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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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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  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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