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LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2018: Stephen E. Arthur

Partner, Harrison & Moberly, LLP, Indianapolis Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, 1979

May 2, 2018

Stephen E. Arthur hasn’t just had a remarkable career as a skilled litigator. The Marine Corps veteran literally wrote the book — in truth, several well-regraded titles and volumes — on federal and state trial procedure. He’s worked on complex and class action cases from Indiana trial courts to the U.S. Supreme Court to military courts. But Arthur also has made a name for himself for his extensive community service as well as pro bono work in the courtroom and beyond. For instance, he served as the president of a care facility specializing in Alzheimer’s treatment without compensation.  He’s also described as “an unselfish scholar” who gives generously of his time to help his fellow attorneys sharpen their trial advocacy skills.  As one colleague said, “Stephen always has your back.”

lil-arthur-2018.jpgWhen did you first decide you would become a lawyer, and what motivated you?

High school. I love constitutional history. Lawyers solve problems and protect our system of justice. I wanted to be part of this.

Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?

I have had a number of important mentors. One of my earliest professional mentors was William M. Evans. Bill was a great trial lawyer, and, from my perspective as a young lawyer, he represented everything good about the legal profession. When Bill Evans spoke, everyone listened. He taught me, via quiet counsel and example, the importance of technical excellence; winning a case through hard work and preparation, not gamesmanship; the positive impact of civility; and making sure to dedicate part of your time to give something back to the legal profession and community.

What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?

I enjoy solving difficult litigation problems and working with and against outstanding attorneys, both at the trial and appellate level. I have been blessed to do both. In addition, it is very rewarding to author Professor William Harvey’s Rules of Procedure Annotated in the Indiana Practice series. West Publishing hired me to take over authorship of this eight-volume treatise when Professor Harvey retired several years ago. The legacy of these books was very important to Bill. He asked, and I promised, to perpetuate his primary purpose in writing the books — to preserve a clear record of the history and development of our modern Indiana civil trial rules so that nothing is lost for future generations. Fulfilling that promise, although at times daunting, is rewarding and something I am committed to do.

How does your experience as a Marine Corps officer and Judge Advocate General inform your practice?

I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to serve my country and, more specifically, I wanted to be a United States Marine. I was given a number of leadership roles as a young Marine officer, which shaped my character and leadership style. I tried more than 50 bench and jury trials while attached to Second Marine Division. This required me to learn the Federal Rules of Evidence, how to adapt to changing circumstances at trial, and how to envision and prepare a trial strategy as lead prosecutor or defense counsel in general or special court martial cases, and administrative discharge actions. Virtually all of these skills and experiences transferred to my civil litigation practice when I returned to Indianapolis after leaving the Marine Corps.

What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?

Spending time with my family and grandchildren, reading books on the Civil War and American and medieval history, sports radio, playing chess, and exercising to relieve stress and stay in shape.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to maintain a better balance between the practice of law and family but understand and accept that the law profession sometimes demands sacrifice and hard work that will interrupt that balance. Also, I should trust my instincts; litigate my cases with civility; and make sure to enjoy the professional journey — don’t focus only on the milestones or outcomes. Finally, find and pursue some aspect of the law that I can be passionate about. As a close mentor once explained: “‘Lawyering’ is hard work, so you might as well enjoy what you do.”

What’s something about you not many people know?

I was a part-time radio disc jockey in college.

You write a lot of legal books. How do you find the time?

A lot of long nights and weekends, unconditional support from my wife and family, and understanding from my partners at Harrison Moberly, LLP.  I have a passion when it comes to writing about the law, and I see it as one way I can give something meaningful back to the Indiana legal profession. So, I make time to do it. The computer and modern technology make it possible to work quickly and efficiently. Thomson Reuters/West Publishing provides great editorial and support staff. But, in the end, book writing, like litigating cases, requires a lot of time management, organization, and setting and then sticking to established deadlines.

What has been your most memorable case?

There are many cases that I consider memorable. The one that comes to mind first is a criminal case I tried in the Marine Corps. My client was charged with a brutal assault. The victim’s memory of the events had been materially altered by hypnosis therapy. However, my investigation told me the Marine was innocent. I tried that case for 2 weeks burdened with the knowledge that if I did not do my job well, an innocent man would go to prison for a very long time. Far removed from law school hypotheticals, this was a real case in which I experienced visceral fear of failing an innocent Marine. In the end, the jury found him innocent. The look of relief and gratitude on this man’s face when the verdict was announced provided me a special and intense moment that I will never forget. 

How do you see the legal profession changing in the next decade?

Law firms will better integrate new and innovative technologies in order to create more efficient and cost-effective work environments. I expect the next generation of attorney partners will insist on this. Technology will allow lawyers to work from anywhere (not confined to a single law office) and quickly reach clients worldwide. Social media will become even more important to effective marketing and strategic planning. On the negative side, it concerns me that litigation attorneys try fewer cases today, especially jury trials, and the “art of trying the case” may diminish and someday be lost altogether.

What was your most memorable job before becoming an attorney?

I was a Law Clerk for Chief Justice Richard M. Givan of the Indiana Supreme Court. My clerkship mostly tracked my second and third year of law school. The clerkship provided me the opportunity to see the inner workings of the Indiana Supreme Court, and just how hard our appellate court judges work to decide the law correctly. I clerked with a number of people who today are top attorneys in our State. Justice Givan was a great storyteller and loved to talk about cases, how the law should work, and how to be a good lawyer. The experiences from that job left me with a lasting imprint for how I wanted to approach my responsibilities as a lawyer and book author. Then again, there was my unforgettable job as a part-time security guard trying to keep teenagers from loitering in a McDonald’s parking lot after Friday night Plainfield High School football games — a story for another day.

How has the practice of law changed since you became a lawyer?

The practice of law has become more specialized with a greater emphasis on productivity and profit. Technology has moved lawyers to use paperless files instead of committing large areas of space for the storage of old paper files; electronic filing in federal and most state courts has eliminated the rush to the clerk’s office before 4:30 p.m. in order to file papers; electronic research has replaced the need to spend hours in the library searching through law books; email and social media make lawyers accessible and accountable to their clients and the courts almost 24/7; and the legal profession finally has opened its doors of opportunity fully to women and minorities. In short, lawyers in large and small law firms, even solo practitioners, have the opportunity and means today to practice their profession at a higher and more efficient level than was possible even 10 years ago.•

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