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Leadership in Law 2014: Hon. Timothy W. Oakes

Judge, Marion Superior Court, Civil 13, Indianapolis • Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, 1991

April 23, 2014
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15col-Oakes.jpg Hon. Timothy W. Oakes (IL photo/Eric Learned)

Hon. Timothy W. Oakes is known for his willingness to work on administrative matters that affect the court and find ways to improve the judicial system. He created a program whereby he and a fellow judge host and mentor law students, and as part of that program developed a curriculum that provides the students exposure to the practical aspects of the practice of law. He has worked on several successful court projects, including gaining additional funding for guardians ad litem in child in need of services cases. Tim understands the importance of being a civil servant and the responsibility that comes with it. He is driven not by accolades but by a desire to serve the judicial system.

What was the biggest surprise going from attorney to judge?

Everyone tells you and it is true: Being a judge is extremely isolating. Even my best friends and wife stopped calling me for lunch. My parents don’t even drive up from Kentucky to visit me anymore, and I’m an only child with their only four grandchildren.

You created a program to provide mentoring to law students. Why is it important to work with the students?

Mentoring matters – it can define and direct careers and lives. I’ve benefited from truly exceptional mentors and friendships. To have just a piece of that positive influence on someone else’s life and career would be exceptionally rewarding.

You’re currently working to expand e-filing in the county’s civil courts. What’s one way technology has made it easier to be a judge and one way it’s made it more difficult?

Access to files, documents, exhibits has been made easier not just for judges, but for everyone. The transition phase which we, as a legal profession, are just beginning is, and will be, the most difficult. Some folks, including me, have to adjust some old habits and comforts.

What was the worst or most memorable job you had prior to becoming an attorney?

The most painful one was working for a federal bureaucracy with some very talented people. However, despite the talent, the bureaucracy favored form over outcomes. My supervisor literally told me once during a performance evaluation that I had to stop working late. I thought I was living in a sequel to Kafka.

Why do you think people have negative stereotypes about lawyers?

Lawyers, by design, make it look easy. People don’t like seeing others make significant money for something they do for free – give advice. They don’t see the time and training that goes into making that lawyer’s advice solid and correct, not just a hunch.

Is there a moment in your career you wish you could do over?

In life, yes; in my career, no. My career mistakes usually resulted in me learning something about life, myself or others. The experience of those mistakes can’t be duplicated in a classroom or a lecture, and they can’t be bought other than with time and trying.

What class do you wish you could have skipped in law school?

All of them … except legal writing and except for the classes I took with Professors Papke, Dean Harvey, Jegen and Kinney – great professors who made being in the classroom enjoyable and intellectually stimulating.

What’s something you’ve learned over the years that you wish you could go back in time and tell your younger self?

Not much because experience is earned, not taught.  I wouldn’t have listened to me anyway, except for maybe this: I would tell my younger self, “Go hangout with Grandpa Oakes even more than you do because one day he will be gone and there will no longer be ‘next weekends.’”

What are some tips for achieving a work/life balance?

Imagine your funeral; imagine who you would want there and what you would want them to be saying about you. Now, work back from there, and let that be your guide for today and every day.

What’s been the biggest change in the practice of law you’ve seen since you began?

Socialization among the lawyers has declined, which is not good, and the increase of technology as tools of the trade has changed the business model for lawyers forever.

If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what would you do for a living?

Lobby the Legislature or teach adolescents probably. Insert your own joke here, but both are worthy professions that don’t get the recognition, treatment or place in our society each deserve.

What civic cause is the most important to you?

Generally anything to do with abused, neglected or disadvantaged children or anything that helps military veterans.

We hear a lot about civility. Have you noticed a change in how attorneys treat each other since you began practicing?

Not really. I know there is that perception of increased incivility, but I also see a good number of quality lawyers practicing with civility every day. I suspect the ratio has always been about the same, but because there are so many more lawyers, the ill-tempered ones perhaps garner a disproportionate share of our memories.

Who is your favorite fictional lawyer?

Atticus Finch – strong, loyal, well-educated, principled, a dedicated advocate and perhaps most importantly, southern.

What’s something about you not many people know?

Probably nothing – I’m such an open book. I can keep everyone’s secrets but my own.


 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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