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.