Since joining Wooden McLaughlin six years ago, Samantha Hargitt has become a leader in its real estate practice, working on transactions valued at more than a half-billion dollars and earning the respect of colleagues and clients. Hargitt also is active with the Urban Land Institute, serving on the advisory board of the Indiana District Council. She has been active in IndyBar and Indiana State Bar Association activities and, as a true urbanite, prefers to bike to work.
How did you become interested in real estate law?
My dad owned a construction company for a number of years, and growing up, I watched him renovate and restore our home and many others in the Old Northside. When I attended law school, I knew I wanted a transactional-focused practice. I had the chance to be involved in some real estate projects early on in my practice, and something about it just clicked. I’m not the one out there laying a foundation or putting a roof on a building, but I’m helping with the documents that create the framework to get the project built. In a way, I’m carrying on the family tradition.
What’s something about you not many people know?
My answer to this question is almost always that I used to race quarter midgets as a kid (think go-karts with roll cages), but if I keep using that one, everyone will know!
What do you gain professionally from your work with the Urban Land Institute?
So much of the practice of law these days is done in front of a computer screen and via email. Sit-down closings are rare, and there just aren’t as many opportunities to interact in person with the people you deal with on a day-to-day basis. ULI is multi-disciplinary, so you get the developers, attorneys, brokers and bankers in the same room with the planners, contractors, engineers and architects. It is one of the few opportunities I have to spend time with and get to know many of the people I work with every day as more than just an email address. The educational programming and opportunities, both locally and on a broader scale, are also great for understanding trends and non-legal perspectives in the development world that impact legal issues and decision-making.
What would you be doing if you had not become an attorney?
My original plan was to be a Spanish teacher. I had some amazing foreign language instructors through the years, and I have pretty strong feelings about the role foreign language has to play in a well-rounded education. In college, I focused my study on Spanish, Portuguese and linguistics. I’m not sure teaching would have ultimately been right for me, but I did seriously consider translation and interpretation as a career, even while I was in law school.
What’s your advice to a younger person who’s thinking about a legal career?
I think it is important to understand that a legal career isn’t just about being good at arguing or enjoying watching “Law and Order” or “Suits.” Even law school isn’t the best indicator of what practice is like since the traditional curriculum teaches through a lens of what gets litigated. While schools are finally offering more clinics and experiential courses, the classroom by its nature still tends to be theory-focused. I would definitely encourage anyone considering a legal career to seek out internships, part-time jobs or other opportunities that will provide some real insight into the day-to-day practice before committing to the time and expense of law school.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your practice?
Seeing the positive changes in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, especially the recent momentum in the downtown core, and knowing that I’ve been able to play just a small part in that is definitely the most rewarding. Even when I don’t get to see a finished project (like often happens with the ones out of state), knowing that the work that I’m doing is contributing to that kind of change in other places, too, is really cool.
What motivated you to pursue a legal career?
Honestly, a lot of it came down to timing. I was graduating college in the middle of the Great Recession, and jobs were tough to come by. I always intended to pursue some kind of post-grad degree, but wasn’t sure exactly where to focus. I didn’t know much about the practice of law, but after some research, I decided that a JD would give me career flexibility and that the emphasis on reading and writing would play to my strengths.
Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
As for most people, I think, my parents have been a big influence on me, and they both have taught me (and continue to teach me) so many lessons. My dad is, and always has been, one of the hardest-working people I know, and he instilled a great work ethic in me. Watching him grow his business over the years and tackle every challenge and change that comes up has definitely been an inspiration, and I appreciate that he has always been eager to help me learn from both successes and mistakes. My mom has always worked full-time. I did not appreciate it enough growing up, but looking back I am amazed she found the time to fit in all the things she did for my sister and me and successfully climb the corporate ladder. She has never been too short on time to write a sweet note or remember a special day for someone. As life continues to get busier, I try to remind myself to slow down enough so those little things do not get lost in the shuffle.
What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?
I love to travel and try new food. My fiancé and I are big foodies and love to try new restaurants here in Indy and everywhere we go. We also enjoy cooking together and testing out recipes at home. Other than food, I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, and going to fitness classes like yoga, Pure Barre and spin.
Where do you see your legal career 10 years from now?
I see myself as a partner, continuing to build my own book of business. I’ve been really lucky to work on some really interesting, complex and transformative projects in my career so far, and I hope there are more in the future!
If you could change one law, what would that be?
That’s a tough one. I guess I wouldn’t say there’s one law I want to change as much as I’d like to change the way we go about making the laws. I would love to see our lawmakers overcome the self-interest that infects so many levels of government so that our laws, as a whole, do a better job of reflecting the thought, culture and circumstance that actually exists in our society.•