A week after earning his pilot’s license, David Wallace put it to good use.
A partner in the Cleveland office of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP, Wallace faced tight deadlines on a business litigation case that needed to be filed in Putnam County.
“We were making last-second changes, and we got to the point where we couldn’t drive there in time,” recalls Wallace.
He left his corner office on the 36th floor of the former BP Tower, grabbed an associate and headed to Burke Lakefront Airport. They flew a single-engine plane to northwest Ohio and filed the case in the nick of time.
Exhilarating, yes. But also surprising, considering a few years earlier Wallace feared flying. He traveled around the country frequently for work and decided to conquer his anxiety by learning to fly. He earned his pilot’s license earlier this year.
Wallace seems capable of mastering almost anything he tries — with a few limits.
“I wanted to be a lawyer since I was about this tall,” he says, stretching out his palm at knee level. “I also wanted to be a rock star and professional football player, but showed no talent in either of those areas.”
Deciding to conquer the bar rather than carry a ball was a simple decision. Wallace earned his law degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1986, following in his father’s footsteps. William Wallace was a prominent Cleveland lawyer with Thompson Hine. As a young boy, Wallace saw his father testify before Congress regarding product liability laws.
“He was my hero, idol and be-all-everything,” says Wallace.
After law school, Wallace spent six years with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP.
“I was trained by some of the best lawyers in Cleveland, guys you would read about if you just opened the newspaper,” he says. “But I had an entrepreneurial spirit, and I wanted to try a smaller firm.”
In 1992, Wallace joined Kelley, McCann & Livingstone LLP, where he could serve up-and-coming businesses. The firm merged with Taft in 2001.
“I came full circle,” says Wallace. “I started at a mega firm, went to a smaller one, and now I’m back at a substantial firm.” He specializes in business litigation, securities litigation, employment litigation and construction law.
“Business litigation gives you a unique opportunity to become an expert in so many different fields, depending on the client you’re representing,” says Wallace. Whether he’s working with a large bank or a small construction company, he must become intimate with the business.
Recently, Wallace took a crash course in variable data printing to help an entrepreneur protect his patents on the technology.
“This little guy took on the biggest company in the industry — took on Goliath,” says Wallace. “When we filed suit, they said we were crazy and laughed at us at the first status conference in front of the judge. In the end, they forked over many millions of dollars for the right to use the technology.”
It’s that adrenaline rush, the ability to help people that keeps Wallace intrigued with business law.
“I get to do something that I love to do, and I get to actually help clients who need it,” he says. For many of the companies Wallace represents, the survival of the business hinges on the outcome of the case. “You’ve affected a lot of lives when you’re successful,” he says.
Wallace has influenced many peers, too.
“While litigation can be stressful, Dave brings a perception, a personality and a sense of humor to a case and to the office that makes it truly pleasant to work with him,” says Stephen O’Bryan, partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office at Taft.
More than 200 attorneys work for the Cincinnati-based firm throughout Ohio and Kentucky.
Despite his busy work schedule, Wallace remains active in the community. He serves on the board of trustees for United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland. It’s a charity close to his heart since Wallace’s older brother suffered a serious brain injury in a snowmobile accident at age 23.
Wallace also teaches students at John Marshall High School about the U.S. Constitution as part of a program organized by the Cleveland Bar Association. The Chagrin Falls resident is married to Sharon Sobol Jordan, the CEO of Cleveland’s Center for Families and Children, and has three children.
At the end of the day, Wallace measures his worth by his father’s yardstick. “He told me my credibility was everything. Once you compromised it, you could never go back,” he says. “He conducted himself with integrity, and that’s the way I try to do it.”