Bucyrus attorney Robert Neff believes his musical experiences have influenced the way he practices law. According to Neff, it is important in both music and law to “listen for the blend, the synthesis of all of the elements of the performance.” He suggests, “If you are not listening to your clients, to opposing counsel, to the court, to the witnesses, and to the jury, should they be permitted to inquire, and synthesizing all that on the fly, you may be missing something.”
As a child, Neff played piano, trombone and electric bass in a garage band. He credits his mother, a classically trained pianist, soprano and music teacher, with instilling his early love of music. “If not for my mother’s untimely death when I was 14,” he said, “I no doubt would have continued with music.” After high school, Neff drifted away from music, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that he jumped back in to music, teaching himself to play the mandolin. He now exercises his mandolin skills as part of a local band and his vocal talents as a member of a men’s chorus.
The Hobo Band was created when Neff recruited two musician friends to play for an event called “Hobo Day” at the train depot that Neff was helping to restore. The friends, John Schnabel and Al Frazier, agreed to play as long as Neff agreed to play with them. Neff agreed and The Hobo Band was born; the trio has been performing for about a dozen years since.
Recently, Neff has also begun singing in the United in Harmony Men’s Chorus. He says he enjoys the performance aspect of these musical activities, and, whether the performances are “good or not so good,” he “can’t wait to go out there and do it again.” Relating this musical experience to the practice of law, Neff said, “I’ve heard that many of us become lawyers because we like to talk, but as our director for United in Harmony reminds us, “If the only voice you hear is your own, you are singing too loudly.”
When asked what draws him to music, Neff said, “I’m drawn to its promise of a restorative balance and of redemption.” He explained, “Music demands that you subordinate the analytical to the intuitive.” He believes that music is especially important for students. “I’ve witnessed numerous instances where students who might not have the opportunity or ability to distinguish themselves academically or athletically worked exceedingly hard and performed musically extremely well and enjoyed the well-deserved pride that comes from a good public performance,” Neff said, adding, “It gives them a tribe, a community, a sense of belonging. It also teaches them how to persevere, a lesson we often look to sports to teach.” Neff is involved in a local arts mentorship program that helps interested children to get musical instruction.
Neff earned his law degree from the University of Toledo College of Law. He began his legal career in a clerkship with the Southern District of Ohio and Judge S. Arthur Spiegel, where he worked on both civil and criminal cases. He practiced with a civil litigation firm in Cincinnati until 1996, when he returned home to join his father’s practice before the elder Neff retired six years later. Neff continues at this firm, where he practices general civil law with a concentration in probate law.
Neff says he has modeled his legal path on his father’s own career. Describing his father as “one of the most selfless individuals [he has] ever known,” Neff reported that his father’s dedication to helping others continues to influence his career, especially when he is representing and counseling individuals who are planning for and experiencing life’s transitions. Neff’s father served as law director for the City of Bucyrus for 34 years, and the younger Neff served in the same position for more than seven years.
Whether he’s singing for the United in Harmony Men’s chorus, playing on stage in the Hobo Band, or practicing law, Neff strives to positively influence the lives of people around him. “I’ve always chosen paths that gave me opportunities to have a direct impact on the lives of others, hopefully for the better,” Neff said.