James R. Keller
Attorney, Arbitrator, Mediator
ADR including Arbitration and Mediation
Complex Business Disputes
Master Mediator Panel
The Covid-19 virus has not stopped my new law firm—Midwest Law LLC, which opened on May 1, 2020—from assisting lawyers and parties in ADR. Since Spring 2020, I have mediated and arbitrated many construction cases mostly via Zoom and a few in person. They have involved one of this country’s largest and newest aquariums (400,000 gallons), a world-class fitness center associated with a major league professional baseball organization, and the new training facility for a professional hockey team, among others. Confidentiality prevents details and specifics on these and all ADR cases. I also have been a neutral on disputes about tax services, home construction, two separate apartment complex construction projects and several other construction and commercial matters, both large and small. All participants agree—there is no substitute for in-person hearings and contact. But, Zoom is working reasonably well, and we have adapted, in this difficult time. Zoom continues to be an invaluable bridge for parties and counsel to resolve their disputes with safety in mind and no delay.
See my recent feature in St. Louis Construction News & Review, March/April, 2021.
My Mom’s Family gave me the Law:
Tried more than 100 Cases:
At age 16, I informed my parents I wanted to be a lawyer and try cases. My parents were not lawyers, but they completely supported my decision. My mom’s father and brother were lawyers. They both became Iowa Supreme Court Justices and gave me the “lawyer bug.” My grandpa, uncle and I would spend hours over the years in spirited debates about the law.
My dream became reality. I have tried 100 plus trials/arbitrations and counting. The longest jury trial so far is nine months. My longest bench trial so far is five months. More than 40 trials lasted at least one week. Dozens involved millions of dollars in claims. Amazing opportunities allowed me to try many cases and many long, complex cases. I was in the right place at the right time.
Having devoted my professional energy since 1980 to learning how to best present a case to a jury, to a judge and to an arbitrator or panel of three arbitrators, I am still learning. I understand better now than ever before effective ways to tailor the presentation to the audience. While I may never have the perfect answer, I will always try to get there.
I have tried cases representing as plaintiffs and defendants many of America’s largest companies along with smaller ones, partnerships, joint ventures and individuals touching on vast legal issues, embracing all aspects of construction as well as many other areas of the law, including unfair competition, trademarks and patents, antitrust, partnerships, trusts and estates, sales of businesses, eminent domain, motel brokers, natural gas suppliers, employment such as wrongful termination, contracts of all sorts, torts such as personal injury, maritime law, distributorships, franchises, real estate including boundary disputes and trespass.
Briefed and Argued more than 15 Appeals:
My appellate experience includes all three courts of appeals in Missouri, two appellate courts in Illinois and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Among other issues, the appeals involved arbitral immunity, court jurisdiction, mechanic’s liens, consumer fraud, computer fraud, breach of contract, quantum meruit, jury instructions, federal Rules of Civil Procedure, patent ownership, negligent misrepresentation and punitive damages.
Forty plus years in the law: forty of my briefcases during that span, plus a small sampling of construction plans (blueprints) representing the hundreds I have reviewed over the years.
Arbitrator in more than 200 Cases:
I became an arbitrator in 1999. Since then I have arbitrated more than 200 cases as the sole arbitrator or as one of three panel members. Similar to my experience as a trial lawyer, 40 of my arbitrations have lasted a week or more with the longest hearing taking four weeks.
I have been the chair arbitrator in American Arbitration Association (AAA) matters in more than fifteen multimillion dollar hearings with a panel of three arbitrators lasting from one to four weeks in St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Wichita, Topeka, Omaha, Lincoln, Houston, Dallas, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Phoenix. I also have been a panel arbitrator in Los Angeles, Springfield (Missouri and Illinois), Edwardsville, Quincy, Clayton, and Columbia.
Representative Issues as an Arbitrator:
Cases before me have included a sewage treatment facility, waterworks, ethanol plants, power plants, office buildings, major convention center, high-rise hotel, home construction, long-span truss design, streets and highways, large assisted living facilities, franchise rights and termination, construction of churches and schools, financial arrangements for 20-plus interrelated companies, farmer and insurance issues, government buildings, universities, day-care centers, structural, design, oversight and supervision, delay, liquidated damages, 80-unit apartment complex, construction of airport, shopping centers, commercial garages, police and fire stations, roofs, floors, bond, surety, escrow and payment, foundation, delay, cost-overruns, scheduling and critical path, liquidated damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, etc. Master in several arbitrations on discovery disputes including document production. R-7 arbitrator for AAA on many joinder and consolidation issues.
Mediator in more than 170 Cases:
I have mediated more than 170 cases since becoming a mediator in 1999, dozens lasting multiple days and involving up to seven parties. The hearings have been throughout the Midwest including St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka, Wichita, Springfield (Missouri and Illinois), Columbia (Missouri and Illinois), Cape Girardeau, Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Naperville, Normal, Edwardsville, Carlinville and Collinsville, among other places.
Representative Issues as a Mediator:
My experience covers a vast range of construction disputes involving public works contracts, construction of a new federal courthouse, airport, schools, government nuclear facilities, substations for a light-rail mass transit system, a water district, a sewer district, 400,000 gallon aquarium, surety bond coverage, delay damages, extra work, unforeseen conditions, contract documents, design-build responsibilities, long-span truss design, liquidated damages, failure to perform, design errors, scope of work, workmanship, critical path, scheduling, and equitable adjustment to contract. In addition, I have mediated numerous business disputes on non-construction issues including breach of contract, non-competes, mergers and acquisitions, franchisors and franchisees, distributors and manufacturers, sale of businesses, partnerships and personal injury.
I advise clients on wide-ranging legal matters from small in dollar amount to large—although no matter is small to the person(s) affected. Negotiated and drafted complex contracts (including alliances and joint ventures) for owners, contractors, subcontractors, engineers, architects and lenders on many projects exceeding $1 billion, including nuclear power plants, hydroelectric power plants and international purchases of equipment and supplies.
My Dad’s Family gave me Construction:
My passion for construction runs deep. My dad had two shops at our home when I grew up, one for wood working and one for metal work and painting. He was always fixing or building something. I was his helper/apprentice. Continuing that experience, I have three workshops in my home. Grandpa Keller had a machine shop on his home property in Iowa the size of a football field. He used it to service all the equipment to run his company: Empire Sand and Material Co., Iowa’s largest supplier of materials for roads, and to build boats for his personal use on the Mississippi River. My great grandpa started the company in the 1800s. They dredged sand from the Des Moines River and crushed rock into gravel at their many quarries. It was long, hard, dirty work—hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I am thankful and lucky that my hard, dirty work is mostly confined to evenings and weekends addressing my home’s never-ending and ever-growing list of chores and projects, large and small.
Since 1980 I have represented construction clients in litigation, consulting, contract negotiation and drafting including owners, contractors, subcontractors, engineers, architects, suppliers, lenders, sureties and surveyors. Such diverse experience as a lawyer, covering many different points of views and priorities, continues to benefit me as a mediator and an arbitrator.
Solid brass steam whistle, pilot whistle and fire hose nozzle. All from my family's steamboat: "City of Eddyville," licensed in 1908, as the only steamboat on the Des Moines River, used to dredge sand from the River's bottom. Also shown is original delegate tag from a waterways convention on the boat in 1910.
Smallest photo features my great grandpa at the Empire plant.
Photo circa early 1900s.
Author, 150-plus articles and legal guidebooks, including recently:
Fifty Years of Construction Delay Claims, St. Louis Construction News and Review January-February 2020, P. 4.
Missouri Construction Delay Law: a 50 Year Review, The St. Louis Bar Journal, Vol. 66, No. 1, Summer 2019, PP. 12-18.
Architect’s Mechanics Lien Filed Too Late: Timing is Everything, Appellate Court Says, St. Louis Construction News and Review, November-December 2019, P. 4.
Subcontractor Ordered to Repay Contractor for Faulty Construction Plus Lost Profits, St. Louis Construction News and Review, September-October 2019, P. 4.
City Immune from Construction Lawsuit after Pedestrian’s Fall off Retaining Wall, St. Louis Construction News and Review, July-August 2019, P. 4.
Court Rules for and against Contractor and Subcontractor, St. Louis Construction News and Review, May-June 2019, P. 4.
Eastern District Orders Insurance Company Back to Trial Court, St. Louis Construction News and Review, March-April 2019, P. 6.
Eastern District Affirms Abuse of Process Damages in St. Louis County Subdivision Lot Split Lawsuit, St. Louis Construction News and Review, January-February 2019, P. 4.
Eighth Circuit Overturns $6 Million Jury Verdict Against Title Company on Mechanic’s Lien Insurance Exclusion, St. Louis Construction News and Review, May-June 2018, P. 8.
Loop Trolley Rolls Forward After Boundary-Related Lawsuit by Property Owners, St. Louis Construction News and Review, January-February 2018, P. 6.
Excavating Contractor Denied Recovery for Additional Subgrade Stabilization, St. Louis Construction News and Review, November-December 2017, P. 6.
Tenant Recovers Nearly $4.2 million for Downtown St. Louis Garage Repairs, St. Louis Construction News and Review, September-October 2017, P. 6.
Construction Damages under Missouri Law, The St. Louis Bar Journal, Vol. 64, No. 2, Fall 2017, PP. 26-32.
Legal Writer for the St. Louis Construction News and Review (a bi-monthly publication) from 1999-2020.
Speaker, 70-plus seminars. Most-recent include:
Hosted, AAA Panel Member Roundtable for Midwest Mediators and Arbitrators, October 16, 2019, Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard.
Speaker, AIA Documents for Half Moon for Engineers and Architects, February 5, 2019.
Speaker, Illinois Jury Instructions in Construction Cases for The Society of Illinois Construction Attorneys, June 19, 2018.
Speaker, Missouri Mechanic’s Liens for The Missouri Bar Annual Real Estate Institute, April 19, 2018.
Speaker, Recent Developments in Construction Law (Construction Damages under Missouri Law) sponsored by The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, November 29, 2017.
Speaker, Alternative Dispute Resolution Caselaw Update, sponsored by The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, June 6, 2017.
Speaker, Missouri Caselaw Update on Mediation and Arbitration, sponsored by The Missouri Bar, presented to the ADR Committee of The Missouri Bar, May 12, 2017.
2020, St. Louis Magazine Best Lawyers in Construction Law and Litigation-Construction Law.
Leading High-Stakes Construction Litigation Attorney of the Year, Missouri (2019), Leading Advisor Award (invitation only).
America’s Top 100 Bet-the-Company Litigators in Missouri (invitation only, high-stakes litigation exceeding $2,000,000, member 2019 and 2020).
Super Lawyer, Missouri and Kansas, Construction Litigation, Corporate Counsel Edition, Business Edition, 2006-present (invitation only).
Fellow, Construction Lawyers Society of America (invitation only).
Fellow, Society of Illinois Construction Attorneys (invitation only).
Top Lawyers 2019 & 2020 as published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (invitation only).
American Registry – America’s Most Honored Professionals – Top One Percent (invitation only).
Construction Arbitrator Master Panel with American Arbitration Association (limited to 100 nationwide) (invitation only).
Master Mediator Panel with American Arbitration Association (invitation only).
AV rated Martindale-Hubbell, 1988-present (the highest attorney rating) (invitation only).
Bar Licenses and Associations:
Licensed in Missouri, Illinois, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri federal courts, Southern District of Illinois federal court.
The Missouri Bar
Past Chair, ADR Committee
Fellow, Missouri Bar Foundation
The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis
Chair, Construction Law Committee
Past Chair, ADR Committee
Former member, Board of Governors
Illinois State Bar Association
Member, Construction and ADR Sections
American Arbitration Association
Member, Construction Arbitrator Master Panel (top 100 in America)
Member, Large Complex Case Panel for Arbitrators
Member, Master Mediator Panel
Member, Appellate Panel
Chair, Construction Advisory Committee for St. Louis Region
J.D., 1980, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri, (top 15%), Law Review: Urban Law Annual, Managing Editor, 1979–1980.
B.J., 1977, University of Missouri School of Journalism (top 10%), Phi Kappa Phi and Kappa Tau Alpha; reporter, Missouri Press News, State Capital Bureau in Jefferson City, MO, “stringer” for 55 rural Missouri newspapers, reporter/editor/editorial writer, Columbia Missourian, a daily newspaper.
Trustee and President, Maret Drive Improvement Association
Past Member, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Board of Trustees and Past President, Encore, created to host luncheons for the world’s best musicians and spread learning and appreciation of classical music
Fellow, Missouri Bar Foundation (invitation only)
Board Member, The Stadium Club, Busch Stadium II, 1987-1996 (invitation only)