First chair

Violinist-turned-lawyer combines his loves at a symphonic practice

Violinist-turned-lawyer combines his loves at a symphonic practice
By Dustin J. Seibert
Chicago Lawyer correspondant

Kevin Case is the owner and sole operator of Case Arts Law, where he focuses almost exclusively on representing orchestral musicians in labor, employment and union matters. He is also general counsel to the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians.

His work is directly connected to his first career: An accomplished professional violinist who performed regularly with several ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Lyric Opera. He also served as concertmaster for a number of symphonies before making the move to law school at age 34.

Case Arts Law is essentially a one-man shop — “If I need help I can always hire contract attorneys or paralegals, but when bargaining on behalf of musicians, there only needs to be one attorney at the table,” he said — and he doesn’t have to worry about competition from other lawyers.

“Traditional labor law firms have clients in the arts world, and most of them are in New York, but I’m not aware of anyone that specifically represents classical musicians,” he said. “It’s about as much of a niche practice as you can get.”

Because of his professional background, Case also benefits from not having to deal with a learning curve that’s inherent in many attorney-client relationships as well as from having a naturally sympathetic approach toward clients who encounter the same professional hurdles he once did.

“I’ve found a practice that I enjoy because it’s very gratifying to me,” Case said. “If I do my job right, I am helping musicians work and make a decent living, and that feels good.”

CL: How did you get your start being a musician?

Case: I was fortunate enough to be raised in a generation when they still had music programs in schools, so I was exposed to all kinds of instruments. There were several available to me, and I just took to the violin very quickly; it just felt right to me. Aside from school I taught myself how to play for a year, and my parents saw that and figured out I was serious, so they got me a violin teacher. I grew up training to be a violinist, went to school and made a living as a violinist for about 12 years before law school.

CL: When did you decide to pursue law professionally?

Case: During my time working for orchestras as a violinist, I became drawn to certain aspects of the law. I served on a number of orchestral committees where I could deal with those issues day in and day out, and I found myself fascinated with it. It planted the bug in my mind, and I was still a violinist thinking if there was something else I would be doing it would be the law. That idea got stronger over the course of a few years, so by 2003 I just decided to just do it and enroll in law school.

CL: Did you want to just stop being a professional musician for good?

Case: I recognized that if I attended law school with the intention on starting a career as a lawyer, I would have to put my focus on that. So I knew I would have to put the violin aside for a while, and I did. I played a little bit, but after law school I did a clerkship and was a litigator at Jenner & Block for four years, which didn’t leave a lot of time for outside pursuits. But when I started my current practice, I had a lot more flexibility in my schedule, and I got back to playing the violin a fair amount.

CL: What did your early legal career look like?

Case: I started as an associate at Jenner & Block in 2007. As you can imagine, there was a lot of financial services litigation going on between then and 2011, so as a general litigation associate, my practice was pretty focused on that. It was a totally different focus than what got me interested in law school, but if you have the opportunity to be a litigation associate at a firm like Jenner, you take it. It was a great opportunity — I got invaluable experience and I learned a lot. But it’s hard to start your own practice right out of law school.

CL: Was it a jarring experience to move from a musical to a legal career?

Case: Yes and no. Certainly the practical aspects of going to an office eight to 10 hours a day is different from being a musician. But there are certainly similarities in that they both require a tremendous amount of work and focus, and both are goal-oriented. As a musician, you’re usually preparing for a performance or audition or some kind of event; in law, it’s pretty similar: You have a trial or brief that’s due and there’s always a goal you’re working toward. I’ve found that my background as a musician really helped me in my practice. In fact, I know several musicians who have made a similar transition and they’ve done pretty well.

CL: How does your business work?

Case: A lot of my practice is focused on supporting orchestral musicians in union representation, contractual negotiations and their working conditions. Orchestras in the U.S. are unionized and represented by the American Federation of Musicians, and I work for local unions and in that capacity. I also represent musicians in a dozen orchestras around the country. ICSOM [International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians] is a conference formed to represent orchestral musicians within the AFM. I was a delegate to ICSOM when I was a member of the Grant Park Symphony in the 1990s, and all of us delegates would get together every August to discuss pertinent issues.

I had a lot of connections within ICSOM, so when I returned to the field as an attorney, I was able to quickly reacquaint myself and get up to speed with all of the issues. As I started to represent more orchestras, my involvement with ICSOM became more helpful, so when their general counsel stepped down in 2015, they selected me as their replacement. I’ve been enjoying my time with them ever since.

CL: What are some issues that you encounter regularly?

Case: It’s a surprisingly contentious industry in terms of labor management relations, which most people wouldn’t expect because it looks like everyone is just playing music (laughs). But on the orchestra management side, you’re facing a very challenging environment in which the way people consume the culture is in constant flux, and a great deal of money needs to be raised every year, so there are real financial challenges. From the musician’s perspective, these are incredibly highly skilled professionals, much like athletes and people with advanced degrees who work incredibly hard all their lives to hone a skill, yet they’re often compensated pretty poorly. Also, a lot of the rules developed over time that are designed to protect musicians can be arcane and Byzantine. Throw all that in the mix and contract negotiations tend to get very difficult.

CL: Do you still get to perform professionally?

Case: Because I own my own practice and have flexibility, I’m able to play a little more than when I was at Jenner. I am the assistant concertmaster for Music of the Baroque; they were nice enough to allow me to play through law school and when I was at Jenner, so I felt very fortunate because it consists of musicians from the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera. They’re quite good, and I feel as if I can hold my own again. We do about six to seven concert series a year along with rehearsals that I can work around if I don’t have arbitration or court dates.