IBA: Peters strives mightily in law

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It's probably not surprising to those who know Steve Peters that he quoted Shakespeare while talking about his legal career. But many people might not know that Peters, a civil litigator with Harrison & Moberly LLP, was a self-professed math and English geek in high school and college.

He grew up in Charlestown, Ind., and attended high school at The Webb School, a boarding school in Bell Buckle, Tenn. He could have graduated a year early, but instead took college math classes at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over the summer and came back to The Webb School for his senior year. Even though he'd always been considered mature for his years, he wisely determined he wasn't ready for the temptations life on a college campus presented.

He double majored in English and economics at Amherst College, graduating with honors, and came back to Indiana for law school at Indiana University in Bloomington. Peters is the chair of the IBA's Litigation Section and has served as a member of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation Board of Directors, a member of the Bench Bar Committee and the Appellate Practice Section Executive Committee.

His love of the language and of all things analytical has served him well during his career, which started as an intern with the late Hon. S. Hugh Dillin of the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis and then to the firm known as Stewart Irwin Gilliom Fuller & Meyer, now Stewart & Irwin PC.

Peters was with Stewart & Irwin until 2006, when he joined Harrison & Moberly. His primary litigation and appellate practice is in the areas of insurance coverage, employment/labor and complex business disputes.

The Shakespeare quote? It's from "The Taming of the Shrew" (Act 1, Scene 2) and seems to sum it all up for Peters: "And do as adversaries do in law - Strive mightily but eat and drink as friends."

IBA: What motivated you to become a lawyer?

Peters: No one in my family was a lawyer. When I was at The Webb School, I became friends with Wilson Sims Jr., whose father was a founding partner with Bass Berry Sims, a firm in Nashville, Tenn. I got to know his dad who was also on Webb's Board of Trustees. To pass each year's English requirements, we had to give a memorized speech. During graduation week, there was a school-wide contest for the best declamation. Wilson Sims Sr. heard me speak and told me I would make a fine lawyer. So that planted the seed.

IBA: What is your favorite legal phrase or terminology and why?

Peters: I have always thought that lawyers tend to use Latin in court and in briefs like squids use ink: it tends to obscure, not clarify arguments. We lawyers have a hard enough time using English. So I try to stay away from Latin phrases and legalese if possible.

IBA: What would you tell a 5-year-old if he or she asked "What is a lawyer?"

Peters: In simple terms, I view a lawyer as a solver of problems, someone who makes peace and avoids a fight. But lawyers are also people who will stand up and fight for what's right if peace cannot be made. So we are peace-loving fighters.

IBA: Decaf or caffeinated?

Peters: Decaf. Although I just realized I didn't specify when someone offered me this cup of coffee.

IBA: What is your most memorable case or client?

Peters: During my legal career, I have handled over 100 appeals in Indiana and other jurisdictions, so there are a couple that come to mind. But the most significant is probably Webb v. Jarvis, which the Indiana Supreme Court handed down in 1991. I was Dr. Webb's appellate attorney and I formulated and advocated the three-part test which the court adopted to determine whether there is an actionable duty of care to maintain a negligence claim. The Webb duty analysis test is a basic rule under Indiana tort law and has been cited and relied upon in many subsequent cases.

IBA: What have you downloaded most recently to your iPod?

Peters: I'm a frustrated musician; I've played the guitar since I was in sixth grade. My musical tastes are very eclectic. Lately, I've been listening to Michael Hedges, a guitarist, Al DiMeloa, Leo Kottke and Dave Matthews Band.

IBA: What is the most challenging part of being a lawyer?

Peters: Justice Cardozo once said that membership in the bar is a privilege burdened by conditions. I love lawyers, but we are also adversaries. We argue and fight, but must do so in an ethical way. At the end of the day, it's all about relationships, though. So I think the best lawyers do their jobs but form good relationships with their adversaries, if that's possible.

IBA: I am involved in the IBA because...

Peters: I think it's important to give back. We're in a profession, not a trade, and that comes with the responsibility to give back either with donations of our money or our time. Being involved in the bar makes me feel good and helps my clients because the law is about relationships. Strengthening my relationships with the bench, my colleagues and my adversaries by being involved in the IBA ulti mately helps me and my clients.

IBA: Name one thing on your desk you can't live without.

Peters: Well, the computer is too obvious. I'd have to say my iPod; when I'm working on a project, I like playing piano music in the background. Recently it's been Keith Jarrett, an improvisational jazz pianist.

IBA: Name one mentor and how he or she influenced you.

Peters: Al Meyer, James J. Stewart and Bill Irwin - I can't name just one. Also Judge Dillin. They made me a better lawyer and a better person. That's what I try to do when I mentor young lawyers now. I remember Al Meyer overheard me remark one day that I had won my first five or six jury trials in a row since being sworn in and joining the firm. He immediately took me into his office and told me, "Steve, don't ever say that again - all that means is that you're not trying enough cases."

He also taught me to be mindful of how I treated other people, because it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but you can lose it in just one minute.

Of course, I must also add my parents for setting wonderful examples and for having faith in me. They are my heroes.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.