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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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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