ILNews

Big-firm attorneys find comfort zone in practice outside the office

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Polly Dobbs’ view from work most days isn’t the one her Bingham Greenebaum Doll colleagues share from the top floors of Market Tower in Indianapolis. She doesn’t look out over the Statehouse rotunda, White River State Park or Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Right now I’m looking at my garden and some cows,” Dobbs said from the 6,200-square-foot, historic colonial farmhouse she and her family had restored.

pollydobbs004-15col.jpg Polly Dobbs works with Bingham Greenebaum Doll’s estate planning practice group from her home in Peru. (Photo by Bethany Brindle)

Her big-law practice sits on 2,500 acres between the city of Peru and Mississinewa Lake, about 75 miles north of Indianapolis, in her grandparents’ old house. It’s the house where she grew up; the house is where legendary Hoosier composer Cole Porter wandered home from Yale University about 100 years ago.

Dobbs, who works in Bingham’s estate planning practice group, is among a select group of attorneys at large Indiana firms who work from home. Dobbs, her husband, and their two children moved into the home last July in the culmination of her efforts to work with her firm to assure a work-life balance.

“I still have my very high-level practice, and I’m doing it from the farm,” Dobbs said.

Technology gives attorneys the ability to work almost anywhere. But working from home carries tradeoffs for the attorney and the firm.

“It’s solely dependent on the connections working, and you do have issues,” said Jim Reed, a partner at Bingham who was Dobbs’ practice group chair. “Our IT people are really good … there are times that it’s critical that you have to work in real time and collaborate; you have no choice but to do that.”

The technical connections must work, and so must the human connections. Before Dobbs made the transition to working at home, she and her colleagues prepared for the move for nine months and practiced scenarios.

The firm provided everything Dobbs needed to work from home, even sending an IT person to hook equipment up and make sure the connections were secure.

“We had to figure out a way to make this work. We did not want to lose her under any circumstances,” Reed said.

And for Dobbs, the move put her not only at home, but where she needs to be.

weinzapfel Weinzapfel

“My niche is estate planning for high-net-worth farmers,” she said. “For my farming clients, I’m the girl in their hometown.”

Perceptions persist

Since the rise of telecommuting in the 1990s, attorneys have had the tools to work at home or while traveling, but a relative few committed to working from home full time.

Pattie Zelmer is a partner with Ice

Miller in Indianapolis who started working from her home in South Bend in 1998 and still does. “I’m probably the first one within our firm to do so, and I did it as a partner,” she said. Like Dobbs, she chose to work from home to have more time with her two young children.


 

“I think technology really came about at a time that I needed it,” she said with a laugh. “I thought at the time I was the luckiest person in the world, and I still feel that way.”

Zelmer, whose practice is concentrated in municipal finance, remembers some colleagues had dubious perceptions: “Does that mean you’re somehow not working as hard?”

Reed volunteers that at 55, he is of a generation that has had to warm to the idea of lawyers working from home. He recalled a recent time when “you never failed to be in the office when the boss was there. You had to be there, you had to be seen; it’s something the older lawyers are trying to understand and deal with.”

Younger attorneys who are likelier to be in mobile contact “don’t have that same sense of obligation to be present,” he said.

Reed said Bingham had experience with other work-from-home situations in the past, including attorneys who’ve worked in northern Michigan and Gainesville, Fla.

“The key part is just having a system and making sure everyone understands you’re not in the office every day, but what lawyer this day and age would be in the office every day?” Reed said.

workfromhomeSome firms remain reluctant about work-at-home situations.

Jeffrey A. Abrams, partner-in-charge of the Indianapolis office of Benesch, said the firm’s biggest office in Cleveland has an attorney who works on the West Coast, but for the nearly 30 attorneys in the Indianapolis office, working at home probably isn’t viable.

“We expect the lawyers to work primarily out of the office, but it’s not unusual for a lawyer to work from home if they have a lunch meeting and don’t want to come all the way downtown,” Abrams said.

“I think (like) most people, if I have an issue for a lawyer who has a niche practice, I would like to walk down the hall and talk to him.”

Not for everyone

Dobbs said that after her first child was born, she encountered the same pitfalls other working mothers face. Between commuting from Noblesville and the demands of parenthood, she said she was falling behind at work. “I tried very hard to keep full time. … Something had to give.

“The firm approached me and asked how they could help,” she said. “I said, ‘I really like what I’m doing, I’d just like to do it less.’”

That’s when Dobbs went on a part-time partner track where she could work on a flex-time schedule. She accepted two-thirds of her full-time salary to work two-thirds full-time billable hours. “It seemed fair to me,” she said.

The work-from-home arrangement began when she lived in Noblesville and continued with her move to Peru. Dobbs said she’s amazed at how much work she gets done at home. She sometimes works before or after the kids are awake. A nanny watches them during her working day, and she takes a break each day to have lunch with her children. But she also makes a clear delineation: “When I’m working, I’m working.”

 

pollydobbs001-15col.jpg Westleigh, the historic home near Peru where Polly Dobbs practices, also is home to Dobbs’ husband and their two children. It was Dobbs’ grandparents’ home and also was once home to Hoosier composer Cole Porter. (Photo by Bethany Brindle)

The transition didn’t convince everyone at the firm. Dobbs said one partner called her office extension just to make sure it rang in her home in Peru.

“I’m very mindful this is sort of a new-age, wacky way to practice law. I work hard to make it seamless on this end,” she said.

Working at home is something that Zelmer said Ice Miller decides on a case-by-case basis, and there’s no way everyone could do it. Many wouldn’t want to.

“Different people have told me, ‘I can’t believe you work from home. I could never do that. I’d get too distracted,’” she said. “When the children are little, you have to set some guidelines that you can’t be interrupted.”

Former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel joined Faegre Baker Daniels in Indianapolis in April to work in government relations and economic development. He’s worked from his Evansville home since, but he’s soon to move into new office space. For his purposes, working at home indefinitely wouldn’t do.

“The challenge is, if you want to meet with clients, you don’t want to invite them into your home. You really do need the office space to accommodate that,” he said.

Dobbs said finding her work-life balance continues, sometimes in unexpected ways.

“One thing I wasn’t ready for,” she said, “is the work is always here. I never leave it. After the kids are in bed, I don’t feel like I can sit on the couch next to my husband. I haven’t found that line yet.”

But she’s working on it.

“I so much appreciate everything Bingham has done,” she said. “I’m going to bend over backward to make it work out.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Living in South Bend, I travel to Michigan a lot. Virtually every gas station sells cold beer there. Many sell the hard stuff too. Doesn't seem to be a big deal there.

  2. Mr. Ricker, how foolish of you to think that by complying with the law you would be ok. Don't you know that Indiana is a state that welcomes monopolies, and that Indiana's legislature is the one entity in this state that believes monopolistic practices (such as those engaged in by Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers) make Indiana a "business-friendly" state? How can you not see this????

  3. Actually, and most strikingly, the ruling failed to address the central issue to the whole case: Namely, Black Knight/LPS, who was NEVER a party to the State court litigation, and who is under a 2013 consent judgment in Indiana (where it has stipulated to the forgery of loan documents, the ones specifically at issue in my case)never disclosed itself in State court or remediated the forged loan documents as was REQUIRED of them by the CJ. In essence, what the court is willfully ignoring, is that it is setting a precedent that the supplier of a defective product, one whom is under a consent judgment stipulating to such, and under obligation to remediate said defective product, can: 1.) Ignore the CJ 2.) Allow counsel to commit fraud on the state court 3.) Then try to hide behind Rooker Feldman doctrine as a bar to being held culpable in federal court. The problem here is the court is in direct conflict with its own ruling(s) in Johnson v. Pushpin Holdings & Iqbal- 780 F.3d 728, at 730 “What Johnson adds - what the defendants in this suit have failed to appreciate—is that federal courts retain jurisdiction to award damages for fraud that imposes extrajudicial injury. The Supreme Court drew that very line in Exxon Mobil ... Iqbal alleges that the defendants conducted a racketeering enterprise that predates the state court’s judgments ...but Exxon Mobil shows that the Rooker Feldman doctrine asks what injury the plaintiff asks the federal court to redress, not whether the injury is “intertwined” with something else …Because Iqbal seeks damages for activity that (he alleges) predates the state litigation and caused injury independently of it, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not block this suit. It must be reinstated.” So, as I already noted to others, I now have the chance to bring my case to SCOTUS; the ruling by Wood & Posner is flawed on numerous levels,BUT most troubling is the fact that the authors KNOW it's a flawed ruling and choose to ignore the flaws for one simple reason: The courts have decided to agree with former AG Eric Holder that national banks "Are too big to fail" and must win at any cost-even that of due process, case precedent, & the truth....Let's see if SCOTUS wants a bite at the apple.

  4. I am in NJ & just found out that there is a judgment against me in an action by Driver's Solutions LLC in IN. I was never served with any Court pleadings, etc. and the only thing that I can find out is that they were using an old Staten Island NY address for me. I have been in NJ for over 20 years and cannot get any response from Drivers Solutions in IN. They have a different lawyer now. I need to get this vacated or stopped - it is now almost double & at 18%. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  5. I am in NJ & just found out that there is a judgment against me in an action by Driver's Solutions LLC in IN. I was never served with any Court pleadings, etc. and the only thing that I can find out is that they were using an old Staten Island NY address for me. I have been in NJ for over 20 years and cannot get any response from Drivers Solutions in IN. They have a different lawyer now. I need to get this vacated or stopped - it is now almost double & at 18%. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

ADVERTISEMENT