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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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