New ILS director praised for reputation and experience

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Indianapolis attorney Jon Laramore will be making a homecoming, of sorts, when he steps from private practice into the top job at Indiana Legal Services Inc.

Laramore, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP and immediate past-president of the Indiana State Board of Law Examiners, will become the executive director of the statewide legal aid agency in February. He will be only the second director to serve since the organization was started in the early 1970s under the leadership of current executive director Norman Metzger.

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“It’s a really exciting opportunity,” Laramore said of his new position. “I started my legal career as a legal services attorney, and I think this is a good time in my life to get back to that work.”

Laramore worked for five years as a staff attorney for legal services organizations in Massachusetts after his graduation from law school. When he arrived in Indiana Metzger wanted him as a staff attorney at ILS, but Laramore turned down the job offer in order to take a position in state government.

Now, Laramore will be taking over ILS, which provides free civil legal services to low-income Hoosiers in all 92 counties. The federally funded nonprofit had a budget of $8.48 million in 2014 and, according to its annual report, served 7,901 clients in 2013. Of the cases the agency handled 2013, 41 percent were in the area of family law, with housing issues comprising 15 percent of the workload and consumer affairs representing 14 percent of ILS cases.

Attorneys connected to ILS are excited that Laramore will be the next leader. Highlighting his litigation and legal aid experience as well as his managerial skills and knowledge of state government, they said the incoming executive director is especially qualified to oversee and nurture the agency.

“We feel so blessed,” said Mary Fondrisi, president of the ILS board of directors. “I certainly believe this is a role that will fit Jon like a glove.”

Laramore will be taking over a healthy office. ILS has received a boost in federal dollars and has added more attorneys to its staff. Most recently, the organization was awarded a $73,882 cy pres award to join with Heartland Pro Bono Council to help individuals fight consumer rights abuses.

“I really look forward to working with the board and staff to make sure ILS is working as effectively as it can,” Laramore said.

The search

After Metzger announced his plans to retire in March 2015, the ILS board contracted with Management Information Exchange in Boston to help conduct the nationwide search to find a new executive director.

Between 12 and 15 people applied for the position, and the search committee, appointed by the board, interviewed six of them. The sole candidate from out-of-state dropped out during the screening process.

Attorney Patricia McKinnon, chair of the ILS search committee, described the candidates as “high caliber” and said the committee was “very pleased” with the quality of applicants.

The search committee then narrowed the pool to three and presented them to the full board for a second interview. McKinnon said she was thrilled the board was able to make an offer to Laramore.

“I think he will do an excellent job,” she said. “He is a leader in every sense of the word.”

Metzger has long held a similar view of Laramore. “He really has got credentials,” Metzger said. “I think he’s a pretty impressive person.”

When he made Indiana his home, Laramore decided to work in state government, first in the Office of the Indiana Attorney General then as chief legal counsel to Govs. Frank O’Bannon and Joseph Kernan.

Laramore joined Faegre Baker Daniels in 2005 where he has focused his practice in appellate litigation, building his reputation as a knowledgeable and skilled attorney. Still, he kept his ties to legal aid.

Seeing what he characterized as an unmet need, he founded the Indiana Appellate Pro Bono Project which is now run jointly by the Indiana Pro Bono Commission and the Indiana State Bar Association. This program matches indigent people with attorneys to appeal their civil cases pro bono.

Laramore’s move to ILS is being delayed, in part, by a pro bono assignment. He is representing Moones Mellouli, who is fighting to maintain his lawful permanent residency despite a drug conviction. The Indianapolis attorney will be arguing the case, Mellouli v. Holder, 13-1034, before the Supreme Court of the United States on Jan. 14.

Looking forward

Although he pointed out that no one can replace Metzger, Mark Robinson, managing attorney at ILS’s New Albany office, said Laramore’s knowledge of the courtroom will be a great resource for the staff attorneys. Laramore has “worked in the trenches,” Robinson said, and he has empathy for the day-to-day work that ILS attorneys and paralegals do.

In addition, Robinson said Laramore has demonstrated he can make the right decisions in a major crisis. Specifically, he pointed to Laramore providing guidance and leadership to state government officials after O’Bannon unexpectedly died in office in 2003.

“Jon Laramore is not only well-known in the top echelon of the legal community, he is also highly, highly respected as a practitioner,” Robinson said. “I am absolutely ecstatic a person of his status has accepted the offer to become our admiral in leading the ship called ILS.”

The ILS board of directors has not set an agenda for the post-Metzger years. It opted to let the new executive director determine the direction and goals for the agency.

However, Fondrisi, partner at Smith Carpenter Fondrisi & Cummins LLC in Jeffersonville, said she would like ILS to collaborate with other organizations around the state, working and building a network with other service nonprofits.

Laramore declined to discuss his plans for ILS until he was settled into his new position, but he did note he has experience collaborating with different groups. His effort to establish the appellate project taught him how to partner with government as well as charitable agencies.

Given Laramore’s background in appellate litigation, McKinnon expects he will direct ILS to pursue more impact cases, the kinds of lawsuits that advocate on behalf of poor people and call for changes to public policy.

After he accepted the position, Laramore called the man he is replacing. During that conversation, Metzger said his proudest accomplishment at ILS was building an independent legal aid agency that would not allow anyone to compromise the staff attorneys’ ability to zealously represent poor Hoosiers in a courtroom.

Metzger said Laramore has not had the experience of dealing with people who want to influence and pressure ILS. But he is confident that Laramore will learn and be a good leader of ILS.

“I feel good about Jon taking this job,” Metzger said. “He’ll be different than me. That’s the way it should be.”•

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