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IBA: I Wouldn't Practice Law Without...

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By Julie Armstrong

When was the last time you thought about how you practice law. I don’t mean a personal ethics review or an evaluation of your business plan. Instead, when was the last time you gave thought to what makes the practice more enjoyable, easier, or even possible for you. I recently asked a diverse group of Indybar members how they would complete the phrase, “I wouldn’t practice law without…. The responses I received were as varied as the lawyers who replied.

Some responses were practical:

Steven Peters, partner/litigator, Harrison & Moberly: ...my form file. I have developed this over 30 years. It consists of forms on the computer and in three file cabinets in my office. It has some of my “greatest (legal) hits” including complaints, answers, motions, briefs, jury instructions, depo outlines and the like. It also has a list of all my published cases and appellate briefs from over 100 appeals in Indiana and other jurisdictions. It is a handy reference and is usually my starting point when working on a project. My partners and friends know I have good forms and it is a quick starting point for their projects. Recently, a partner needed to quickly draft and file a federal interpleaded complaint with related motions, and I had those in my forms file from a case I handled 10 years ago. A word of caution about forms: always make sure that they are updated as needed to comply with substantive and procedural rules.

Aaron Freeman, criminal defense attorney, Ladd Thomas Sallee Adams & Freeman: I would not practice law without my…..cell phone. I have no idea how lawyers used to do it.  I use my cell phone for everything.  My calendar, my contacts list, sending e-mail, sending texts, and making calls.  My cell phone allows me to stay in touch with the office, despite where I may be.  I could not imagine trying to practice without it.

Joel Nagle, associate/litigator, Tabbert Hahn Earnest & Weddle: I’m sure this isn’t the most exhilarating response, but I would say West’s Indiana Digest.

Some responses were notes of gratitude:

Vanessa Villegas Lopez, solo practitioner. I wouldn’t practice law without my paralegal Laura. The day she finishes her PHD I’m in big trouble. A lawyer is only as good as his or her staff. I have been blessed with an articulate self motivated dedicated paralegal. As a solo practitioner a strong staff is they key to success in this profession. I have learned that Spa days are always appreciated and no matter what you have to find a way even in this hard economy to give good raises.

Tom Ruge, partner/immigration & international law, Lewis & Kappes: …being in a firm with colleagues who have the enormous professional pride our attorneys have, and with support staff who are consistently considerate of client’s needs and who are tolerant of my many faults and idiosyncrasies.   

Tammy Meyer: partner/litigator, MillerMeyer. A good legal secretary and paralegal. the good mentors I have had; a sense of humor; my best partner ever - Gary Miller.

Jeffrey Abrams. partner/transactional attorney, Benesch/Dann Pecar. I wouldn’t practice law without a top notch assistant.  One assistant who was with me for over 15 years before she retired got mad if I called her anything but a secretary.  Old school way of thinking, but she was outstanding.  I have had other great assistants during my career and they are my partner in providing quality service to our clients.

Jana Matthews, solo practitioner. J. Matthews Legal Group. I wouldn’t practice law without helpful experienced attorneys who have been/are willing to help solo practitioners like me maneuver through real life lawyering. Anytime I have a new case there have been attorneys willing to help me get started or serve as confirmation that I am on the right track. Their willingness to assist has been awesome.

Some responses were surprisingly similar:

Jeffrey Dible, partner/estate planning & tax, Frost Brown Todd: I wouldn’t practice law without a sense of humor. Not necessarily my sense of humor, which misses as often as it hits. But we lawyers, as trained communicators, can and do use humor to illustrate points succinctly, to dispel some of the tensions and pretensions in messy situations, and to show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s no accident that most of my favorite quotations about the law are both funny and true, such as Frank Zappa’s “The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced.”

Melissa Avery, partner/family law, Avery & Cheerva: having great lawyers around me that have a good sense of humor. Whether it is the other lawyers in my office or my comrades working on bar association projects, it is the people I work with that make practicing law fun and help me get a much needed laugh when things get stressful. That is what makes it all worthwhile!

Eric Schmadke, staff attorney, Marion County Prosecutor’s Office: I wouldn’t practice law without a sense of humor. “Ridentum dicere verum quid vetat?”   I agree with Horace when he opined, “What prevents me from speaking the truth with a smile?”  If you let the seriousness of the issues soak so deep into your soul that you can’t remember the last time you really enjoyed your work – then it’s time to leave the practice of law.  I also wouldn’t practice law without a tie, great colleagues, a jury of my peers, enigmatic Latin phraseology, or a Westlaw password. 

Others were simply touching:

Mark Owens, partner/bankruptcy law, Barnes & Thornburg: I wouldn’t practice law without a supportive family who understands the pressures and time commitments of the practice of law.

Kathy Osborn, partner/appellate litigator, Baker & Daniels: . . . the support of my sister, mom and mother-in-law who lovingly and skillfully care for my kids when my husband (also an attorney) and I have to work late or attend events.  My kids get to have the individualized alone time with their aunt and grandmothers I want them to have in any event.  And the icing on the cake is that my sister is an elementary school teacher and media specialist, my mother-in-law is the librarian at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, and my mom is an avid reader, so there always is an educational component to their oversight!   

John Hoover, partner/litigator, Hoover Hull: I wouldn’t practice law without a picture of my mom to look at on my desk.  She demanded excellence in all endeavors, and she imbued in me manners, hard work, and a batch of southern colloquialisms, all of which I try to embrace on a daily basis in my law practice.

Take a moment to ponder the phrase, “I wouldn’t practice law without.... It might change your whole day or someone else’s.•

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