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LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Julia Blackwell Gelinas

Member, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Indianapolis; Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, 1978

May 4, 2016

Julia Blackwell Gelinas has spent the majority of her legal career championing the advancement of women within her firm and throughout the profession. She is a former managing partner of predecessor firm Locke Reynolds, one of few women in the state to hold that title. Julia currently chairs the firm’s appellate practice group. Her professional successes include defending the largest defamation judgment awarded to an individual against a large insurance company, and representing Ford Motor Co. before the Indiana Supreme Court in affirming a jury verdict for the manufacturer. Julia is a former member and chair of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission and has written about and presented on the topic of ethics.

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

What needs to be done to get more women into leadership roles?

In addition to creating opportunities for women, law firms need to make a concerted effort to create programs that identify and develop women early in their careers as potential leaders of the firm so that women can see the rewards down the road associated with remaining in private practice as an alternative to other career options.

Is there one ethical issue you often see with lawyers? Have the issues changed thanks to the Internet and social media?

Conflicts of interest are a continuing source of ethical problems for practicing lawyers. There are different ways to approach ethics — a slightly more conservative approach at the outset is the best way to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, many lawyers take a more liberal view of the rules which can result in becoming the focus of an investigation. Regardless of the outcome, that is not a place you want to be.

What do you like the most about being an attorney? What do you like least?

I love the interaction with my clients and colleagues the most, and the immense sense of accomplishment when I am able to advance their cause. The thing I probably enjoy the least is the business side of the profession. Having said that, however, as a member of the firm’s management team for many years, I recognize and appreciate the importance of treating it both as a profession and a business.

What do you learn whenever you take on a mentoring role?

You not only learn something about the individual you are mentoring, but you always learn something about yourself as well. It’s especially beneficial to work with individuals from other generations so that you avoid the habit of generalizing about an entire group of individuals instead of taking the time to appreciate the individuals within that generation for the people they are.

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

I spent one summer during college working at the Allen County Department of Public Welfare performing site visits for those receiving disability benefits and aid for dependent children. It was an eye-opening experience and has forever contributed to shaping my view of the world and the responsibilities of those with much to give to those who have little.

What are some tips for achieving a work/life balance?

You have different time constraints at different times in your life. What may have been a good balance at one time may no longer work as you enter a different stage in your life. Don’t be afraid to reassess your life and make changes in order to find the balance that everyone craves. There are times when your immediate and extended family and friends need more of you than at other times.

What’s something about you not many people know?

I have taken piano lessons on and off since I was about 8 years old. One of my prouder accomplishments was learning to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” many years ago. I am much too rusty to play it now.

Why did you become a lawyer?

It appeared to be the logical extension of my liberal arts education. I loved to read and write and I was often the champion of the underdog growing up.

If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what would you do for a living?

I was a history major in college and at one time I thought my dream job would be to research and write the definitive work on some aspect of the 20th century.

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

The cases that stand out the most for me all involve clients who were being treated unfairly, and I was able to either level the playing field or secure an out-and-out win for them. They are always the most satisfying.

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

Be patient and take the time to enjoy the moment. I have great respect for those who have figured out how to live in the moment while at the same time function as a contributing member of society.

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