Dictionary.com defines the word Hoosier as follows: 1) a native or inhabitant of Indiana (used as a nickname). 2) (usually lowercase) any awkward, unsophisticated person, especially a rustic.
The origin of the word “Hoosier” is as clear as mud. Some scholars trace the word back to the Cumbrian word “hoozer,” which means anything unusually large. Other scholars argue that the word originated as a term used along the Ohio River to refer to flatboat men from Indiana. Yet other scholars argue for a connection of the word to a Methodist minister and famous orator, the Rev. Harry Hosier, who evangelized the American frontier at the beginning of the 19th century. Others trace the origin of the word back to a time when visitors would knock on the doors of Indiana pioneers who would then ask “Who’s here” which – in the Appalachian English of the early settlers – slurred into “Who’sh ‘ere?” and then into “Hoosier?”
Finally, another story relates the term back to a Louisville contractor by the name of Samuel Hoosier who preferred to hire from communities on the Indiana side of the Ohio River; hence his employees became known as “Hoosier’s men” and then simply “Hoosiers.” As shown above, it is safe to say that the origins of “Hoosier” will most likely remain shrouded in mystery.
Notwithstanding the formal meanings of the word, “Hoosier” also appears to have other more subtle meanings. In addition to meaning an “ignorant rustic” (a pejorative term that appears to have gained popularity in St. Louis in the 19th century), I know of many individuals who also attach the meaning of “cagey” or “street smart” to the term. Thus, while a Hoosier may be a yokel, he or she may likely hustle you in a game of cards. In addition, we have all heard of the term “Hoosier hospitality.” This term carries a more positive meaning of especially generous and/or magnanimous hospitality.
All of this gets me to the question that I initially posed, and that is what does it mean to be a Hoosier lawyer? In my mind, a Hoosier lawyer is an attorney who is an effective and excellent advocate for his client, yet extremely professional and civil at the same time. I recently had a case where all parties involved personified my concept of Hoosier lawyers.
The case was a coverage case between two insurance companies that posed an interesting legal issue due to the novel set of underlying facts. Opposing counsel was Jim Austen from Starr Austen & Miller in Logansport, Indiana. I found Jim to be a very effective advocate for his client, yet he was at all times courteous and professional with me and everyone involved in the case. The trial court judge in the matter was Judge Charles O’Connor out of Shelby County, who enjoys the reputation of being one of the finest trial court judges in the state.
The case was ultimately decided on cross-motions for summary judgment, and Judge O’Connor was thoroughly prepared at the summary judgment hearing and issued a thoughtful and extensive entry on the cross-motions. The case eventually wound its way through the appellate courts, with oral argument eventually being held in the Indiana Supreme Court. While there, all five Supreme Court justices displayed their “Hoosierness.” The questions presented by the justices were probing, well thought-out and to the point. At the same time, the questions were posed in a way that did not embarrass or belittle the attorneys. While I ultimately ended up losing, it struck me that through the entire life of the case, all members of the bench and bar had acquitted themselves with such professionalism that it made me proud to be a member of the bar in the Hoosier state.
What is a Hoosier? It appears to be a term of murky origin that has many nuanced and subtle meanings. Ultimately, the word can mean whatever one wants it to mean to a certain extent. I would like to think that the term “Hoosier lawyer” refers to Indiana attorneys who are humble and self-deprecating, yet at the same time are cagey and skilled advocates who deal with opposing counsel and parties with a high degree of professionalism and respect. I believe that my unofficial definition of “Hoosier lawyer” is shared by a large number of members of the bench and bar in the state based on how counsel and judges conform their conduct to this definition. While some from other states might find Hoosier lawyers to be “ignorant rustics,” I for one would be proud to be called a Hoosier lawyer.•
Mr. Strenski is a partner in the Indianapolis firm of Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer and is a member of the DTCI board of directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.