Sidebar Steve Magas ’82
Steve Magas ’82 is known as the bike lawyer. He’s built a practice around advocating for cyclists’ rights and providing legal counsel in cases involving bicycles, including personal injury and wrongful death cases. As Magas likes to tell his clients, “from nine to five I represent cyclists and I make a living doing that, and then from five to nine I’m an advocate, I sit on boards and work on these advocacy issues and try to help out the world of cycling.”
Like many kids growing up at the time, Steve Magas ’82 spent his youth on the back of a bike, riding around town with his friends and eventually even taking longer bike tours stretching from Mansfield, Ohio to Canada.
Magas spent his summers working and saving his pennies to purchase his dream bike. Little did he know then that his passion for the sport would help him create a niche career working and advocating in the field of bike law.
After graduating with a background in education and math, Magas decided to deviate from his original plan of working at a local high school as a teacher and a coach to attend law school. Although he had never encountered an attorney and was largely unaware of what lawyers actually did, Magas was drawn to the academic experience of law school.
When Magas graduated, he started working as a law clerk for an appellate court judge, where the young lawyer was exposed to many different types of litigation early on in his career.
“Judge K was just a fantastic mentor, both in the practice of law and in life,” Magas said. Following his time with Koehler, Magas continued to focus on personal injury and wrongful death cases while at a small suburban law firm.
At the time, Magas was still an active bike rider and a member of the Cincinnati Cycle Club. One day in the club’s newsletter, a small ad seeking legal assistance for the Club caught Magas’ eye. As it turned out, the club was on the verge of losing its charter after failing to register with the state as a non-profit for several years.
Upon investigation, Magas found out that a new organization—the Cincinnati Motorcycle Club—was causing roadblocks to amending their registration with the state because of their similar names. Therefore, a very young and impressionable looking Magas found himself at a biker bar looking for the trustees of the Motorcycle Club and asking them to sign a waiver allowing the cycling club to continue under its long-time title.
“Everybody was kind of giving me the eye, but they had a good laugh at it and they signed the form. After that I started doing a few articles for the newsletter on bikes and the law,” said Magas. “That got picked up by a free publication called Bikes Ohio that was distributed in all the bike shops.”
With a newfound outlet and voice on the subject, Magas started writing a monthly column for the magazine. His involvement on the bike law scene became national when Magas got involved with the League of American Wheelmen, writing a legal column for them as well.
“I started getting a few cases and it became sort of a part of my trial practice. From the first few cases, I started writing about the issues that came up and then I’d get some more cases,” Magas said. “I started getting known as this guy with the goofy bicycle practice.”
As the 1990s ushered in the new wave of computers and email addresses, Magas was able to advertise in small and subtle ways for bike cases, including setting up his first email address as email@example.com.
Magas joined the Board of the Ohio Bicycle Federation, where he still sits advocating for cyclists’ rights on certain issues pertaining to his beloved pastime. Larger cases started coming in, attracting attention from all over the country and further propelling Magas into the bicycle advocacy world.
In 2009, Magas started his own practice where he could have even more freedom to focus on bicycle cases.
“Now I’ve done over 400 bike cases, and several thousand personal injury and wrongful death cases over the years,” Magas said.
Using new techniques and unique arguments at trials, Magas was able to get momentum with his first few cases that ended up pushing him into the field more and educating him on how to try those cases. He has also written extensively on bike law including co-authoring a book, Bicycling and the Law, with Olympic-cyclist-turned-lawyer Bob Mionske.
Some of his seemingly smaller cases have even gone on to have big impacts. For example, a pro bono case where a cyclist was cited for impeding traffic that Magas initially lost at trial was ultimately overturned in the court of appeals. Now every bicycle advocate in the country knows about the case, with the court’s opinion being cited again and again.
As Magas likes to tell his clients, “from nine to five I represent cyclists and I make a living doing that, and then from five to nine I’m an advocate, I sit on boards and work on these advocacy issues and try to help out the world of cycling.”
Dealing with insurance companies is one of the most challenging parts of his job according to Magas. Fortunately, he has a few years under his belt as outside council for an insurance company and as a defense attorney for an insurance company so he had a good basis of knowledge that helps him maneuver through the insurance process with his clients.
However, being able to help people from all over the state who are dealing with injuries or loss makes his work even more worthwhile.
As for current law students, Magas advises them to take in all of the opportunities law school houses, and explore many different aspects of the law to decide where they want their career to take them.
“My career definitely took an alternative path; in hindsight I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Magas said. “I think I would have had a hard time fitting into the more traditional path. Some law students come in and really know what they want to do, they know where they are going to go and their minds are sort of set. For others, I think it’s definitely good to get as wide of an experience as you can get. For me, coming out of law school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do and working as a law clerk in the appellate court was a fantastic way to start. Getting that broad experience through the clerkship was really instrumental in helping me pick the path I wanted to be on.”
In addition to biking, Magas has another favorite pastime—music. As an avid trumpet player from a young age, Magas has continued his passion for music throughout his career by playing in several bands and showcasing a wide array of music styles.
As part of the contemporary jazz band Modern Groove, Magas has played at the Ohio State Bar Association’s annual meeting and sat in with a Dixieland band during Opening Day last year. Magas said that he always keeps a trumpet in his desk at work, and even joined his two worlds together by creating a horn section for the Cincinnati Bar Foundation fundraiser this past year.