such honor bestowed by Kassel’s alma mater, The South Carolina School of Law.
A 1985 graduate of the Law School, Kassel was one of three attorneys who received Platinum awards in a ceremony and dinner at the Ernest F. Hollings National Advocacy Center in Columbia. The two other Platinum recipients were H. Woodrow Gooding (’80) and Ema Patrick Womble (’86).
The Compleat Lawyer Awards are described by the Law School as the “highest recognition of professional achievement and civic leadership to the school’s alumni.” Platinum recipients must have been in practice 31 years or more. Gold recipients must have been in practice for 16 to 30 years, and Silver recipients for 15 years or less.
In a video presentation at the April 14 awards ceremony, Kassel was described by three of his long-time colleagues as a tenacious crusader for social justice as well as a man who places his family first.
Kassel gained acceptance to the Law School after coming south in the 1970s from Washington, D.C., where he grew up, to advocate for workers in South Carolina’s cotton mills who had contracted Brown Lung disease.
“I first heard about this amazing person who had worked for the Brown Lung Association,” said Susan Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, a nonprofit organization that provides legal advocacy services for low-income South Carolinians. Kassel has in recent years served as chair of the Appleseed Board of Directors.
Theile McVey, Kassel’s law partner, said she believes that working as a Vista volunteer motivated Kassel to attend law school, and that his desire to help others in need has never left him. “When he was (working for the Brown Lung Association) he met a lot of great lawyers who were advocating for these workers,” McVey said. “And he saw the change that lawyers can bring about.”
McVey and John Nichols, disciplinary counsel to the South Carolina Supreme Court, maintained that Kassel has consistently developed long-term, supportive personal relationships with clients he has represented over the years in tort cases.
“It’s part of his character that he adopts, so to speak, his clients,” Nichols said. “He gets into their lives, into their families.”
Nichols and McVey both discussed one of Kassel’s first major cases in which he represented the families of two young boys who were killed in 1993 on a malfunctioning bungee jump in Myrtle Beach, SC. Kassel won two major verdicts in favor of the families in that case.
McVey noted that Kassel’s involvement with those families continued long after the verdicts were reached. In 2018, he traveled to Indiana to be with one of the families at a gathering to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the tragedy.
McVey cited a second case in which Kassel represented the family of a 3-year old child who was paralyzed from the waist down in a head-on automobile collision. She said Kassel donated a portion of his fee in that case to an organization for paralyzed children. The young girl went on to graduate from the South Carolina School of Law, and Kassel later attended her wedding.
Nichols, McVey, and Berkowitz also maintained that Kassel has also always placed a priority on family life and being with his wife, Patricia, daughter Susu, and son Jake.
“For me, he has been such a role model to say ‘you can be a really successful lawyer and be busy and advocate, but also put your family first,’” McVey said.
Kassel’s colleagues also noted his consistency in both his professional and personal relationships.
“John embodies the Compleat Lawyer because he has not changed the way he looks at the law from the beginning of his practice,” Berkowitz said. “He looks at justice for everyone, and he pursues that in how he practices law… He looks at each of his clients as a whole person, and doesn’t just look at the narrow problem that they may present, but wants ensure their lives are better. “
Said Nichols, “He’s the same John Kassel I had the pleasure of working with from 1996 to 2000,” when both were attorneys at the firm, Suggs & Kelly. “He’s consistent. He’s loyal. He’s dedicated. Those are the characteristics that I believe demonstrate a Compleat Lawyer. He’s also pretty smart.”
“There has never been one minute of one hour that I ever once doubted that he was going to do the right thing,” McVey said.
Compleat Lawyer Award recipients are nominated by members of the Bar or by the public and are chosen by a committee consisting of the chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, the chief judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, the president of the South Carolina Bar, the School of Law’s dean, and the president of the Law School Alumni Council.
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