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Longtime private practitioner Steve Langer leads ITLA

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Valparaiso attorney Steven Langer brings to bear more than 30 years of experience as the new president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association.

Langer told Indiana Lawyer he hopes to build on the organization’s successes in its 58th year, and he opens up about his expectations for the year ahead and what he tells his two kids who are now in law school.

Q. What are some of your priorities for the coming year?

A. I intend to continue ITLA’s long tradition of focusing on the right of every person to have access to courts and the public policy arena and the right to trial by jury. I think that maintaining open access to courts and the right to trial by jury to address civil disputes guarantees freedom for all of us.

Steve_Langer_2922-1-15col.jpg Cut line goes here. (Photo by Mark Shephard/Shephard Imageworks)

The recent landslide of immunity bills erodes all of our rights to have open access to courts and carves away at our rights to trial by jury. There appears to be a trend among policymakers to treat Hoosiers, especially those who can afford it the least, like ATM machines to pay for the mistakes of special-interest groups.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself, and feel free to add any extremely personal details.

A. I was born in Chicago. At the end of fifth grade, we moved to Valparaiso after my parents purchased a business called Fetla’s. I started working in sixth grade. Fetla’s sold groceries, furniture, clothing, shoes, hardware – pretty much everything. Fetla’s was one of the largest sellers of firearms in the state of Indiana. While working at Fetla’s, I got to hang out with my dad, who taught me about business, and I met tons of people. I still run into former customers today.

We had a pet black bear named Sally that drank Coke from bottles.

My wife, Diana, and I have been married for 26 years. We have two children, Rob and Sara. In our family, the practice of law has been a family endeavor. I have had the strong support of my wife throughout my career.

Q. From what you’ve seen, how would you describe the state of the ITLA?

A. When ITLA started, there were approximately 20 to 30 members. Now the organization has over 1,000 members. ITLA is a very nimble organization. I want to make sure that ITLA continues to be responsive to the needs of its members and maintains its close connections with its membership.

Q. What are the secret perks of being ITLA president? There’s swag, right?

A. Tons of perks. I get to drive “Golf Kart 1” at the annual golf outing primarily because I don’t golf and no one would want to include me in their foursome. Finally, after 12 years of being on the executive committee, I will get to choose where to order lunch. So, it looks like Shapiro’s Delicatessen is going to be delivering food for the next year to the ITLA office.

Q. Let’s say I’m a solo or small-firm lawyer, and times are a little tough. I’m on the fence about becoming an ITLA member. What’s your pitch?

A. We all have tough times. In my view, the challenges that have confronted me have made me a much better and stronger person. ITLA is full of members who have had tough times and challenges. Together, we are over 1,000 members strong, so when there are issues, personal or professional, there is always someone with the experience and the wisdom who can help.

Q. What area of civil law in Indiana is most in need of reform, and how would you change it?

A. My practice focuses on medical malpractice work. So, from my own perspective I think the Medical Malpractice Act is draconian. The damage cap is irrational. The practice of medicine today, which is pretty much run by corporations, follows a business model focusing on profit over patient safety. The hospitals and insurance companies make tons of money yet Hoosiers who suffer serious injuries oftentimes go bankrupt because of medical expenses, then must fall back on Medicaid, also funded by Hoosiers, just to get minimal health care. The folks who caused the harm walk away free while all of us have to pay for their mistakes and choices.

On a broader sense, the onslaught of immunity bills is a real problem for every Hoosier. Special interest groups

hire lobbyists to attempt to lure policymakers to make special carve-outs for their mistakes thereby forcing the victim to pay for the mistakes and choices made by others.

Q. What are some of your proudest achievements in your three decades as an attorney?

A. Having two children in law school. Our son will be a 3L at Kansas next year. Our daughter will be a 1L at IU Bloomington.

I think my proudest achievement is in an area outside of my practice area. My wife and I started the Porter County Reading Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, from scratch. The purpose of the foundation was to make it possible for all children to develop the skills to read. The foundation provided early-intervention programs for elementary school children in partnership with community schools, continuing professional education workshops to provide educators with information about scientifically based effective methods of teaching reading, and intensive one-on-one summer school programs. The services were provided without charge. The PCRF trained hundreds of teachers and helped thousands of children.

Q. You and your brother, Michael, founded Langer & Langer 30 years ago in Valparaiso. You both were just a few years out of law school. What would you say to young attorneys considering starting their own practices?

A. I would tell the young lawyer that it’s difficult to start a law practice from scratch, but looking back it was easy because when you start from scratch you don’t have clients, your operating expenses are low, and you have minimal costs. Life is simple.

But I also look back and remember how hard it was to start on your own. Life is tough and not always fair, but I think hardship makes one a better lawyer and a better person. I would tell the person not to be fearful of failing because everybody fails and success comes about only after failure. I would say what my grandfather told my dad and what my dad told me: You can’t hit a home run if you don’t swing at a pitch.

Q. You mentioned you’ll have a son and a daughter in law school this fall. What would you say to students who hear a lot these days about why they shouldn’t go to law school?

A. People should be guided by their passion and not limited by artificial barriers. There is always room for good lawyers. I would pass on what I overheard Judge (James) Kirsch saying one day to a group of high school students in Valparaiso: “he has never worked a day in his life,” meaning that in starting a job, whether it’s starting your own practice or working for someone else, just do whatever makes you happy. That’s what I do.

Q. What’s your favorite legal movie, and why?

A. “Hang ’Em High.” Clint Eastwood movies are awesome. Somehow by the end of the movie, justice is always done.

Q. What would you say is a guiding philosophy for you both personally and professionally?

A. Do the best you can every day. Live a productive life. Continually force yourself to try new things that are outside of your comfort zone.•

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  1. 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

  2. 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!!!

  3. 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.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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