ILNews

Lake County bar leader’s vision for year ahead includes looking back

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Michael Tolbert is making history as the new president of the Lake County Bar Association in more ways than being the organization’s first African-American leader.

A partner with Hoeppner Wagner & Evans LLP in Merrillville, Tolbert is focused on telling the organization’s story that he said could be lost if action isn’t taken to preserve it. He’s establishing a history committee, part of his “Triple-H” leadership initiative that also focuses on health and hunger.
 

tolberts-15col.jpg Michael and Shelice Tolbert (IL Photo/ Mark Shephard)

“What we’ve been doing since the inception of the organization is kind of relying on the more experienced and seasoned members to sort of fill in the gaps, to tell us information about what occurred in the past,” Tolbert said. He hopes a history committee will record and preserve institutional knowledge of the region’s longtime attorneys for future generations.

“We want to capture all the wonderful things and accomplishments the Lake County bar has done over the years,” he said. “The first thing I thought about when I knew I would be president of the bar association was, ‘What am I going to do to leave a lasting impact on the bar association and make it better?”


tolbertoath-15col.jpg Indiana Justice Robert Rucker, left, swears in Lake County Bar Association President Michael Tolbert Jan. 10 in Gary. (IL Photo/ Mark Shephard)

For the other two “H”s, the bar will build on immediate-past president Michael Jasaitis’ wellness efforts by encouraging attorneys to have at least one annual doctor’s visit for health screenings. Tolbert also will ask board members to bring food items to each monthly meeting to collect for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. The local bar also has a few other anti-hunger initiatives in mind.

“A lot of lawyers, we get a bad rap in terms of how the public views us,” he said. “The general public views us negatively because they feel we’re not invested in the community. … We’re really fighting two things. We’re fighting the perception of lawyers the general public has, and we’re also fighting hunger.”
 

 

EXTRA
Click here to view a gallery of photos from the Lake County Bar Association’s Jan. 10 installation dinner.

Lake County Bar Association President-Elect Jacquelyn S. Pillar King said Tolbert’s leadership agenda builds on Jasaitis’ wellness and community outreach efforts last year that included a day of service in which bar members prepared the residence for the homecoming of a pediatric cancer patient.

“We’re very excited for Mike’s leadership,” King said. “Frankly, we called (the growing outreach efforts) ‘Mike squared.’”

Jasaitis said the bar’s effort for the young cancer patient – joined by the James Kimbrough Bar Association, the Women Lawyers Association and the Hispanic Bar Association – was a highlight of his tenure, as was the first Indiana Supreme Court oral argument held in Lake County in many years.

Tolbert was installed as president Jan. 10 at a dinner in Gary. His wife, Shelice Tolbert, a partner at Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads in Crown Point, was installed as vice president and is in line to lead the organization in two years.

The Tolberts are active in local and state bar and judicial organizations, their community and their church, and they share a special history, too. Shelice Tolbert said they met in middle school, went their separate ways through college, but stayed in touch until they came back home and met up again as Valparaiso University Law students. About three years out of law school, she said, they began dating, and they’ve been married more than seven years now.

Jasaitis and Michael Tolbert also go way back. Jasaitis said they attended rival high schools, both went to Valpo as undergrads and for law school, and for a year and a half of law school had all the same classes.

“I consider him not only a great lawyer with great leadership ability, but also a genuine friend,” Jasaitis said. “Michael has a fantastic agenda in store for 2014, and it’s my honor to hand off the baton to the first African-American president in the history of the Lake County Bar Association.”

Early influences

Michael Tolbert knew early he wanted to be a lawyer. “I’m a very competitive person,” explained Tolbert, the fifth child in a family of seven whose father worked for 32 years at Inland Steel.

“I used to watch old shows like ‘Matlock’ and ‘Perry Mason’,” he said. “It really fascinated me from an early age.”

Shelice Tolbert wasn’t so sure about a legal career until sometime later, but she also remembers being intrigued by flickering images on the small screen. “Really, the only female lawyer I had seen growing up was on ‘The Cosby Show,’” she said, referring to the character Clair Huxtable.

But then a real-life lawyer came to speak to her eighth-grade class – a Harvard Law-educated woman who had returned home to Gary. “She said, ‘You can do whatever you put your mind to,’” Shelice Tolbert recalled. “That little thing made a difference to me.”

That visitor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, went on to become mayor of Gary. After she was elected in 2011, Freeman-Wilson told the Tolberts she needed their help on her transition team – Michael focused on good government policies and efficient delivery of services, and Shelice served as counsel for the transition team.

“I couldn’t think of any better two people than Michael and Shelice” to help in her transition, Freeman-Wilson said. “Because of their legal training, because of their commitment to the city of Gary, and they are young and reflective of what we say to young people in Gary – get your education, and come back and help.”

The mayor also acknowledged feeling touched by Shelice Tolbert’s recollection of the influence of that early school visit.

“I feel ancient every time she says it,” Freeman-Wilson said with a laugh. But the Tolberts, she said, are likewise inspiring younger generations as mentors and teachers.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do as attorneys,” Freeman-Wilson said. “One of the things I’m clear on, and most of my colleagues share this point of view – it doesn’t stop with us.”

Finding balance

As married attorneys whose general practice is concentrated in similar areas – defense litigators who represent businesses, insurance and other complex matters – the Tolberts say they find a balance by sharing fulfilling things they enjoy and setting aside “date night” time for themselves. “Saturdays are our time,” Michael Tolbert said.

And Shelice Tolbert acknowledges that a fair amount of the couple’s time when they’re not practicing is taken up by bar activities, church and community functions. “When it comes down to it, we’re usually involved in the same things,” she said, “and if we didn’t enjoy these things, we wouldn’t do them.”

But finding the elusive work-life balance isn’t always easy.

“The fact that we pretty much do the same things, we’re in the same practice areas, we are competing for the same clients, which makes it a little difficult at times,” Michael Tolbert said. “I can’t think of a better person to lose a client to.”

Shelice Tolbert estimated that 80 percent of her practice involves litigating, but she makes down-time a priority. “I do try to make sure I keep that balance so it’s not consuming.”

“I think first and foremost, when we put God first, it creates a balance for everything we put our energy into,” she said. “Also, don’t forget to have fun. Do things outside the law.”

Over the holidays, for instance, she and her husband went roller skating – something they hadn’t done since they were kids.

The Tolberts also find time to teach or mentor. Michael Tolbert, for instance, is a frequent presenter on getting expert evidence admitted and strategies in personal-injury defense. He also conducts a seminar called “Bridge the Gap” that provides new lawyers valuable practice tips.

Shelice Tolbert is an adjunct professor at Valpo, where she is a co-instructor of a trial-practice course in which students try a case from jury selection through closing arguments. “It actually keeps me on my toes,” she said.

Michael Tolbert also gets something back from helping others succeed as legal practitioners. “Very rarely will people say, ‘I got here all by myself,’” he said. “It really, really is a powerful thing to be able to help somebody and assist somebody in their professional growth.”•
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go All American Girl starred Margaret Cho The Miami Heat coach is nicknamed Spo I hate to paddle but don’t like to row Edward Rust is no longer CEO The Board said it was time for him to go The word souffler is French for blow I love the rain but dislike the snow Ten tosses for a nickel or a penny a throw State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO Bambi’s mom was a fawn who became a doe You can’t line up if you don’t get in a row My car isn’t running, “Give me a tow” He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go Plant a seed and water it to make it grow Phases of the tide are ebb and flow If you head isn’t hairy you don’t have a fro You can buff your bald head to make it glow State Farm is sad and filled with woe Edward Rust is no longer CEO I like Mike Tyson more than Riddick Bowe A mug of coffee is a cup of joe Call me brother, don’t call me bro When I sing scat I sound like Al Jarreau State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A former Tigers pitcher was Lerrin LaGrow Ursula Andress was a Bond girl in Dr. No Brian Benben is married to Madeline Stowe Betsy Ross couldn’t knit but she sure could sew He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO Grand Funk toured with David Allan Coe I said to Shoeless Joe, “Say it ain’t so” Brandon Lee died during the filming of The Crow In 1992 I didn’t vote for Ross Perot State Farm is sad and filled with woe The Board said it was time for him to go A hare is fast and a tortoise is slow The overhead compartment is for luggage to stow Beware from above but look out below I’m gaining momentum, I’ve got big mo He had knowledge but wasn’t in the know Edward Rust is no longer CEO I’ve travelled far but have miles to go My insurance company thinks I’m their ho I’m not their friend but I am their foe Robin Hood had arrows, a quiver and a bow State Farm has a lame duck CEO He had knowledge, but wasn’t in the know The Board said it was time for him to go State Farm is sad and filled with woe

  2. The ADA acts as a tax upon all for the benefit of a few. And, most importantly, the many have no individual say in whether they pay the tax. Those with handicaps suffered in military service should get a pass, but those who are handicapped by accident or birth do NOT deserve that pass. The drivel about "equal access" is spurious because the handicapped HAVE equal access, they just can't effectively use it. That is their problem, not society's. The burden to remediate should be that of those who seek the benefit of some social, constructional, or dimensional change, NOT society generally. Everybody wants to socialize the costs and concentrate the benefits of government intrusion so that they benefit and largely avoid the costs. This simply maintains the constant push to the slop trough, and explains, in part, why the nation is 20 trillion dollars in the hole.

  3. Hey 2 psychs is never enough, since it is statistically unlikely that three will ever agree on anything! New study admits this pseudo science is about as scientifically valid as astrology ... done by via fortune cookie ....John Ioannidis, professor of health research and policy at Stanford University, said the study was impressive and that its results had been eagerly awaited by the scientific community. “Sadly, the picture it paints - a 64% failure rate even among papers published in the best journals in the field - is not very nice about the current status of psychological science in general, and for fields like social psychology it is just devastating,” he said. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/27/study-delivers-bleak-verdict-on-validity-of-psychology-experiment-results

  4. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  5. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

ADVERTISEMENT