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Faegre Baker Daniels attorney nationally recognized for legal prose

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When Norman Tabler returned to Faegre Baker Daniels LLP after a 16-year stint as general counsel for Indiana University Health, he was confused by all the talk about blogs.

His co-workers explained the firm had established blogs on its website and the attorneys were encouraged to contribute short missives about court decisions, lawsuits or regulations in their practice area. So Tabler, who did not learn to type until he was middle-aged, swiveled his chair around to his computer and began tapping out his take on the health news of the day.
 

nor-tabler-15col.jpg Norman Tabler, of counsel at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, was recently honored with a 2014 Burton Award for Distinguished Legal Writing. The national award recognizes achievements in the law with a special emphasis on writing and reform. (IL Photo/ Eric Learned)

Since then, he has found blog writing to be the perfect medium for his brand of humor and insight. The mundane topics he makes funny; the lively developments he makes hilarious. A recent post examined the revelation that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are enlisting older patients to sniff out fraud in doctors’ offices. Tabler dubbed them the “Senior Sleuth Squad.”

Putting his thoughts into a brief post, he said, has been one of the most enjoyable activities of his professional life.

“I really like doing it,” Tabler said. “One reason is way down deep, I’m superficial.”

Actually, Tabler is an attorney who loves good writing. He has carried his affection for language into his career where he specifically chose to first practice nonprofit law because

it offered the most opportunity to write. Switching to health law did not slow the pace of articles for magazines and newsletters, speeches, presentations and, most recently, blogs. He has even dashed off jokes for politicians and pledge spots for public radio.

Talking about the writing, Tabler is relaxed and uses words like “fun” and “enjoyable.” He never characterizes the craft as a struggle or hard work. However, Richard Freije, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, is not persuaded, arguing that to write in the witty and clever manner that Tabler does is very difficult.

“I think for most of us to do something at his level, first it takes a lot of time, effort and reflection, and second it takes a high level of creativity,” Freije said.

Looking for the humor

In June, Tabler was recognized nationally for his prose with a 2014 Burton Award for Distinguished Legal Writing. Each year, the Burton Awards, a not-for-profit associated with the Library of Congress, selects 30 outstanding writers from the nominations submitted by the 1,000-largest law firms in the country. The honor celebrates the winning lawyers’ successes in the law with special emphasis on writing and reform.

Colleagues at Faegre Baker Daniels turned in Tabler’s article, “Advantages of Captive Insurance Programs for Health Systems (And Not Just Lower Premiums),” to the Burton Awards. The piece had been printed in a 2013 edition of The Health Lawyer, a publication of the American Bar Association’s Health Law Section.

The article was submitted without Tabler’s knowledge. When he received the letter informing him that he was being given a Burton Award, he confessed he almost threw the notification away, thinking it was just a solicitation for a plaque.

The award sits in his office.

“It meant a lot to me because I love to write and I take a lot of pride in my writing,” Tabler said, turning serious.

He writes mostly in the mornings in his office on the top floor of Faegre Baker Daniels’ 96th Street office in Indianapolis. Tabler settles in at his clean desk, computer on his right, a row of reference books (including an old copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style) on the credenza behind him. He reads through newsletters and articles. When something he reads sparks his imagination, he writes.

 

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“I like to make things funny. I think almost anything can be made interesting if you sort of look at it from a different perspective,” he advised.

His perspective can take excruciatingly dry topics and turn them into delightful reading, such as his comparison of the exceptions contained in the Stark Law to Russian dolls. That essay brought a request asking for permission to reprint the work in the supplement to a legal textbook.

Similar requests have come from industry magazines wanting to know if he could expand a blog into a longer article.

WFYI Public Media has used Tabler’s writing skills to solicit donations from listeners during the annual membership campaigns. His cleverness on the air has become such a favorite that the station released a compilation CD of his greatest hits.

“Norm has an unusual wit and perspective on things that do make people laugh and kind of see things in a different light,” said Lloyd Wright, WFYI president and CEO.

Style and substance

A native Hoosier, Tabler grew up on the family farm with his siblings in Floyds Knobs. He attended the elementary grades in a four-room school and then went to New Albany High School where he took Latin and college prep courses. His study of Latin and Biblical Greek during undergraduate and graduate studies at Princeton and Yale universities gave him the foundation to be a good writer.

Once Tabler realized his plans to become a college professor no longer interested him, he searched for another profession and found the law. He believed as a lawyer he could continue to write as well as do analysis, so he enrolled in Columbia Law School.

“I was right, at least there were large areas of the law that lent themselves to that focus on language,” Tabler said.

In addition to being a superior legal writer, Freije said, Tabler is also a very good lawyer. He described his colleague as having an impressive way of dealing with clients, always taking a real interest in a client’s problem.

“Norm is just a bright and smart guy,” Freije said.

Tabler sees a strong relationship between being a successful lawyer and being a good writer. He passes that lesson along to the young associates at his firm, instructing them on how to write well.

“More than any other factor, writing is what a young lawyer is judged by,” Tabler said.

Over the years he has seen a general deterioration in writing standards. To be successful, Tabler said, new lawyers need to have a respect and even a reverence for the written word. But too often, they believe that style or manner of expression is really not important and that substance is all that really counts.

He scoffs at that notion, maintaining substance cannot be separated from style in good writing.

“In legal writing you could never say, ‘Boy, he got the subject, it’s exactly right, but the writing’s horrible,’” he said.

Tabler makes sure the prose he writes uses the right words, adheres to rules of grammar and clearly explains his point of view.

Like the suspenders and cufflinks he wears, his standard for writing may be a throwback to an older time, but his current stuff is such fun to read – especially the blogs.•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. 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)

  4. "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.

  5. 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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