LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Sarah C. Jenkins

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In her nearly 10 years in practice, Sarah Jenkins has achieved many significant victories for her clients and been recognized for her probate litigation expertise. She won her probate case before the Indiana Supreme Court that turned on the statutory definition of “claim,” and she is a member of the Indiana State Bar Association’s Probate Review Committee. Sarah also has provided more than 700 pro bono hours working on a case involving a man with a mental health disability whose home was bulldozed without his consent or court approval. And she has been a leader on lawyer ethics, helping the ISBA Legal Ethics Committee issue several advisory opinions.

jenkins-1col.jpg (IL photo/Eric Learned)

What is one ethical mistake you see made when it comes to social media?

Sometimes attorneys take an informal approach to social media and forget that the Rules of Professional Conduct still apply. This is particularly true with advertising restrictions as lawyers’ social media posts oftentimes imply that clients will have successful results by engaging the lawyer, which is a violation of Rule 7.1.

Why is it important for lawyers to perform pro bono work?

For me, serving others is a reward in and of itself. I have been very blessed, and my pro bono work is a way that I consciously practice gratitude by giving back. Although there are many injustices in our communities, when we work to enhance the common good — even just a little bit — then we feel personally invested in our community and optimistic about its future.

Why practice in the area of law you do?

There is nothing more rewarding than achieving justice for your client. Nothing beats the thrill of calling your client to tell him that he won his trial or appeal. Also the fast pace of litigation sweeps you up in a real-life chess match. Yes, there is a lot of researching and reviewing documents to pin down dates and facts, but there also is a good deal of strategy involved in zealously representing your client’s interests.

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

I’ve always loved marshalling facts and presenting them to an audience to tell a compelling story, so I likely would have become a journalist if not a lawyer. In fact, I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from IU.

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

I was an intern with Sen. Richard Lugar in D.C. during one summer, which gave me an insider look into how Congress works. Although the political climate has changed significantly in the last 14 years, I was encouraged by how well some of our congressmen worked together across the aisle on critical issues such as dismantling the Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction.

What is the most important lesson you learned from your mentor?

My mentor has always taught me that the biggest investment an attorney can make in her practice is in the education and development of junior lawyers. As I have progressed through my career, I’ve come to rely more and more on my junior colleagues in helping me to research important issues and shape the strategy for our cases. It is particularly gratifying when a mentee proposes an argument or solution that I had not considered. It is proof that good tutelage can foster creative thinking and professional growth to the benefit of our clients.

What’s something about you not many people know?

I love scuba diving and actually have a degree in underwater resource management. In college I spent a semester in Australia diving the Great Barrier Reef, and I also spent two summers in the Florida Keys working on historical shipwrecks.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

In 20 years I hope to still be challenged by the practice of law and striving to improve the lives of my clients and the community that I love, while also making beautiful memories with my family and friends. I am sure that with another 20 years of experience, I will be better equipped to make a difference in ways that I can only dream about today.

Why is it important to be active within legal and community organizations?

As lawyers, we have a unique perspective and skill set that we bring to the table, which provides us with extraordinary opportunities to strengthen our legal community and improve the lives of others. One of my favorite quotes is by Sarah Bernhardt: “It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” And it proves true every day. For example, the sense of pride and satisfaction I have from my work with the Humane Society of Indianapolis has very much enriched my life.

What will the legal profession look like in 15 years?

Because of the impact technology is having and will continue to have on our profession, it is hard to predict what our profession will look like in five years, let alone 15 years. However, the need for lawyers who are masters of their craft and effective advocates will remain.

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

I actually love the application of law. Nothing is more exhilarating than digging into the nuances of a statute or court opinion and explaining how those legal principles apply to the facts of your client’s case. Although it is fortunately rare in our legal community, I detest incivility among attorneys. Incivility is not effective client representation, and it degrades the profession of law.

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