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General counsel enjoys job for communications provider

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In-House Counsel

An attorney who works for a telecommunications cooperative in Hancock County has seen many changes since he was admitted to the Indiana Bar in June 1988.
 

Michael Burrow InHouse Michael R. Burrow of Hancock Telecom enjoys the various aspects of his post, including overseeing a contract for licensing rights for company spokescat, Garfield. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

After graduating from Ball State University and Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Michael R. Burrow clerked for a federal magistrate in Indianapolis. He turned down offers at large firms in the city to work at a small firm – named Wolf & Burrow after he joined – in his hometown of Greenfield. But more than a decade ago his client, now known as Hancock Telecom, hired him to work full time for the company as counsel and in a management role.
  It wasn’t an easy sell to leave private practice. He’d enjoyed taking on appellate cases and representing clients other than Hancock Telecom and knew he’d take a pay cut to leave. But part of the deal was he would bring with him his legal assistant, Kim Gerard, and that the company president at the time would agree to stay for at least five years, he said.

While Gerard is still a member of the legal department for Hancock Telecom and is also the benefits administrator, the president who hired Burrow in early 1999 left in September 2000.

However, Burrow said, Tim Hills, who has been president and CEO of Hancock Telecom and its subsidiaries since Jan. 29, 2001, has been an “incredible match” for him and the company.

Burrow, who served as interim president before Hills’s arrival, was eventually named the company’s vice president – a role he continues to have in addition to general counsel.

Since he started at Hancock Telecom in 1999, Burrow has witnessed changes in the telecommunications field. While wires for telephone service used to take up entire rooms at the company’s facilities, those rooms now house wires that provide access to high-speed Internet connections, receivers for satellite television feeds, and data storage components that contain important back up information for businesses – including law firms and hospitals – that were virtually unimaginable until recent years.

The company also serves businesses and residences outside of Hancock County from its Greenfield headquarters through the Indiana Fiber Network, which consists of 20 companies and more than 1,700 miles of fiber-optic cable, and Indiana Video Network, a partnership with other telephone companies that provide satellite television service to customers.

On a tour of the plant, it is easy to see Burrow’s interest and excitement for how much things have changed in the industry.

A tour also reveals to visitors the company has an internationally known spokescat: Garfield.

Burrow oversaw a contract for licensing rights for Hancock Telecom to use Garfield in company marketing when the company was struggling with its identity. Everyone recognized a blue stripe under the company’s name on logos, but the company realized it was growing and wanted something more marketable.

While working with marketing consultant Jill Snyder, who lives in Cumberland and has represented a number of Indianapolis-based technology firms, she suggested Garfield after she saw an original illustration of a cartoon telephone.

During the meeting with Garfield’s creator Jim Davis at his studio in Albany, about 15 miles outside of Muncie, Davis sketched a prototype of Garfield answering a phone. That prototype and countless other images of Garfield decorate Hancock Telecom’s offices, service vehicles, and even signs in the visitor parking lot.

“When we met with Jim Davis, he embraced the idea,” Burrow said, adding Davis understood the concept of a rural co-op telecommunications community because he grew up in a rural community himself.

“When we got a proposal a couple weeks later, it was very affordable,” Burrow added.

The company’s second three-year contract with Davis’ company, Paws, is about to expire, but Burrow said he expects it to be renewed as the current three-year contract didn’t have many changes from the first contract.

Another more recent change he is involved with is an ongoing merger between Hancock Telecom and the local electricity utility, also a cooperative, Central Indiana Power.
 

Larry Wallace mug Cut line goes here.

Because there was no existing statute regarding whether a rural co-op electrical utility could merge with a rural co-op telecommunications company, Burrows and attorney Larry Wallace of Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson in Indianapolis considered the issue. The two attorneys have worked together for 20 years on regulatory issues for Hancock Telecom.

“One of the very valuable things an in-house attorney brings to a business, and especially a fast growing business in a highly competitive and complex environment like telecommunications, is the early identification of potential legal issues that might not otherwise have been recognized soon enough by operations management,” Wallace said via e-mail. “My impression is (he) has been especially valuable to Hancock Telecom in this regard.”

Burrow added Douglas M. Kinser of Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman in Indianapolis helped to shepherd Senate Enrolled Act 126 through the legislature. SEA 126 goes into effect July 1, allowing the merger to happen.

Burrow said the merger would not eliminate jobs because the two co-ops provide different services. If anything, it will help the community because the electricity co-op has been using a customer service phone-line provider that’s based in another Midwestern state, while Hancock Telecom can offer the same service while keeping those payments in Greenfield. He said the companies plan to cross-train employees following the merger.

Because he is from Greenfield, on this merger and on other contracts he has worked, Burrow said he knows what others in the community want.
  “Some lawyers might do a 50-page, bullet-proof contract, but knowing Hancock County, I know they would want everything to be simple, straightforward, and no more than two pages,” he said.

He said the company has never been sued over a contract that he’s aware of.

As for taking the general counsel job and giving up work in a firm, Burrow said, “It’s been rewarding beyond my expectations. That’s not to say there aren’t days that are stressful, but I still enjoy it.”

He also said he enjoys contributing to the company’s growth, which is part of a “virtuous circle” for the company and the community he calls home. As the company grows and provides more jobs, more people will move to Greenfield and the town will also grow.

“I like to think that a rising tide carries all ships,” he said.

Burrow said he’s also proud of a grant his client recently received to connect rural hospitals to fiber-optic data services, making it possible for rural hospitals to communicate better with other hospitals.

Wallace also acknowledged Burrow’s contributions to Hancock Telecom.

“Perhaps some ‘outside’ counsel feel threatened when a client brings another attorney in-house, but my experience, especially in working with Mike, is that needn’t be the case,” Wallace said. “… Mike has shown me that smaller businesses and the outside counsel they still rely on for many matters can benefit from having in-house counsel as much, and in many ways even more than large companies.”•

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  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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