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Attorneys face health concerns head on

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It’s never easy to handle an emergency when it comes to someone’s health, on a personal or professional level. But some early planning can help, especially when it comes to knowing who will take over the workload.

Giving this some thought before an emergency, and having someone there to actually do work when needed, can also help an individual focus on getting better.

While a Carmel attorney and Marion Superior master commissioner both said they never planned on getting cancer, both said they were extremely grateful for the immeasurable support they’ve received from the legal community.

Stephenie Jocham of Jocham Harden Dimick Jackson was diagnosed earlier this year with sarcoma in her leg and recently learned the cancer had spread to her lungs. Master Commissioner Mary Ann G. Oldham was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. Both have undergone surgeries and other treatments.
 

stephanie jocham Jocham

For Oldham, she has been able to work with attorneys, judges, and court staff to cover for her when needed. Jocham has also had many attorneys and other members of the legal community offer their help – including attorneys outside of the nine-attorney firm she manages.

By knowing someone is there to get the work done, both agree it has helped them focus on doing what they need to do to get and stay healthy.

While Oldham and Jocham have had support systems in place because they work in offices with others who understand their work and can easily step in when needed, this isn’t always easy for solo attorneys who face emergencies.

Terry Harrell, executive director of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, said JLAP does receive calls when an attorney faces serious illness or death, but JLAP doesn’t provide this assistance as a service so it is up to the attorneys to plan ahead.
 

terry harrell Harrell

However, Harrell strongly encourages all attorneys to have a surrogate attorney in case of emergency, and the program can provide resources to help attorneys cope with these situations.

To help attorneys give this some serious thought, a rule went into effect in early 2008 that requires solo practitioners in Indiana to assign a surrogate attorney in case of emergency due to a medical condition, disability, death, or disbarment.

To determine best practices for following the rule, attorney R. William Jonas, while still president of the Indiana State Bar Association, appointed a committee.

The results of that committee’s work will be discussed and shared at the ISBA’s Solo and Small Firm Conference June 3-5 in Merrillville, and the committee will publish a booklet of its findings. The committee also had submitted its suggestions to the Indiana Supreme Court’s Rules Committee.

One of the members of that committee, Barbara Williams of Williams Law in Evansville, along with Rochester attorney Ted Waggoner of the four-attorney firm Peterson Waggoner, will discuss the rule and the committee’s findings at the conference.
 

ted waggoner Waggoner

Williams said she got involved with the committee partly because of her personal experience as a surrogate.

In late 2008, Williams and another attorney agreed to be each other’s surrogates. Six weeks later, her surrogate committed suicide.

At the time they made their agreement, she didn’t think she would need to do anything about it any time soon. She agreed to be his surrogate because she knew their practices were compatible and they respected each other as colleagues.

Looking back, even though it’s been emotionally difficult to deal with his loss, she said she felt privileged and honored that he chose her. She doesn’t regret the work she has done to help shut down his business.

But because of her experience, she noticed that beyond requiring solo attorneys to designate a surrogate, the rule “didn’t give much direction, so I had to figure it out as I went along.”

Waggoner said while he wasn’t in a situation that fell under the rule, he also had been helping close a colleague’s practice in a situation similar to what a surrogate would do and noticed similar issues.

One thing the committee looked at was if there was a way for the surrogate attorney to be reimbursed for expenses that he may incur, as the rule states the assets of the attorney who goes through the emergency can be used to pay for the time and effort of the surrogate attorney.

However, Waggoner said, “those who’ve done this say it turns out that they were unsuccessful at getting paid, but they do the work anyway. It gets done, but there are out-of-pocket expenses that someone has to pay.”

Another issue was how to handle continuances and statutes of limitation in open cases to give enough time for the surrogate attorney or another lawyer to get up to speed after he takes over the client’s file.

The committee is also proposing that senior judges or semi-retired attorneys might be a good resource to help inventory and distribute files, especially if the attorney who can’t handle cases didn’t assign a surrogate or if the surrogate is unable to help or is overwhelmed by the emergency.

While Waggoner agreed it’s important to have a surrogate, he also suggested attorneys should consider a number of things – whether they are asking another attorney or they are the one being asked.

If an attorney is the one being asked, Waggoner suggested considering three things: how busy is the attorney, and how does that compare to the potential surrogate’s volume of work; what kind of filing system does the attorney have, and how organized is the attorney; and does the attorney have a plan in place to cover expenses, such as a small life-insurance policy to cover the cost of closing the office.

For attorneys seeking surrogates, he suggested they make sure their office could be easily closed if necessary. This includes keeping notes on movement in cases, and a file system that is organized and easy to navigate for someone else.

He also suggested that attorneys who are looking for surrogates “take a good look at the person and ask, ‘Is this someone I’d refer clients to?’ Even if the person can’t take on many new cases, consider if the person will be able to solve a client’s crisis of having someone no longer available, whether they’re dead, disabled, or disbarred.”

He added that if the attorney asking or being asked has “lousy client relationships,” it’s probably not a good fit. And finally, “find someone compatible with your style and skills.”

And for the attorneys who find themselves in an emergency?

Jocham and Oldham both recommended having a point person, and to know that the legal community has been and will be supportive to those who need it.

Oldham thanked Commissioner Deb Shook for communicating on her behalf. Jocham said she has a point person for her office, a point person for her family, and a point person for her friends.

“It helps you stay strong when you have so many people pulling for you,” Jocham said. She’s learned how to let go and delegate, even though she misses her normal work routine, particularly mediations.

“I would tell people: go have fun. We’re all going to die some day, that’s a given,” Oldham said. “Think about what you’ll reflect on at that moment. I don’t think it’s going to be about a case. You may reflect on how you were able to help people in what you did, but it will be the happy memories of time with family and friends.”•

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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.

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  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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