Thomas Hays is at his best when he’s in front a jury, where he often finds himself despite the push for settling through mediation. For nearly 40 years, he has litigated civil cases involving areas such as product liability, wrongful death and premises liability. Juries appreciate his quick wit and ability to accurately size up a witness. The past president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana joined the organization in 1982 and sought to increase its membership’s diversity while president last year. Tom is a trusted adviser on trial and deposition skills. He takes time out of his busy schedule to mentor young attorneys and ensure they receive hands-on trial experience.
You’re a past recipient of the state bar’s civility award. Why is civility important?
Polite, reasonable and respectful behavior among lawyers is expected by clients and the general public. Lawyers can certainly be strong advocates of their clients’ causes while being civil. Incivility only gives the profession a bad reputation. Social media and email have allowed lawyers to say things to adversaries that can set a bad tone for the entire case if one is not careful. Simply picking up the telephone to talk out one’s differences with the other side is by far the best way to resolve a dispute.
What’s one major issue facing the defense bar today?
Realizing that businesses and insurance companies view many types of defense work as a commodity. Consequently, there is a great deal of pressure on defense lawyers to do their work at very competitive and below-market hourly rates. With the increase in overhead and salaries that firms face, it becomes increasingly difficult for defense lawyers to make a profit.
What skills do lawyers lose when they don’t get to try a case before a jury?
The ability to think on their feet, to be spontaneous, to have a command of the Trial Rules and Rules of Evidence, and also know how to read and persuade persons on a jury. Finally, lawyers lose a portion of their effective communication skills when they are not able to try cases on a regular basis.
What will the legal profession look like in 15 years?
More and more work will be handled by businesses and insurance companies in-house, and we will see a profession of smaller law firms working paperless in minimal space to minimize overhead.
Why did you become a lawyer?
I attended a Boys’ and Girls’ State Convention my freshman year in high school, and after watching lawyers present their cases to a jury, I decided that was what I wanted to do.
If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what would you do for a living?
Seeing what my son does selling medical devices and spinal implants to hospitals and neurosurgeons and the kind of life he leads, I think I would enjoy that!
What was the most memorable job you had prior to becoming a lawyer?
Working four summers in college at Arvin Industries on the assembly line bending pipes for mufflers. It made me realize what true hard work is and how it might be best for me to make a living more with my head than my hands.
What excites you about your practice?
Having developed friends on both sides of the fence the last 39 years that you enjoy working with, even in the most adversarial circumstances. I enjoy the challenges of becoming an “expert” in a case. Whether it is a product, an accident, a particular medical condition, or a legal theory, there is always something new to learn.
What do you learn when you mentor?
The stark differences between younger lawyers who have grown up in the technological age and we older lawyers who grew up before technology.
What’s something that you wish you could tell your younger self?
The work will always be there, so take more time off and enjoy life!