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Competing for a cause

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Through the end of March, Indiana law firms will be collecting donations for two charitable causes.

March Against Hunger, a statewide food drive to benefit Indiana’s food banks, offers a prize for top contributors in four categories: Large firm, medium-sized firm, small firm, and public/nonprofit firm. Now in its fourth year, the food drive is an initiative that Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller created.

“When I talk about it, I always mention two things – lawyers do have this mission to serve others, so there’s that part of this,” Zoeller said. “But the other is, you can’t deny that lawyers are very competitive. I’ve got a touch of it myself. I do think the competition – kind of a friendly rivalry – it does play off of that.”

On March 8, lawyers were preparing for another event that pits firm against firm: the Fight for Air Climb, which benefits the American Lung Association.

food-drive-15col.jpg At the Indianapolis office of Kightlinger & Gray, partner Libby Moss, receptionist Jennifer Rhorer and Director of Administration Jennifer Ellis (from left to right) have been working to generate donations for March Against Hunger. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Dan Long, of Frost Brown Todd, said that 2011 was the first year in which law firms competed against each other in the annual stair-climb, which this year was March 10. He explained that other firms were happy to participate in the event.

“At least in the Indianapolis area, we’re all very competitive, and one way to get lawyers involved is to tell them someone else can do it better, or to tell them they can’t do it,” he said.

Participants climb 35 flights of stairs in the Regions Bank Tower in Indianapolis once, twice or three times. Last year, Frost Brown Todd edged out Barnes & Thornburg to win first place among law firms that participated.

While Long appreciates the competition – and the bragging rights that come with winning – what appeals to him more is that law firms are among the top corporate contributors to the fundraiser.

“The thing what I like about this is three of the top five – Frost, Bingham, Barnes – are law firms,” he said.

For those less fortunate

When Greg Zoeller became attorney general in January 2009, he remembered that when he had been a deputy in that office, the Indiana State Bar Association had approached AG Steve Carter about promoting membership in the state bar.

Zoeller expected the ISBA would likely ask the same of him.

“I started to think about what I could go out and ask in return,” he said. He recalled reading about a food drive promoted by the Virginia State Bar Association and decided he wanted to implement a similar program in Indiana.  

fooddrivetrophy.jpg This traveling trophy went to Frost Brown Todd last year for winning the law firm competition in the Fight for Air Climb. (Photo Submitted)

“So, when members of the Indiana State Bar Association came and asked if I would help keep up membership, I said I would love to – and I asked if they would help with my program,” he said.

Since then, the ISBA and attorney general have worked together with Feeding Indiana’s Hungry to spread the word about March Against Hunger. The campaign encourages lawyers to contribute food and monetary donations for the state’s food banks. Unlike the previous three years, this year’s food drive will last the entire month of March, rather than two weeks.

Last year, Zoeller expanded the food drive to include firms in Ohio and Kentucky since food banks located on the other side of Indiana’s state lines serve some Indiana residents. Fifty law firms in Indiana and Kentucky participated, collecting more than 6,000 pounds of food and $27,574, which combined is the equivalent of 143,986 pounds (or 72 tons) of assistance.

South Bend’s Tuesley Hall Konopa won first place in the small firm category last year, raising $1,331 and 29 pounds of food. Partner Tom Hall explained that the competition was a natural fit for the firm because it already holds an annual Thanksgiving event to benefit the Food Bank of Northern Indiana.

When asked if the competitive nature of March Against Hunger helped motivate attorneys, he laughed, then said, “It helps, and we’re a little disappointed that we’ll have to go up against much larger firms this year.” Having added some attorneys since last year, the firm will be bumped up into the medium-sized ffood-drive-factbox.gifirm category.

Barnes & Thornburg was the first-place winner in large firm category last year, donating 1,031 pounds of food and $8,395. Robert Grand, managing partner of the Indianapolis office, explained that charitable giving has always been a priority for the firm.

“We have a lot of folks here that are involved in a lot of different things in the community, and we have had a long history of participating in those things – for instance, when the Bears were playing the Colts in the Super Bowl, we did a (drive) for who could raise the most for the food bank in our city,” Grand said.

Terre Haute firm Fleschner Stark Tanoos & Newlin took first place in 2011 in the medium-sized firm category, raising $3,126 and 310 pounds of food. The Department of Justice/Office of the U.S. Trustee in Indianapolis earned first place honors in the public/nonprofit firm category, donating $1,193 and 67 pounds of food.

Strength in numbers

Frost Brown Todd has four teams – 31 people – competing in the Fight for Air Climb including Park Tudor Kids, whose team captain is Long’s 12-year-old daughter.

Mike Limrick, captain of the Bingham Greenebaum Doll team, said 10 people from his firm will participate.

“I’ve been really surprised at the response and just the number of firms that are involved,” he said.

Taft Stettinius & Hollister is a corporate sponsor, and Long said Krieg DeVault is sponsoring a team.

Barnes & Thornburg is fielding teams for a “staff v. partners” challenge.

“Whatever they’re doing, it’s working for them – they have 20 more climbers than last year, and they’ve more than doubled what they raised last year,” he said. Still, Long wouldn’t mind holding onto the first-place traveling trophy this year.•

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