LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2019: Stephanie V. McGowan

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As a marathon runner, Stephanie McGowan is equipped to go the distance, and as a young litigator, she’s already been part of a team that recently won a jury verdict after a weeklong trial. McGowan also is actively involved in bar activities, serving as the 2019 chair of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. She also dedicates her time to community efforts that aim to improve fitness, and she’s an active alumni ambassador for her undergrad alma mater, Cornell University.   

mcgowan-lil2019-2col.jpgWhat is your favorite thing about running marathons?

I enjoy the comradery with my fellow runners and race volunteers. For those 26.2 miles, I feel bonded with thousands of strangers with one uniform goal. Throughout the course, I get and give support and encouragement to the runners around me that I may never see again. It’s a unique experience. There is also the aspect of pushing and disciplining my body to run a marathon. Marathon running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. You must train for a marathon, but you can’t fully prepare for the mental discipline it takes to keep going when your body is screaming to stop. That is one of the hardest parts. Finally, nothing beats finishing a marathon and finding out you beat your personal record or qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Where do you see your legal career ten years from now?

Hopefully, I will be known as a well-respected and esteemed attorney in my practice area. I’d also like to be a partner and continue to be engaged at Frost Brown Todd.

What’s something about you not many people know?

I’m the first person in my family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. From a young age, my parents emphasized the need to work hard and to get a good education. They constantly told me that education was the great equalizer. No one can take it away from you. 

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

Nothing beats truly helping a client — whether that be celebrating a favorable jury verdict with a client, calling a client to let them know about a favorable summary judgment ruling or figuring out a solution to a client’s problem. The law is a service profession, and knowing your work enabled a client to reach their goals is a rewarding feeling.

And the most challenging?

It’s a challenge to balance highs and lows of the practice of law as a young attorney. Especially for a young lawyer, there are days where you feel confident, understand your practice area and feel that you can handle any legal problem. Then there are days where you wonder if you have learned anything since leaving law school. It’s a comfort to work at a firm like Frost Brown Todd, where you are supported by mentors and other attorneys to help guide us through the challenges.

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

I love to be outside or play sports. I’m an avid long-distance runner and run eight miles a day. I also enjoy playing soccer. Outside of sports, I bought a house a few years ago and enjoy working on home improvement projects. 

What motivated you to pursue a legal career?

I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing. While at Cornell, I had the opportunity to participate in externships with attorneys, take classes through Cornell’s law school and attend various events where attorneys would speak about their careers. I learned through these experiences that the law would not only be a good career, but more importantly, suit my personality. Now as a lawyer, I enjoy the fact that I never stop learning. There is always a different, unique legal issue to research. Moreover, with each case, you gain new knowledge you carry with you to the next case.

What would you be doing if you had not become an attorney?

My undergraduate degree is in government and history, and my focus in both majors was religion’s impact on American politics. If I hadn’t gone to law school, I would have continued this path of study and obtained my doctorate in government with a focus on American voting behavior.

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

My high school social studies teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit, Ms. Sara Compton, inspired me. Ms. Compton taught me about revisionist history, how to question what is generally accepted as true and the need to look at things through different perspectives. She also showed me the importance of stopping to smell the roses and that I needed to learn how to relax. Unfortunately, this is a lesson I’m still working on.

What was it like to study abroad at the University of Oxford? 

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The University of Oxford follows the tutorial system, which is very different from the American lecture-and-test format. Oxford divides the academic year into trimesters, and during each trimester, you only take two classes. However, each class, or tutorial, meets once a week, and you may be the only person in your tutorial, or you may have one or two classmates. In preparation for your weekly tutorial, your professor assigns you a research question. You then read between 10 and 15 books the professor assigns and finally write a seven- to 10-page paper where you must take a position on that week’s question and support your position. At the tutorial, you are required to defend whatever position you took in your paper to your professor and classmates. There’s no way to hide or fake your way through a tutorial. Plus, the short period to read and write a paper (especially since you have two tutorials per trimester) means you need to learn how to manage your time. I also had the opportunity to play soccer for the University of Oxford and rowed for my college, Pembroke. Through both activities, I was able to travel around England and experience playing a sport at a high level in a different country. I got to row on the same course used in the 2012 London Olympics and attend a soccer match, U.S.A. vs. England, at Wembley Stadium, which was on the lifetime bucket list.

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

I would make it easier for individuals to vote. Today, it seems that many people and politicians view and treat voting as a privilege. But voting is not a privilege, it is a right. It’s called the right to vote or voter rights for a reason. By allowing people more access to the voting booth, we are only helping our democracy and making sure that everyone has a voice.

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

Do your research. Talk to other lawyers about what they like and do not like about their jobs. Ask them what their day is like. Ask them what their life outside of work is like. Talk to lawyers who practice in different areas: big firms, small firms, public interest, government and in-house. Law school is a three-year commitment that requires academic discipline and costs thousands of dollars. After law school, you will spend the next 40-plus years of your life practicing law. It’s important to make sure that it is the right choice for you.•

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