LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Jennifer Tudor Wright

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In nearly seven years in practice, Jennifer Tudor Wright has set herself apart professionally in the extremely nuanced practice area of multidistrict litigation. She has helped manage a massive MDL involving approximately 8,500 plaintiffs and multiple Barnes & Thornburg offices that has spanned several years and international boundaries for one of the firm’s major clients. Jennifer frequently facilitates mentoring relationships with younger lawyers and is one of the firm’s most involved mentors. She is active with the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and is a member of the IndyBar Futures 2020 Work Group.

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

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

Work for Anthony Bourdain, so I could travel the world and eat well!

Why practice in the area of law you do?

I have experience in a wide variety of commercial litigation, including products liability, medical device litigation, employment and contract disputes, school law, antitrust actions, creditor’s rights, premises liability and copyright and trademark infringement. I love what I do because I am always challenged — no case is ever the same!

What is one misconception people tend to have about what you do for a living?

Attorneys know all types of law. In reality, most lawyers are specialized. I frequently get questions involving family law issues, estates, etc. I have good friends to whom I direct these questions, but most are shocked that I do not know the answer “off the top of my head.”

How does working on an MDL case differ from that of a regular case?

Generally, the “American Rule” governs — each party is responsible for their own attorneys’ fees. One exception is known as the “common benefit doctrine.” Common benefit funds are financed by requiring defendants to hold back a portion of the damage or settlement award recovered by plaintiffs. Attorneys who provided a common benefit to plaintiffs may then request an allocation from the fund for their fees. Common benefit funds have been increasingly used in MDLs. This attorney fee distinction, combined with the fact that MDLs generally involve thousands of plaintiffs and span several years, means that there is oftentimes more at stake.

Do you think the opportunities to sharpen litigation skills are declining for lawyers?

Due to the frequent settlement of lawsuits outside of court, there is arguably less opportunity for young lawyers to gain deposition and trial experience. However, I have been extremely lucky at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and have had great mentors who have ensured that I received these opportunities. In fact, I am writing these answers late on a Sunday because I am in the middle of a five-day jury trial.

What will the legal profession look like in 15 years?

In the world of email, texts, blogs, apps, etc., there is a massive amount of electronically stored information. When served with a discovery request for ESI, the time and resources needed to search for, review and produce relevant documentation can be extremely burdensome. In one particular case, we produced over 1 million documents. The recent modification to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure suggests a trend toward more “proportionality” in cases, and I think this is an extremely positive shift that I am excited to see play out over the next few years.

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

While in law school, I had to opportunity to intern for the Hon. Judge Edward W. Najam Jr. of the Indiana Court of Appeals and worked in the legal department on an international company headquartered in Indianapolis. I also clerked for a small general practice firm. It was such an eye-opening experience to see the practice of law from an in-house, judicial and private perspective before “officially” becoming an attorney.

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

Civility. Attorneys are generally competitive, but I have found (based on an example set by my mentor) that developing positive relationships is more productive. Through my current role as the chair of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, I have had the opportunity to develop friendships with many attorneys in the Indianapolis legal community, which has made my legal practice more rewarding and enjoyable.

What’s something about you not many people know?

I am a huge IU fan! My husband and I were married on Oct. 4, 2014, at the Indiana Memorial Union on IU’s campus. When I am not in the office (or down in Bloomington), I tend to take part in all of the festivities that downtown Indianapolis has to offer — running on the Cultural Trail, tailgating for the Colts, country concerts at White River State Park, attending shows at IRT, having brunch in Fountain Square, and socializing on Mass Ave.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

From a professional standpoint, I hope to be respected by my peers in the Indianapolis legal community. From a personal standpoint, I’d love to still grill out and drink wine with my husband (maybe a few kids, a dog and a cat) on the porch of our home in the historic Lockerbie Square neighborhood.

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

Impact. Over the years, I have been involved with the following social and civic community-based organizations: Fort-4-Fitness Inc., Junior League of Fort Wayne, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, the Indianapolis Bar Association and Foundation, and the United Way. I think it is important to be active within organizations such as these because their impact in the state makes me proud to call Indiana home.

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