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Stepping outside the career comfort zone

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Ice Miller LLP started its energy and utilities practice in late 2011, intent on scooping up more business on the regulatory end of the utility lawyering spectrum.

While building out such a practice takes time – rivals like Faegre Baker Daniels LLP have been fixtures at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for years – Ice Miller has already emerged as one of the few women-led utility bars in the Midwest.

No fewer than six women hold key positions at the practice. That includes the recent hiring of former IURC administrative law judge Angela Weber.
 

pashos Pashos

Not the least of these is Kay Pashos, former president of PSI Energy, now known as Duke Energy Indiana. She is one of few utility lawyers who has served as the top executive of a utility, a distinction that could give Ice an edge in growing the energy-utility practice.

“It’s people like that who understand the business issues,” said Melissa Proffitt Reese, who helped create and co-chairs the energy/utilities group at Ice. “Kay has made those kinds of decisions. That makes her unique.”

Neither Pashos nor Ice may have gotten to this point had the Northwestern University School of Law graduate not embraced an unfamiliar role at PSI. To that extent, her experience might be instructive for those unnerved about challenges ahead in their careers.

The two-year stint as president of the electric utility from 2004 to 2006 “really took me out of my comfort zone,” admitted Pashos, 54.

Suddenly, the behind-the-scenes attorney was forced into a more public role – giving speeches, dealing directly with big customer groups, and exploring economic development opportunities for the utility.

She is, after all, a career lawyer in utility regulation, and a mild-mannered one at that. Being the public face of a giant utility isn’t a natural fit for her.

“It was a good opportunity for me to stretch a bit,” she added. “I’m an introvert that is happy to be writing legal briefs.”

Douglas Esamann, a PSI colleague at the time who today is president of Plainfield-based Duke Energy Indiana, had those career discussions with Pashos before she took the president’s role.

“She would you tell that she’s still an introvert,” Esamann said.

“That [role] was probably one of the biggest things she was able to accomplish and tackle. … That was part of her development. She embraced it.”

Her career could have been relatively one-dimensional had she not taken the chance and stepped into the business side of the utility as its president.

Pashos, who attended North Central High School in Indianapolis, graduated from DePauw University with a degree in political science.

After graduating from Northwestern with a law degree in 1984, she worked as an attorney for a series of utilities, including PSI, Cinergy and Duke. In 2008, she worked 14 months at Baker & Daniels, before heading to Madison, Wis., for a role as vice president of regulatory affairs and deputy general counsel at Alliant Energy.

That role also entailed more of the executive/business operations side of the utility.

“It was kind of my dream job,” she said.

But the distance from Indianapolis was a challenge. Her husband, Neal Steinbart, is a lawyer in municipal finance at Barnes & Thornburg LLP. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

In 2010, she left Alliant and launched her own utility consulting business, Pashos & Associates. It was enjoyable being an entrepreneur, she said, but not having to deal with IT and employee issues.

Ice Miller snapped her up soon after as it sought a seasoned lawyer for its expanding utility practice.

The electric utility industry, in particular, is facing all kinds of challenges, such as tightening federal regulations on pollutants and on greenhouse gas emissions. Utilities increasingly are turning to renewable energy, such as wind, which presents its own issues.

“The industry for the 25 years I’ve been involved is always interesting, always changing,” Pashos said.

Representing utility interests over the years has put Pashos at odds with counsel for customer groups, including Todd Richardson, a director in the utilities practice of Lewis & Kappes.

“I’d give her high marks on being experienced, intelligent and she handles herself well in the hearing room,” said Richardson, who represents industrial customers of utilities.

Ice is achieving a critical mass of attorneys on the regulatory side, Reese said. The firm is already doing some legal work for Duke on the Edwardsport coal gasification project, for example.

“Now is our time to build this into a sustainable practice,” Pashos said. “I think we have that bench strength now.”•

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This story originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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