Jim Dimos was just out of law school and settling into his first job at an Indianapolis firm when he volunteered to help coach an inner-city youth football team.
Named the Falcons, the team bruised the gridiron during the Saturday dog-eat-dog games and ended up exceeding expectations by making the playoffs. Dimos, an offensive lineman in high school, ran the defense with a cool hand.
Dan Lueders, partner at Woodard Emhardt Moriarty McNett & Henry LLP, was among the other volunteer coaches on the Falcons’ team. Recalling that 1987 season, Lueders remembered Dimos towering over the 5th- and 6th-grade boys and talking to them, explaining to them. He never yelled, he never used vague, abstract buzz words that confused the players, but rather he patiently helped them understand what they should do on the field.
“That just came naturally to Jim,” Lueders said.
Dimos, partner at Frost Brown Todd LLC, will once again be using those leadership and communication skills as he becomes the next president of the Indiana State Bar Association. He wants to lead by listening and engaging bar association members and non-members from around the state to not only tell them what the organization offers but also to hear what more the association can do.
Building on the initiatives started by outgoing ISBA president Dan Vinovich, Dimos has plans to strengthen and grow the state association of more than 12,000 members.
“It really is an honor to be selected to serve in this role and represent the association,” Dimos said. “I hope members, at the end of it, feel I met their expectations of what they look for in a state bar association president.”
Dimos will bring bar leadership experience to his presidency. He has been active in both the state and Indiana bar associations as well as the American Bar Association pretty much his entire professional career.
He was introduced to the bar associations as a young attorney. The culture at the former Locke Reynolds, now Frost Brown Todd, encouraged participation, with the firm paying the annual dues and senior partners inviting associates to bar lunches.
With that foundation, Dimos joined and actively participated. He rose in the Indianapolis Bar Association, eventually serving as president in 2001, and is currently a member of the ABA House of Delegates. The value he sees in belonging is the ability to interact with lawyers from different places, working on a variety of projects and helping to improve the legal system.
For the long hours and energy he has devoted to his volunteering, Dimos has received, as his wife said, “emotional compensation.”
“I feel better about what I do when I’m able to do something that helps the community at large,” he said.
Dimos will take the helm while the legal profession is undergoing fundamental changes. The disrupt caused by technology, the growing need for affordable legal help, the tight job market and the concern over law schools are among the issues drawing attention.
Certainly, as Indiana’s largest organization of attorneys, the ISBA has a prominent bully pulpit from which it can speak. However, Dimos cautioned the association has to use its voice in the appropriate manner. Members have different viewpoints, he said, and the ISBA has to be respectful of those.
The association’s collective voice will be guided by input from the sections and committees within the ISBA, he said. Substantive issues the smaller groups raise will be taken to larger groups in the ISBA to determine what position, if any, the organization should take.
One thing Dimos learned from his earlier turn at bar association leadership is that he does not always get to control the agenda. Much like a coach reacting to what is happening on the field, he said as Indy Bar president he would start his day by reading the newspaper to find out which judge, lawyer or columnist just changed his day.
John Maley, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, saw Dimos’ style up close as the 2001 president-elect of the Indy Bar.
“Jim is the consummate bar leader and servant – local, state, and nationally,” Maley said. “He believes strongly in the virtues of lawyers and the legal profession, and has devoted thousands and thousands of hours through his distinguished career to serving the bar and promoting justice. Indiana will be well served with Jim leading the state bar.”
When Vinovich became the ISBA president, he launched a three-year initiative that sought to strengthen the organization by improving member benefits, diversity and governance. The idea was that the plan will be carried forth by his successors, Dimos and Sullivan attorney Jeff Hawkins.
One-year initiatives that start and end with a single presidency are ineffective, Hawkins said. He believes Vinovich had a remarkable suggestion to coordinate the agenda among three leaders as a way to accomplish more.
Currently, the bar association has added free access to the online legal research provider, Casemaker, and a free ethics continuing legal education course for members. The total value per individual reaches $540, Vinovich said, and has helped increase the member rolls by 644.
To increase geographic diversity, the ISBA has enlisted video conferencing to enable members in the far reaches of the state to serve as chairs and vice chairs of the sections and committees, Vinovich said. Also, the association is considering adding two at-large seats to its board of governors.
Vinovich is confident Dimos will pick up the initiative and advance the ISBA even more. He described the incoming president as having a “very calm and level-headed demeanor” that makes him particularly suited to lead attorneys. Dimos, he said, lets everybody talk and then creates a consensus.
“I can’t wait to see what he does,” Vinovich said. “He’s really going to be good.”
Dimos wants to continue to reach out to attorneys and get them to join the association. The board of governors will be visiting Valparaiso, Notre Dame and Indiana University Maurer law schools and he plans to ask the district representatives to engage more with members and the local bar associations.
Mostly, he wants to talk with members. He wants to have healthy conversations where many different voices are heard and all opinions are respected. This, he said, will allow the association to accomplish good things.
Raising two daughters and one son, Dimos knows the conflicting needs and desires that can exist with a group. Achieving consensus in the ISBA will not be easy, he said, and it will not be created the way it sometimes is at home.
“I can’t at the end of the day say, ‘No, I’m sorry, I’m dad,’” Dimos said. “I don’t get that luxury nor do I want it.”
Practicing in a small town, Hawkins understands the necessity of bringing more attorneys into the ISBA, listening to what they say and giving them the resources they need. Communication, he said, is key to doing this.
Hawkins, the next ISBA president-elect, said Dimos is coming to the organization with a real passion for the organization and a lot of leadership experience. The incoming president, he said, has a desire to work together with members, promoting a free exchange of thoughts to keep the association percolating with fresh ideas.
“Jim is a big man in terms of physique and capability,” Hawkins said. “When I stand by him, I look up to him and not just because he’s well over 6 foot and I am not.”•