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LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Carol Lynn Terzo

Arbitrator and Mediator, The Mediation Option, Indianapolis; Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, 1982

May 4, 2016

Carol Lynn Terzo has been described as reasonable, fair and efficient, often conveying empathy while presiding over civil and family law cases during her 22 years as a commissioner in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. These traits have helped her excel as a mediator and arbitrator, a career switch she made five years ago when she opened The Mediation Option. She regularly educates the bar about alternative dispute resolution and mentors attorneys, attending monthly dinners for female attorneys to develop professional relationships. And she hasn’t completely given up hearing cases; she currently serves as a senior judge.

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

Mediation is often encouraged over going to trial. Why should it be the first option?

Most human conflict arises from a lack of communication, either verbal or written. People generally want to have someone “hear” their story, they want to communicate their story in their own way and in their own words without the restrictions imposed in a courtroom setting. In mediation the parties are free to fully express themselves and to participate in the crafting of, and to have ownership of, the resulting agreement.

What advice would you give to someone starting their own office?

Take the time necessary to plan and strategize opening an office. I spent one year, prior to leasing my space, researching and planning what I wanted my office to be. Not only did I consider what was happening in Indiana, but I looked at what was happening in the national and global world of mediation. I took those ideas that appealed to me and implemented them such that I could offer a service that was unique both in my physical space and in my methodology.

You knitted the dress you wore to your daughter’s wedding. What else have you made?

I make most of my sweaters and the sweaters for my grandsons. My favorite sweater was a black “biker jacket” for my then 1-year-old grandson, complete with metal grommets, zippers, and a “Harley” patch sewn on the back. And, of course, I included a knitted cap that looked like he had a shaved head with a Mohawk down the center.

Why did you become a lawyer?

I lied. While I was teaching first grade in Kuwait, I lied to a man on our first date. Thinking it would impress him, I said I was planning to go to law school, a safe lie as I would be returning to Indianapolis at the end of the school year, and never see him again. I DID NOT WANT TO GO TO LAW SCHOOL! The very thought made me nauseous. Then I married him and didn’t want him to know that I lied … so I went to law school! We’ve been married 38 years, and I only “fessed up” a few years ago!

Is there a moment in your career you wish you could do over?

I once, as a brand new attorney, went to court with a highly respected and professional attorney on the other side. I totally believed my client’s story, and so was ready to do battle. I was aggressive and downright rude when the other attorney tried to settle out of court. During the course of the subsequent hearing, it became very clear that my client was totally at fault and I ended up with a full-on breakfast omelet on my face. I always regretted my behavior. A few years later I got the chance to apologize, and the attorney and I became very good friends. Moral of the story: Your client is not always right and nastiness is never useful unless you like eggs.

What civic cause is the most important to you?

It is the children who innocently suffer when their parents get divorced and this makes me very sad. Therefore I support an organization, New Day, for children whose parents are going through divorce. The children in the New Day program all have dinner together twice a month and then go to various age-appropriate activities staffed by trained personnel who help them express their feelings in a “safe” place and with other children experiencing similar disruption in their lives.

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

My first job was teaching first grade in Kuwait in the mid-1970s when no one had ever even heard of the country. I was able to travel throughout the Middle East and often went to Iran for “R and R” — Iran being one of the few liberal countries in the region, obviously pre-Khomeini. In fact, I was in Iran just a few months prior to the events in the movie “Argo.”

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

The same things everyone says: Don’t sweat the small, or even big, stuff (stop worrying); everyone puts on their pants the same way, one leg at a time (don’t let people intimidate you); laughter is the best medicine (be happy); and eat all of your vegetables (keep healthy). But my younger self would just roll her eyes at the old lady and would have to learn the hard way!

How has mediation changed since you started?

When I first became a mediator in the late 1980s the whole process was suspect. Most attorneys didn’t believe it would work. I was part of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s ADR section which finally disbanded due to lack of interest. Now everyone is a mediator or takes their clients to mediation on a regular basis. And the IndyBar’s ADR section is thriving!

Why did you make the switch from the bench to mediation?

I have enjoyed my years on the bench; in fact, as a senior judge, I still enjoy hearing cases. But I love helping people take control of their own situation and helping them to think outside of the box. In mediation, the parties can be as creative as necessary to have a result that works for their particular situation.

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

My first career was in elementary school education, so I might be a teacher or a rock-n-roll singer like every other member of the Woodstock generation wanted to be back then.
 

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