Temple Law, the plaintiffs’ Bar, and many of the finest advocates mourned the recent loss of Herbert ‘Herb’ Kolsby. A giant of the Philadelphia Bar and a 1951 Temple Law graduate, Kolsby litigated personal injury cases on both small and grand scales, taking on auto and drug manufacturers.
But Kolsby was so much more than a successful litigator. Described at one time by Philadelphia Magazine as “the best orator in the city,” he was a winner of the prestigious Musmanno Award given annually to “the person best exemplifying the same high integrity, courage, and concern for human rights as exhibited by the late Justice.” And he taught by example, in the courtroom and in academia.
Temple Law holds a special place for Kolsby. Decades ago he helped design and direct the nation’s first (and now oldest) LL.M. in Trial Advocacy program. His signature course at the Law School was an advanced trial advocacy course simply titled “Speech.” And until the pandemic, the annual Kolsby lecture was a hallmark of Temple’s appreciation of advocacy – a series to promote the discipline of trial advocacy within the national academic and legal community.
Many shared kind words. Noted defense lawyer Bill Ricci put it succinctly: “He was a master, and a kind man!” Professor Louis Natali added that Kolsby was “a great jokester. He was never at a loss to say something aptly funny.He was also a great one for introductions, sometimes going on and on., always done with love and care.”
But what may be the most important and lasting tribute to Kolsby were the lessons he gave informally, in a brief aside or by demonstrating his prowess in the courtroom. Upon his passing, here are some of the recollections that were shared:
Joseph Morano: When I took the LLM program Herb gave a sample closing argument. I was in awe of how passionate, intelligent and emotional it was and all I could think to myself is “that is exactly how I want to do this, not just closings but practicing law.” I took copious notes of his closing and there was one section I especially liked where he compares pain and suffering to a help wanted ad but only it’s a job that is 24 hours a day seven days a week until you die.
At my next trial I use this in my closing and ended up getting a significant verdict in a tough case. When I later began teaching at the LLM and ran into Herb I thanked him and told him how I stole some of his material, used it in my closing and ended up getting a nice verdict. Herb congratulated me and said “don’t worry about it Joe I stole that from Jim Beasley.” This is just one small example as to how generous Herb was with his time and brilliance.
I remember Eddie Ohlbaum and Bill Bowe always used to say he was the great champion of what he called “silent advocacy.” How you sit. How you stand. How you move throughout the courtroom with ease and grace. And what all of that subtly communicates to the jury about how you can be trusted as an ambassador of the truth.
Mostly I am consumed by his warmth of personality. I recall his spectacular, note-free, introductions of his eponymous speakers. All were outstanding…
I was a young lawyer and was second chair with Herb Kolsby. This was pre-internet. Herb was going to cross a medical expert, and he had me go to the medical library and research and copy articles. We thought we had good materials.
The expert gets on the stand and claims he has independent research which refutes our case. We had learned that the doctor received money from the pharma industry for the research. The cross-examination went research article by article and wrested from the witness how mujch he was paid for each.
In his closing, Kolsby put each amount on the courtroom blackboard and totaled them up – erroneously. I could not get his attention to correct this. Juror goes “that’s not correct, you forget to carry the 1.” Then another juror says “you added it to the wrong column.” Then the judge gets involved, “I think you meant 14K not 1400.”
It finally dawned on me that Herb did this deliberately to get the jury involved. Herb never admitted it – but it was a magical moment.
Anthony ‘Tony’ Bocchino:
I was extremely fortunate to have taught with him and to have learned much of the art of trial advocacy from him. One of the joys of my life at Temple was Herb’s weekly stop-ins at my office before he taught his weekly seminar. I denominated these encounters as moments of advocacy with Uncle Herb. I was blessed and honored to have known Herb. A simple measure of his greatness for me was that his yearly introduction of the Kolsby lecturer was the highlight of each event, his speaking with humor, high intellect, and true joy at being the icon of advocacy that he was.
Thank you Herb Kolsby – for the clients and causes you aided, the lessons you gave, and the impressions that will last well beyond your lifetime.