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IndyBar: What Will Bring Us Together This Year?

January 24, 2018

iba-pres-bell-james-2018Greetings and welcome to the 140th year of the Indianapolis Bar Association. For 140 years, the IndyBar has served its members, promoted justice and enhanced the legal profession. It has survived the Depression, two World Wars, Ron Artest’s attempt to destroy the Pacers and that time some corporate hacks tried to change the taste of Coca-Cola.

At the IndyBar office, the story of the beginning of our bar association is often told like this:

On November 30, 1878, in the law offices of Dye & Harris, forty prominent Indianapolis attorneys, including future U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and U.S. Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks, met in the hopes of creating a common organization “in which lawyers may exchange ideas, maintain the honor and dignity of the profession of law, cultivate social intercourse among its members and increase the usefulness in promoting the due administration of justice.”

Because the founders had all misplaced their Westlaw passwords, the first priority of our association was to create a law library and reading room to be used by judges, attorneys and law students. After pooling their resources and talents, this library became a reality and it soon held over 7,000 volumes.

Now, I have to confess that I have difficulty picturing what this 1878 meeting looked like. While my mind is able to conjure up images of what the United States looked like in the 1920s (think, “The Great Gatsby,” old sport), the 1950s (think, “the Fonz”) and the 1960s (think The Beatles), when it comes to Indianapolis in 1878, my mind sees nothing.

Because of this, my vision of this 1878 meeting may be unfairly influenced by my recent time spent on the IndyBar Board. For example, I imagine that the first IndyBar meeting came to order and several members arrived late claiming the old “I work on the Northside” (which at the time was on the 12th street) and, “traffic was terrible” excuse. I imagine that Benjamin Harrison, who, in 1878, had to have already contemplated a run for the nation’s highest office, sat in the back of the room and tweeted “#IWantALibrary” from his “@RealBennyH” Twitter handle.

I imagine that when it came time to discuss raising money for the new library, everyone at the meeting thought about how much money fellow member Horatio C. Newcomb made. They all knew that Horatio’s face was on all 3 billboards in the Indianapolis area, that he had just won a whopping jury verdict of $7,300 and that nobody could try a buggy accident case like Horatio. After a few minutes, a smart aleck criminal defense lawyer piped up and said, “Let’s just have Horatio pay for it!” After some nervous laughter, they all stared at Horatio with hope that he might just fork over a check. “No way,” he finally said to the disappointment of everyone else in the room. (Horatio would later redeem himself in the eyes of his colleagues and serve as IndyBar president in 1880 and 1881.)

After the conclusion of this first meeting, the group stuck around to chat, commiserate about a case or get some intel on a local judge. But before leaving the meeting, everyone (and I mean everyone) whispered their complaints that newly-elected IndyBar President Napoleon Taylor had ordered potato bar for the meeting. (This is why former IndyBar President John Maley instituted the now famous “no meeting without Giorgio’s pizza” doctrine.)

While the way I envision this meeting may not be entirely accurate, for purposes of this message, it may not matter. This 1878 meeting shows that even 140 years ago, a group of lawyers thought their profession would be enhanced if they came together as a group and thought that they could achieve more collectively than they could as individuals.

Since I have become a lawyer, IndyBar members have been brought together to advocate for safer courts and to add their expertise to proposed pieces of legislation. Our members have been brought together to provide legal services for Indianapolis’ homeless population and to provide many hours of free legal services to others who can’t afford it.

IndyBar members have come together to provide resources for McKinney law students and to provide an inexpensive bar review course to help those students pass the bar. We have helped younger lawyers and paralegals find employment, we have mentored young lawyers and provided a path for them to become involved in our legal community.

We have been brought together to promote civility in our legal community. We provide education for lawyers and a platform for lawyers to display their knowledge and talents. We are working to provide services to young lawyers who are forced to open their own practice straight out of law school and we are looking out for the wellness of our fellow attorneys.

It is often said that the IndyBar provides resources that make lawyers more productive, more profitable and more satisfied in their career. I like to add that being involved in the IndyBar makes your practice more fun.

For 140 years, we have come together to “exchange ideas,” “maintain the honor and dignity of the profession of law,” cultivate civility among our members and “increase the usefulness in promoting the due administration of justice.” I am excited to see what else brings us together this year.

*** Special thanks to former IndyBar President Mike Hebenstreit for giving his thoughts for this article.

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