LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2019: Norris Cunningham

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As a leader in Indiana’s legal community, Norris Cunningham is a co-founding partner of Katz Korin Cunningham PC, joining the firm in 2017 and leading its health care practice. As he’s watching that firm grow, Cunningham also has his eye on increasing inclusion in the profession. He’s a leader in the Indiana State Bar Association’s Diversity Committee, and he’s active in multiple bar and community organizations. Cunningham also draws from extensive military service that made a profound impression.   

cunningham-lil2019-15col.jpgWhat was your most memorable job before becoming an attorney?

I spent five years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and 17 years in the Indiana Air National Guard as a Medical Service Corps officer. Quite frankly, my goal in joining the Air Force was to get a graduate degree and earn some money for law school. What I got from it was A LOT more than that. While in the Air Force, I remained eager for myself and focused on my goals, but I also learned the value of working with others to achieve goals and fight for purposes much bigger and more important than myself. Through all the deployments, including getting called to active duty on the day of the 9/11 attacks, I experienced, firsthand, the dedication and resolve of those men and women who wear the uniform. I am forever changed by the 22 years I spent wearing it.

How does your military background inform your leadership style?

During my military career, my goals as a senior leader were about instilling loyalty, dedication and a sense of pride around a shared mission. In the Air Force, that mission was to fly, fight and win. As a senior leader in two very different law firms over my legal career, I have found that the same approach works to accomplish the mission of providing high-quality legal services and positively impacting the legal profession locally and nationally.  

What’s the biggest difference you’ve experienced since your name is part of your firm’s name? 

Quite honestly, I haven’t noted any real difference. My friends and family have been more likely to playfully tease me about it. The way in which it matters to me personally is that my two children and their children will get to see their last name on our building and on our firm letterhead. Such a thing never seemed achievable to me as a poor kid from Chicago. I’m very happy to give them that sense of pride and motivation for their own futures. 

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

In my office I keep a note with the letters W.W.B.H.D. and W.W.S.L.D.  This note is a reminder to me to think about how Bill Hall and Steve Lyman, two founders of my former firm, Hall Render, might react in a given situation. I couldn’t begin to detail all the ways in which these two men inspired and mentored me, but that little note is a constant reminder to consider their wisdom and their example as I make decisions.  

Where do you see your firm heading in the coming years?

I see us continuing the tremendous growth that we’ve experienced since the merger in June 2017. The firm has grown from 20 attorneys at the time of the merger to 34 attorneys currently. Most importantly, we will continue to focus on providing high-quality legal services to our local, state and national clients.

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

I provide advice, counsel and legal representation to health care providers. My clients make huge sacrifices and dedicate themselves to caring for all of us when we are sick and infirmed. I appreciate that my job is to protect and counsel the people who take care of us. Winning a long jury trial is pretty cool, too!

When did you first decide you would become a lawyer, and what motivated you?

When I was 6 years old I would lay awake at night listening to “Perry Mason” coming from the television in my parents’ bedroom. I was instantly enthralled with the courtroom drama even though I could only hear it. Still, after 23 years in practice, I have that same sense of wonder about what we trial lawyers do. I sincerely hope I never lose that feeling. 

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

I enjoy spending time with my family at our house on Lake Sweetwater. But the most enjoyable moments are those spent with my wife, Tammy. She has been a constant source of strength and encouragement throughout my military and legal careers. Whether sitting in a boat on the lake or traveling to some exotic place, my life is made infinitely better because she is there.

What advice would you give your younger self?

1. Lighten up;

2. Worry less;

3. Have more fun;

4. When the Chicago Bears lose, refer to #1 above.

If you could change one law, what would that be?

I would change the Federal Election Campaign Act to require any person seeking the highest office in the land to make his or her tax returns public for the preceding 10-year period.

What’s something about you not many people know?

I am a HUGE fan of the Marvel Universe! I’ve seen every installment of every Marvel movie franchise.  For the record, I prefer Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner and Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman.

What’s your advice to a younger person who’s thinking about a legal career?

You should only do it if you love it. The practice of law can be rewarding, both professionally and financially; but it can also be isolating, extremely demanding and all-consuming. Make time for yourself and your loved ones so that none of you get lost in the shuffle.•

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