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LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Arend J. Abel

Partner, Cohen & Malad LLP, Indianapolis; Indiana University Maurer School of Law, 1986

May 4, 2016

Arend Abel has long committed himself to supporting and mentoring law students and young attorneys, in his workplace and through his participation with bar associations. The attorney, who focuses his practice in business litigation and appellate law, previously worked as special counsel for former Indiana Attorney General Pamela Carter. Arend has been an advocate for diversity within the bar associations, actively recruiting women and minority group members to participate in leadership positions. Arend serves the greater Indianapolis community with the same dedication that he serves the legal community, including sitting on the board of directors for Mental Health America of Greater Indianapolis.

abel-15col.jpg(IL photo/Eric Learned)

You’ve argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. How does preparation and the experience compare to arguing before other courts?

It’s similar, but much more intense. For other appeals, we typically conduct internal “moots” (practice arguments) and/or engage local practitioners to assist with a moot. For the U.S. Supreme Court cases, we flew to Georgetown and held a moot in front of a panel of lawyers who did nothing but practice before the court. I also literally wrote out every single question I could think of that the justices might ask, and what I believed were appropriate answers. I didn’t memorize them, but the process of identifying the questions and thinking about the answers was very useful.

You’ve been involved with the state bar’s ethics committee for years. Have you seen any changes in ethical questions or issues facing lawyers these days?

Technology is huge, of course. But many of the issues we hear about on the committee are the same types of concerns lawyers have always had: When to report suspected misconduct by other lawyers; what situations constitute conflicts and how to resolve them; and dealing with clients who become difficult for one reason or another.

What do you think the legal profession will look like in 15 years?

I think that a lot of the more routine legal work is going to go away or be delivered by technology or paraprofessionals. But I think people will still need lawyers to provide both advocacy and sound legal counsel and judgment. Right now, “do-it-yourself” legal services actually generate quite a bit of work for lawyers after the fact, because most lay people using those forms don’t know enough to think through problems that using the “standard” solution may cause them down the road in light of their particular situations. But I expect the tools will get better at ferreting out specific needs through interactive questioning, a lot like tax software does today.

Why did you become a lawyer?

Because it was easier than teaching high school students. Seriously, though, my older brother was a lawyer, and that influenced me. And I’ve always loved reading and writing, which is a big part of what lawyers do. Over the years, what I’ve most come to appreciate is working with individuals and businesses to solve problems or avoid them, and the collegiality of our bar.

What was the most memorable job you had prior to becoming an attorney?

It was the teaching job. It was a humbling experience, and it left a lasting impression on me in terms of both the importance and the difficulty of educating our kids. In my view, it’s a shame that teachers aren’t valued more highly by our society.

Why practice in the area of law you do?

I work primarily in litigation, which gives me a chance to help people “pick up the pieces” when something really bad has happened to them in their lives or businesses. It helps to remind me that what we do isn’t abstract, it’s up close and personal to our clients, and we owe them our best.

What excites you about your practice area?

It also exposes me to a wide variety of people and their real-world situations. I try hard to remember that most of them don’t have much experience with the legal system, so it’s my job to act as a guide and a translator, in addition to being an advocate and adviser.

What’s been the biggest change in the practice of law since you began?

Again, technology. We can deliver a much higher-quality product in less time than we could when I first started practicing. Also, the “instant gratification” that people expect from email has resulted in a bigger part of the practice devoted to client communications. On balance, I think that’s a good thing, but it does tend to add to our workload and stress.

What’s something you’ve learned that you wish you could tell your younger self?

To be a little less certain that I’m necessarily right and someone coming at a problem from another direction is wrong. Also, to not react in kind when opposing counsel is less than civil.

What’s something about you not many people know?

I’m an avid wine collector, cook/baker and gardener.

Is there a case that you’ve handled that stands out? Why?

I handled an appeal in an age-discrimination class action many years ago. At that time, the 7th Circuit was considerably less hospitable to such claims than it is now. I remember the attorney from the 7th Circuit’s settlement conference office telling our clients that they should accept a deal that would do nothing more than relieve them of any obligation to pay costs. We prevailed on appeal, and got a considerably better result for our clients on remand. I’m particularly proud of that one. Another case that was memorable to me was one I handled while I worked for the Indiana attorney general. We represented the General Assembly, and I remember a client meeting that included the leaders of all four caucuses, the majority and minority in both the House and the Senate, along with their own separate counsel.
 

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