Illinois native and Hoosier defense litigation attorney Renee Mortimer finds herself in a position she never considered possible: 2019 president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana.
After securing her Illinois license in 1991, Mortimer spent several years practicing in Chicago before transferring to Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP’s Schererville office in 1998, eventually becoming partner-in-charge in 2000. Since coming to Indiana, Mortimer has practiced primarily in the areas of personal injury and property damage defense litigation.
In the early 2000s, Mortimer began attending DTCI events and met its leaders statewide, eventually filling a vacant position on the northern board. From there, she kept climbing the DTCI ladder until she was, quite literally, at the top of the organization.
During her presidency, Mortimer said she hopes to bolster DTCI’s already strong membership by welcoming more young and diverse lawyers into its ranks. Additionally, she hopes to promote civility among lawyers and professionalism, both of which she says are crucial aspects of being a successful defense attorney.
“A lawyer can be both an advocate for his/her client, and civil and professional at the same time,” Mortimer said. “These propositions are not mutually exclusive. I have seen significant improvement in the civility in the practice of law since 1991 when I started as a young lawyer. I want to continue to reinforce this civility as a theme during our events.”
Those qualities are what ultimately attributed to her success as a practicing lawyer, Mortimer said, and because they are the right thing to do, she plans to bring them with her into the DTCI presidency. Here’s what she had to say in a recent Q&A with Indiana Lawyer.
IL: What would you say to encourage a DTCI member who wants to become more active in the organization?
RM: Attend the DTCI events. It provides a wonderful way to network within the organization and provides a platform to volunteer. Joining one or more of our committees is an equally great avenue to get more involved and to secure a speaking or writing position.
Do you have any specific examples of a time when attending DTCI events benefited you?
I would sit in the first few rows of every presentation, and I would make sure I was an attentive audience member. I always tried to get to the events about 30 minutes before they started, as that is when the leaders and speakers were usually there, setting up. It was a way for me to introduce myself and to get in front of the decision makers, and it was a nice time to volunteer to help.
What was your reaction when you were made president-elect?
The DTCI presidents before me are some of the most well-respected and accomplished defense lawyers in our state. I was humbled, and I remain humbled, to have been given any role in such a great organization.
Did you ever consider that you might become the DTCI president when you first joined?
When I first joined, I just wanted to be involved and meet other defense lawyers in our state. I wanted the fellowship with other defense lawyers. I never really thought about being an officer, let alone the president.
How will you utilize the leadership skills you’ve garnered from your experience in your new role?
I have watched the presidents before me handle this role and I have learned from each of them. They were great listeners and great advocates. They conducted themselves as professionals and gave anyone who was willing to get involved a chance to do so. I hope to lead this organization as they have led it, and I hope any leadership skills I have gained throughout my career will serve me, as theirs served them.
What would you say are the most important qualities in a defense attorney?
Civility, professionalism and a strong work ethic. No party wants to be in a dispute, generally, and most parties want the case to be closed as quickly as possible, either by winning on a motion or settling or trial. Most cases close more quickly if the parties’ counsel get along. It is also a more pleasurable experience for all sides, who are already averse to each other. As for work ethic, all lawyers usually have some sort of strong work ethic, as they have made it through law school and passed the bar exam. The lawyers who “sweat the details” and do a bit of extra work are the ones who are usually more prepared and have more constant success.
Has your time as a lawyer been what you expected it to be?
It has exceeded my expectations. I have wanted to be an attorney for as long as I can remember. I have met incredibly talented people and I feel quite privileged to be a lawyer.
What advice do you have for those who have recently passed the bar exam and have been admitted into the practice of law?
The first year of practice is always the toughest. Stay strong and work hard. Do great work. You will be just fine.
If you could travel the world, where would you go and what would you do?
I would travel throughout the United States first. My father always told me that I should see our country before travelling outside of it. There are parts of the US that I have never seen, and that would be my goal. I would love to go to Alaska, which may be at the top of the list currently. Everyone who has gone there has told me that it is spectacular.
How do you prefer to spend your free time?
I have two children: Nadia, 22, who is a Purdue University student, and Noah, 19,who is an Indiana University student. Any free time I have is spent with them. We love to go to sporting events and we are huge Chicago Blackhawks fans. We go to a lot of their games and we have been to all three of the Stanley Cup parades together.•