Dennis Frick’s career has been devoted to serving those in need at Indiana Legal Services Inc. Called a leading practitioner and legendary mentor on elder law, he’s directed ILS’ Senior Law Project since 2000. He’s also been a volunteer youth coach and is active in guardianship organizations and efforts to end domestic violence, among others.
What was your most memorable job before becoming an attorney?
For several summers while in high school and college, I worked in a factory, Flint & Walling in Kendallville. It was the same factory where my Dad worked for 35 years, so I gained an appreciation for the work that he did. It was really hot in the factory in the summer. There was no air conditioning, just fans blowing the hot air. Standing on cement for eight hours is hard on the legs.
When did you first decide you would become a lawyer, and what motivated you?
I went to Purdue with the goal of eventually teaching math, but as the upper-level classes became more abstract, I lost interest. I had a political science professor I respected, and he encouraged me to apply to law school. I applied, was accepted, and here I am. I enjoy the problem-solving aspects of the law, so there is a relation to science and math.
You’re a leader in the field of elder law. How did you get interested in this field?
I had worked in various offices at LSOI (now Indiana Legal Services), and for personal reasons I wanted to move to Indianapolis. There was an opening in the Senior Law Project. I enjoyed working with Claire Lewis, working with the seniors, and with helping solve issues the seniors were facing, so it was a good fit for me.
Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
My first managing attorney at LSOI was Ken Falk, who is a terrific lawyer and a compassionate person. Ken was, and is, willing to take on any issue to make life better for his clients.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?
It is rewarding to help clients achieve a solution for their problems and situations. I also enjoy being able to explain complicated rules, such as the Medicaid rules, to clients so that they can understand the rules and understand how they apply to their situation.
What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?
I enjoy playing slow pitch softball. I started playing again in a seniors’ league and really enjoy it. I just wish I was better at it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Do not procrastinate. A problem (almost) never gets easier or goes away by letting it sit.
Someone described you as a legendary mentor. Why is it important to mentor young lawyers?
It is a blessing to be able to be a lawyer and to practice law, so doing anything we can to help others should come naturally. I also learn a lot from younger lawyers and enjoy their enthusiasm.
What’s something about you not many people know?
I attended a one-room parochial school for seven years. I still do not know how one teacher could manage eight grades, but he managed it well, and I received a good education.
What has been your most memorable case?
This would be the case that I lost but “won.” Congress passed a law designed to protect a married person from becoming impoverished when the spouse had to enter a nursing home. The new law applied to persons who entered a nursing home on or after Sept. 30, 1989. We had clients where the spouse entered the nursing home before Sept. 30, 1989, and the spouse at home would not receive the same protections. The only way to get the benefit of the new law would be to have the nursing home spouse return home for at least 30 days, and for most clients, that was not an option. While walking my dog, I thought of a statutory argument why the difference in treatment was arguably wrong. I filed a class action in federal court, and Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted preliminary relief to the class. After a lengthy delay, she ruled for the state agency, but she granted a stay pending appeal while we appealed. The Seventh Circuit also ruled against us on appeal, but by then enough time had passed such that most if not all of the class no longer needed Medicaid. So, I lost the case, but my clients received the relief they needed.
How do you see the legal profession changing in the next decade?
Things change so quickly that there will be changes that I have not even thought about. Lawyers will continue to see more competition from online services. Computers will perform even more of our functions, generating documents and solutions to problems. We will continue to find ways to become more efficient but will need to continue to show the value of our services.
How has the practice of law changed since you became a lawyer?
I am typing my own answer to this question, and I now have very little need for white-out! When I started practicing, there was no “word processing.” If I wanted to change a motion or brief, it needed to be retyped or whited-out. Now I can edit and revise a document as often as I want, or have time, but I am doing it myself rather than having a secretary do it. E-filing and online access to court documents is a great time-saver. I no longer need to go the courthouse to review a court file. Communication with clients has changed, with email and faxing and cell phones. Legal research is now done online, faster and more thoroughly, rather than looking through multiple books.•