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Indiana women trial lawyers preparing for Congressional push

May 17, 2017
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Indiana attorneys (from left) Betsy Greene, Mary Beth Ramey, Andrea Hailey and Kathy Farinas meet with federal legislators in 2015. (Photo courtsey of Betsy Greene)

A contingent of Indiana female trial lawyers will head to Washington, D.C., this month to participate in the 20th anniversary of the American Association for Justice Women Trial Lawyers Caucus lobby day.

They will spend May 25 on Capitol Hill, talking to Indiana representatives and senators about issues and legislation that impact plaintiffs and their access to the courthouse. More than 100 women trial lawyers from around the country will be part of the effort, lobbying the Congressional delegations from their own states and raising the profile of female attorneys.

“It’s really opened my eyes to how our government works, and it’s given me a little bit of hope that in these bleak times, our voices can be heard,” said Kathy Farinas, partner at George & Farinas LLP in Indianapolis.

Farinas has participated in lobby days twice before. She will join about five other Indiana attorneys, including Betsy Greene, who has made the trip to Congress 16 times, and Lynn Toops, who will be attending for the first time.

The activity and influence of the women’s caucus are in stark contrast to the group that was present when Greene, partner at Greene & Schultz in Bloomington, joined the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association in 1989. Then it was the women’s auxiliary, primarily for the spouses of the attorney members.

She was just beginning to build her career as a trial lawyer and wanted to be seen as one of the guys, so she avoided any group with the word “female” in its title. Looking back, she said that approach was a little misguided.

Since she has become involved with the women’s caucus, Greene has seen the group grow and gain clout in the larger organization. The caucus has raised money, undertaken service projects and groomed women for leadership positions in the ITLA.

Also, it has provided a place where women trial lawyers can network and support each other as many of them share the daily juggling of work and family responsibilities. Toops, a partner at Cohen & Malad LLP in Indianapolis, joined the caucus to connect with women attorneys she credits with inspiring her to participate in lobby day.

The women’s caucus will convene May 24 to prep for the lobbying effort. They will review the agenda set by the AAJ and their talking points on each item as well as engage in some mock lobbying sessions. Once on Capitol Hill, the women will have a full schedule, moving from building to building to meet either with the legislators or their staff members.

Some of the meetings can be perfunctory when the congressional member supports tort reform, but Greene believes just by talking, the women attorneys can break the stereotype many elected officials may have of trial lawyers. The perception that plaintiff attorneys file frivolous lawsuits, hinder businesses and are only trying to make money can change when the women arrive to discuss the issues.

“I feel like it’s worth doing,” Greene said of lobby day. “I think we’re having an impact.”•

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