Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
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E. O'Brien Kelley '94: Full-Time Litigator, Part-Time Film Producer

E. O'Brien Kelley
E. O'Brien Kelley '94

Big city corporate lawyer by day, movie producer schmoozing with the stars at night. It's all in a day's work for O'Brien Kelley '94. A product liability attorney with DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary in New York City, he represents major drug companies in litigation concerning pharmaceuticals and medical devices. After hours, the southern Ohio native has managed to turn his passion for film, networking skills, and powers of persuasion into a burgeoning film production business.

O'Brien is intrigued by the technical yet personal nature of his cases, and he likes exploring the complex and sometimes controversial areas where medicine, science and the law converge. Plus he prefers that the focus is on resolving an issue involving an actual person instead of working with legal concepts in the abstract.

After three years as a tax attorney, he decided to return to litigation. While many firms considered him too senior to make the jump to litigation, DLA Piper took the chance and welcomed him in 1999. As an openly gay attorney, the firm's supportive, open environment has given him the latitude to explore new challenges, but he understands that the decision to be "out" is an extremely personal choice.

"A few years ago I would have said that the most important thing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) students and lawyers can do is to be out and demonstrate that we work everywhere from big government to big firm to in-house, and deserve the same respect as our straight colleagues. But I happen to work in a large firm in a very diverse city, so it's relatively easy for me to be so open about my personal life. I recognize, however, that for law students and new lawyers in other communities, it may not be so easy. So I suppose my advice would be to do what feels right. Don't lie about who you are, but sometimes timing is everything, and maybe your first interview may not be the time to be 'out and proud.' Sometimes we can accomplish more from the inside."

O'Brien proudly serves on the Board of Directors of the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), a nonprofit agency that offers support services to GLBT youth and their families. The institute's flagship program is a public high school for students who have faced violence or emotional harm in traditional schools. He was compelled to get involved upon hearing the Institute's executive director recount an incident from September 11, 2001. As the Twin Towers were crumbling and public schools were being evacuated, some kids still found the time to taunt others they perceived as gay. "Kids shouldn't have to live in terror when they're supposed to be getting a high school education. HMI works to make sure that all young people, regardless of sexual orientation, have a safe environment in which to learn."

It was a connection O'Brien made through his work with HMI that led to his venture into film production. Academy award winner Hilary Swank serves as the organization's spokesperson. As he got to know Swank and her husband, veteran actor/director Chad Lowe, they found they shared mutual interests and decided to collaborate on the production of the upcoming film "Beautiful Ohio."

While O'Brien did not ultimately secure the financing for "Beautiful Ohio," contacts he made led to several other projects which are currently in the works, including an Andy Warhol documentary by Rick Burns set to air on PBS in 2006, and a film based on Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" adapted by John Logan, who wrote the screenplays for "The Aviator" and "Gladiator."

"I have always been amazed by movies. I didn't realize that a legal education would form the basis for me to participate in the movie-making process, but it has," O'Brien says. "What inspires me is that I'm part of creating art. Even if no one ever sees the pictures I'm working on, I will at least have been part of creating something that will be around long after I'm gone."

His partner of six years, Juan Herrera, is also in the entertainment business. He is the director of diversity/external relations at MTV Networks. The couple recently moved from downtown Manhattan to a vibrant Harlem community. "Harlem has so much new energy and is really one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of the City," O'Brien says. With creative and talented new residents such as these, the neighborhood has already grown richer.