Obituary: Joseph Klein / Lawyer with a flair for the dramatic
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Joseph Klein was an acting teacher who became a courtroom attorney, and an attorney who taught other attorneys at Reed Smith's Pittsburgh law offices how to act in court.
His own courtroom persona was that of the "likable" attorney, and he dressed up and played Santa Claus at the law firm's holiday parties for 15 years.
Friends say neither role was a stretch.
"He was personal, caring and concerned, just what a lawyer would rather be in front of a jury," said Kerry Kearney, a retired Reed Smith attorney who was a former boss and longtime friend. "He had a sonorous voice and was proficient at thinking on his feet and projecting a persuasive confidence."
Mr. Klein died Saturday at his home in Ben Avon from complications from diabetes. He was 67.
An only child and native of Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County, Mr. Klein graduated from St. Joseph College in Philadelphia, and received a master's in fine arts from the University of Iowa's prestigious Writers Workshop.
He was hired by St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana as a drama teacher and later became chairman of the Fine Arts Department and a community theater director in Minnesota. In the late 1970s, Mr. Klein traded the stage for the courtroom, attending law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
He was hired by Reed Smith in 1980, when he was 35, and became a litigation partner, doing courtroom work for industry on environmental cases and colleges and universities in cases involving bequests. He was also a regular contributor to the annual Allegheny County Bench-Bar Conference show, for which he would choreograph and rehearse the dance routines of "four judges who had absolutely no rhythm," Ms. Kearney said.
But the part for which he is most remembered and admired by colleagues was running Reed Smith's trial training program, teaching young attorneys how to act in court and using many of his acting and teaching skills. The training program put young attorneys into a "mock trial" situation and videotaped their performances. Mr. Klein would offer direction and later critique the videotape for the attorneys' "verbal and visual tics," Ms. Kearney said.
"Joe was a great mentor to young lawyers and a great teacher to young lawyers. People here felt very fondly about him," said Tom Allen, a Reed Smith attorney and friend, adding that even after Mr. Klein retired in 2007 he continued to help with the training program. "He was gifted as a teacher."
Mr. Allen said Mr. Klein's trial style included the ability to explain even the most complex case, study or set of facts, simply, understandably and well.
"Where his acting training helped him, I think, was in his manner of talking in front of people," Mr. Allen said. "He was also a very good writer, as evidenced by his time at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and helped other attorneys with that, too."
Ms. Kearney said Mr. Klein was proudest of two things: caring for his disabled mother until her death in 1985, and, in 1997, surviving esophageal cancer. In retirement he worked as a hospice volunteer and was a member of the administrative committee at Sacred Heart Church in Ben Avon.
Contributions can be made to Sacred Heart Church, 154 Orchard St., Pittsburgh 15202
First Published March 15, 2013 12:00 am