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. How nice, on the day of my car accident on the way to work at the Indiana Supreme Court. Unlike the others, I did not steal any money or do ANYTHING unethical whatsoever. I am suing the Indiana Supreme Court and appealed the failure of the district court in SDIN to protect me. I am suing the federal judge because she failed to protect me and her abandonment of jurisdiction leaves her open to lawsuits because she stripped herself of immunity. I am a candidate for Indiana Supreme Court justice, and they imposed just enough sanction so that I am made ineligible. I am asking the 7th Circuit to remove all of them and appoint me as the new Chief Justice of Indiana. That's what they get for dishonoring my sacrifice and and violating the ADA in about 50 different ways.

  2. Can anyone please help this mother and child? We can all discuss the mother's rights, child's rights when this court only considered the father's rights. It is actually scarey to think a man like this even being a father period with custody of this child. I don't believe any of his other children would have anything good to say about him being their father! How many people are afraid to say anything or try to help because they are afraid of Carl. He's a bully and that his how he gets his way. Please someone help this mother and child. There has to be someone that has the heart and the means to help this family.

  3. I enrolled America's 1st tax-free Health Savings Account (HSA) so you can trust me. I bet 1/3 of my clients were lawyers because they love tax-free deposits, growth and withdrawals or total tax freedom. Most of the time (always) these clients are uninformed about insurance law. Employer-based health insurance is simple if you read the policy. It says, Employers (lawyers) and employees who are working 30-hours-per-week are ELIGIBLE for insurance. Then I show the lawyer the TERMINATION clause which states: When you are no longer ELIGIBLE! Then I ask a closing question (sales term) to the lawyer which is, "If you have a stroke or cancer and become too sick to work can you keep your health insurance?" If the lawyer had dependent children they needed a "Dependent Conversion Privilege" in case their child got sick or hurt which the lawyers never had. Lawyers are pretty easy sales. Save premium, eliminate taxes and build wealth!

  4. Ok, so cheap laughs made about the Christian Right. hardiharhar ... All kidding aside, it is Mohammad's followers who you should be seeking divine protection from. Allahu Akbar But progressives are in denial about that, even as Europe crumbles.

  5. Father's rights? What about a mothers rights? A child's rights? Taking a child from the custody of the mother for political reasons! A miscarriage of justice! What about the welfare of the child? Has anyone considered parent alienation, the father can't erase the mother from the child's life. This child loves the mother and the home in Wisconsin, friends, school and family. It is apparent the father hates his ex-wife more than he loves his child! I hope there will be a Guardian Ad Litem, who will spend time with and get to know the child, BEFORE being brainwashed by the father. This is not just a child! A little person with rights and real needs, a stable home and a parent that cares enough to let this child at least finish the school year, where she is happy and comfortable! Where is the justice?

ADVERTISEMENT