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Terms of Art: Attorney is a 'study in contrasts'

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ArtThere is no shortage of one-dimensional caricatures in popular culture depicting lawyers as mercenary and unfeeling. Those of us who have devoted ourselves to this noble profession know that lawyers are actually deeply and emotionally invested in our communities, including our civic institutions. In this vein, I have long noted with interest the number of attorneys who not only harbor a love of the arts, but who also have a unique artistic passion. This column will feature such practitioner-artists in hopes of gleaning valuable insights from their experiences.

Who better to feature in this inaugural column than Indiana University Health’s Senior Vice President/General Counsel Norman G. Tabler? His devotion to art and community is the stuff of local legend. Avid WFYI radio listeners also know Tabler as an accomplished humorist. Impeccably dressed, his affinity for homburgs and fedoras reflects his high school Latin teacher’s theory that folks who dress well conduct themselves accordingly. A self-professed news junkie with a penchant for biographies and a special place in his heart for bulldogs, he is a three-dimensional original. Witty and wickedly funny, he is a study in contrasts – this understated dapper gentleman whose nuanced wordplay, laconic wit, and deadpan delivery often generates riotous laughter. He attributes his success as a humorist to the effect of “how serious I look, contrasted with the relative humor of what I’m saying.” Tabler’s brand of humor is not pie-in-the face slapstick. He delivers his punchlines “as if he’s Norm from Legal,” and entertains “the way your professor from college got laughs.”

Tabler’s love affair with language began early. He explains that “it is our human nature to want to capture ideas and concepts in words, and to tame them by naming them.” He alludes to the way people feel more secure when they can affix a name to a mystifying phenomenon, much like the sense of control – even comfort – that patients derive from medical diagnoses, even terrible ones. He shares an instructive quote from renowned jurist Learned Hand, “There is no surer way to misread any document than to read it literally.” “Our language is a code,” Tabler explains. “We rarely say what we mean.”

Recognizing that there is power in the ability to manipulate that all-important code, Tabler enrolled in law school, amazed that “working with language and words could actually be his career.” He was instantly drawn to contract law, which provided an “amazing insight into our society and its values, and what society regards as important and unimportant. To this day, I still love deep intense study of contractual terms and looking for ambiguities.” Early in his career, Tabler embraced his innate ability to wield language to suit his clients’ needs. Reflecting upon his experience, he adds, “I’ve been allowed to become the kind of lawyer I want to be. One who works with language and writes a lot – it’s been a very satisfying career.”

Tabler insists that being a busy lawyer affords ample opportunity for expression “because lawyers have more control over their schedules, and have more opportunities to pursue interests and to weave together our professional and personal interests.” Although he acknowledges the occasional pang of regret for not allotting more time to his craft, writing opportunities abound for Tabler, who contributes regularly to WFYI’s spring and fall membership broadcasts. Like most NPR fans, he concedes that the pledge drives “always drove me crazy.” A long-time board member, he recalls grumbling about the pledge drives in a meeting years ago, and suddenly finding himself “trapped” into saying that he would try to write an interesting, if not entertaining, spot.

And so it began ... What Tabler had expected to be an anonymous one-time “spot” was played in heavy rotation and publicly attributed to him. Crafted to sound like it originated at NPR headquarters, the spot was so well-received that Tabler has since prepared them regularly for 10 years, with some of his works now in syndication in other radio markets. Buoyed by the public’s warm reception, Tabler emerged from the shadows, acknowledging that for years he had written jokes for others, including three governors, to deliver. “It’s fun,” he adds. “This all started with writing. I can’t think of anything that’s brought me more satisfaction.”

Whether in pursuit of his clients’ interests or to entertain, Tabler is ever manipulating language to establish the desired connection and to achieve maximum impact. On how legal writing and his unique brand of humorous writing intersect, Tabler responds that writing is like a window pane, “you shouldn’t be able to see it.” If one’s focus is on the pane and not the view beyond, he explains, there is probably some distracting smudge on the window. Bridging his work and humor, Tabler opines, “it’s all the same thing. There’s always a best way to say it.”•

__________

Wandini Riggins is an associate in the Indianapolis firm of LewisWagner LLP. She concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance bad faith disputes and insurance coverage. She can be reached at wriggins@lewiswagner.com. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.
 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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