BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
“I’m still a poor kid living on the wrong side of the tracks,” says Ken Nunn, 72. It’s a difficult image to reconcile with the smartly dressed personal-injury attorney seen in countless television commercials, on the back of the local Yellow Pages, and driving through the streets of Bloomington waving from his Rolls-Royce convertible.
Nunn is happy to rattle off figures about his fortune—the Rolls-Royce cost $402,000; his home is 14,000 square feet with an eight-car garage; he owns 30 custom-made suits, many of them Italian—yet none of this material wealth, he says, can chase away the specter of his childhood poverty.
“I keep looking back over my shoulder at where I came from,” says Nunn, who was raised by a single mother in Jeffersonville, Indiana, often without heat or electricity, shuttling to one home after another following multiple evictions. “We were completely broke,” he says, recalling the single pair of pants he wore throughout his senior year of high school. The low point, however, was the two weeks he spent in jail at age 17 after he was caught selling golf clubs he had stolen from the trunk of a car. (In an odd twist of fate, the man he stole from became a judge and Nunn tried a case before him.)
The arrest was a wake-up call, motivating Nunn to complete high school and enroll in Indiana University. He was married during his sophomore year and earned a business degree in 1964 and a J.D. in ’67, all while supporting himself by selling home-cleaning products door to door. He set up his first law practice in a second-floor office on the downtown Square, “with nothing but a card table and four folding chairs,” he recalls.
Nunn started out as a criminal defense lawyer but realized “there’s no money in crooks,” he says. He switched to the more lucrative path of personal- injury litigation, which took off when he began advertising in 1992. Twenty years later, the Ken Nunn Law Office takes approximately 3,000 cases each year and is ranked first in the state for the number of jury trials for injured plaintiffs.
Though his success has turned him into a One Percenter, Nunn still sees himself as a scrappy fighter on the side of the little guy. “Right now the lawyers are the only thing standing between people and the big, rich companies that want to exploit them,” he says. “The whole time we had Occupy Bloomington, I was out there feeding the occupants pizzas.” On a larger scale, Nunn notes, he recently gave Indiana University $250,000 for the installation of handrails at Assembly Hall and donates royally to a variety of local charities.