Amy Noe Dudas discusses her plans for her year as ISBA president

Indiana Lawyer: Where do you go to law school?
IU at Indianapolis.

What year did you graduate?
2000.

Tell me about your career path from then to now.
I just started out with another attorney, Jeff Arnold. I worked for him as a legal secretary after I got out of college because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I took a gap year. I was going to go to graduate school, but I didn’t really know what I was trying to do. I had planned to go into comparative literature and get a Ph.D., but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to just take some time. So I stayed in Richmond — I went to Earlham, so I stayed in Richmond and sent out a ton of resumes, and I got one call from Jeff. So I started working for him and after like a year I was like, “I could do that.” So that’s kind of how it happened. So when I got out (of law school), I worked for him for about four years. I joined up right after that. And then I actually went to work with Alan Wellman McNew in Greenfield, but I was I was still here in Richmond. So I was with them for about six years and then I started my practice in 2010 and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Are you from Richmond originally?
No, no. I went to Earlham and just stayed. I’m originally from Texas. I ended up in Indiana in high school — I was in Terre Haute for high school. We moved there when I was 16. I’m from College Station, Texas.

Tell me about your practice.
I do mostly family law, estate planning, probate, nonprofit consulting. I’m trying to move more into nonprofit consulting, mediation, and get out of highly contested stuff. I find that I enjoy more problem-solving rather than tattling. So I try to do a lot more mediation and nonprofit work. I love nonprofit work.

Switching gears to the bar, when did you first get involved?
So I think I joined the board for the first time in 2005. When I was brand new, I saw a notice in “Res Gestae” about, you know, “We’re looking for people who might be interested in joining the Board of Governors.” So I sent in my name and said, “I’d love to do that.” And I got this nice card back from Tom Pyrz, who was the executive director, a handwritten note from Tom that said, thanks for your interest, that’s cute, why don’t you getting involved with the Young Lawyers Section — which I did not. But then I got a call in 2005 or 2004 to be the district rep for the area, so I took that and I’ve been involved ever since. After that I was counsel to the president, I’ve been treasurer, I’ve been annual meeting chair, I chaired the House of Delegates, I chaired the Budget and Finance Committee for two years, the Legal Ethics Committee, Leadership Development Academy, chaired that for a few years, served on Membership, Women in the Law. So I’ve just always had a hand in somewhere, even if I’ve not been on the board. So yeah, ever since 2005, pretty active.

So you dove right in to serving on the board?
Yeah, loved it. Just really loved it.

Was that difficult, not having prior experience in the bar?
Not really, because everybody was so welcoming and open. I served two years on the board and I was so young. And then when my term was up, Doug Church asked me to be counsel to the president, so I got to stay on another year. Everybody made it feel very open. I didn’t feel intimidated, necessarily. I felt very welcomed at every point.

What’s the process of becoming president? Do you have to hold a certain sequence of offices to get there?
There’s kind of been some traditions, but essentially you’re nominated as vice president and then there’s an automatic succession. So once you’re nominated as vice president, then you succeed to president-elect and then to president and then to immediate past-president. There’s been some traditions, but those aren’t relevant, necessarily. It’s just a matter of the Nominating Committee having a list of people who are active, I think, and picking someone.

So it wasn’t a situation where you said, “Hey, I’d like to do this, how do I get there?”
No, not at all. I never really thought that it would it be feasible for me to do and I never really thought I would get there. So it’s very humbling and just incredibly flattering that I did get to that point. But it was just always — it wasn’t something that I saw in my future necessarily, but I’m very grateful that it is. I think it’s going to be really interesting.

So what do you have on the docket for this year?
You know, really just support what the state bar is doing and the initiatives that they have, the programs that they have. The staff just is amazing, so doing what I can to make sure that they have what they need and that we’re functioning as we are. But that’s pretty much it, I think, in terms of what’s going on.

As I’m out there, I’d really like to hear from lawyers in terms of what’s changing in the profession. It seems like we’re kind of at a crossroads at this point in a couple of ways. I think we’re kind of seeing the generations shifting roles. We’ve got the boomers who are retiring and you’ve got the Gen Xers who are now becoming the boss and the millennials are kind of coming into their own and and the Gen Zs are now just starting to get out of law school and into practice. It’s no secret that millennials and younger are approaching work very differently, so it’s interesting to hear my peers and older lawyers a little baffled, I suppose, by the approach, because lawyers certainly come from an old and long and proud tradition that we don’t change. So it’s different now. I’d really like to hear about that from all generations and kind of find out what’s going on and maybe encourage young people and older people to listen to each other. I kind of get the feeling the generation ahead of me, they’re going to die at their desk — they’re going to die at their desk and by God, that’s how it is. And millennials are like, “65 and I am out.” Maybe they’ve got some good ideas that we should consider, so that’s interesting.

And then there’s a couple of regulatory changes that are starting to happen in other states — very experimental and very nontraditional — that are making lawyers very nervous. And they’re all being couched in terms of expanding access to justice — we’ve got an access to justice crisis, we’ve been hearing this for 20-plus years, as long as I’ve been in practice, how do we close that gap? So the experiments are allowing nonlawyers to own interests in law firms, which is a big no-no, it’s against the rules, so you’d have to change the ethical rules, and lawyers are just absolutely not OK with that. There are a couple of states that actually tried it. There’s not a lot of data at this point to know, is it working? Is it actually increasing access to justice? And then the other, there’s allowing nonlawyers to become licensed to provide some traditional legal services — so, in essence, relaxing the unauthorized-practice-of-law rules. That also makes lawyers very nervous. And so I’m really interested in exploring, “OK, what is it we think we have that should be so closely guarded and protected?” In terms of, what value do we bring? How do we preserve and protect that, and why? What are those qualities that lawyers have, the skills that we have, that we shouldn’t entrust to somebody who hasn’t been through all of the education and training? So that’s kind of what I’ve been looking at and reading about and trying to figure out. As I’m talking to people, I want to hear from other lawyers, “Well, what is it that makes us unique? What is it that should be so closely guarded and only allowed to be done by us? And why?” What is it that we have that means something like, doing X is only something that lawyers should do?

And I’m just as freaked out by those things as other lawyers are sure. But it’s kind of like, alright, we have to keep an open mind. So let’s actually, like do some self-reflection: What is it that we have that should be protected and guarded and required to have some kind of higher restriction? So that’s what I’ve been thinking about is, you know, what am I going to do as I’m out there? And I think I think that’s kind of what I’m interested in. And, are we teaching new lawyers those skills? Are they coming out of law school knowing what to do? Do they leave law school with certain traits and not just analytical skills or knowing what the evidence rules are? They need to have empathy, the whole big picture. What is it that lawyers need? We need to have emotional intelligence. We need to be able to compartmentalize our emotions from outcomes in terms of, “The law says X and I don’t like it, but that’s what it is.” So those kinds of things, what are those kinds of things? Not just knowing what the law says, but all those kinds of things that make a good lawyer.

Hard and soft skills.
Exactly.

You mentioned the profession being at a crossroads. One way I’m observing this as a journalist is the national conversation about the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court and judicial selection. Do you think that’s something the ISBA needs to start addressing?
It gets really tricky, because we serve our members and our members range from both ends of the spectrum in terms of morality and politics and all that. The state bar’s mission is to improve the administration of justice and promote public understanding of the legal system — that is the ISBA’s mission statement. And as lawyers, we take an oath to not only commit to improving the legal system and the quality of legal services, but also to promote the public’s confidence and understanding of the rule of law, and we are failing in that right now — that’s Amy Dudas speaking, period. So there’s a lot of concern. The American Bar Association has recently really started some work promoting the rule of law and some educational efforts on the rule of law.

Public confidence is at an all-time low, so I think civics education is really key, and I’m so grateful that Indiana at least passed a civics ed bill. It’s clear from a lot of this dialogue that there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what the roles of different groups of government are. But as a membership organization, we’ve got members that believe all kinds of different things and have different philosophies, so that’s something that’s really important — we have to represent all of our members, even those we may not agree with on either end. But as folks speaking at the recent ABA annual meeting said, , the rule of law is not political. So we’ve got to figure out a way to bolster the public’s confidence in the rule of law and in the justice system. And it’s tricky, but that is part of our oath as attorneys.

So it’s difficult, and I think it’s worse now. My dad was a journalist, he was a journalism professor, retired now — I think he retired at the right time, when bloggers started popping up as journalists. A lot of people don’t understand journalism ethics and what standards that journalists hold and that there are some sources that aren’t adhering to those and distinguishing sources. And so I think that because there’s access to so much information now, our lack of education on how to vet credible sources is causing a real problem. It’s hard to know how to vet credible sources. So all of that makes it a lot more challenging than it would have been even 10 years ago, even five years ago. It’s just moving so quickly.

How are membership numbers doing?
Those are doing well. I haven’t looked at them recently, but we are pretty much on track with where we have been in the past. The great thing about how the state bar has operated up to this point is they were prepared for the pandemic — I think it was actually because there was a tornado that went through downtown Indianapolis within the past decade. When that happened, the state bar offices were damaged, and so it kind of spurred this, “OK, we need to actually be prepared in the event that we can’t get back in the office again.” And so the staff was able to make a very quick and seamless transition to remote work and was able to immediately focus on, “How do we help our members make the same quick transition?” And so what I think what we found was that our membership numbers actually increased during the pandemic because people were finding the resources the state bar was making available to be so incredibly helpful. And I think that’s great, and we’ve maintained that pretty well, I think. So we’re in good shape. We’re in pretty good shape. I cannot tell you the percentage of the lawyers that are members, but it’s good. It’s good.

Speaking of the pandemic: You’re becoming president at a time when we’re inching into a post-COVID world. Are you seeing permanent changes in how the bar is operating because of the pandemic?
Oh, sure. For all of its incredible scariness, the pandemic gave all of us a lot of new ideas in terms of how we work. I don’t come to the office unless I have to anymore because I set myself up so nicely at home. I work very differently — I work from home most of the time. And now, the lease ran out on the state bar’s headquarters within the past year or so, and because it happened during the pandemic, we were able to kind of take a step back and say, “OK, how do we really want this office to function?” So we were able to reduce our footprint. I believe they’re all in the office together one day a week. The rest of the time they work remotely.

The new headquarters is designed to be more of a member hub. Nobody has their own office there, and it’s all very movable and flexible. There’s a couple of conference rooms, there’s a couple of smaller offices. The idea is that it’s also available for members — if you happen to be in downtown Indy and you need a place to set up for a couple hours because you’re in between whatever. There are small offices, there’s conference rooms, people could reserve those for depositions. And then there’s just a big open space in there that can be used for either section or committee meetings or CLE, with pretty decent technology to allow streaming and all that kind of stuff. So the pandemic gave the state bar an opportunity to totally reconfigure how they’re headquartered and how they work as an office. So it’s a big change, and it’ll be a big change, but you can’t even tell — just they work so well together.  It’s a well-oiled machine. It’s very impressive how they get their stuff done.

Is the staff already in the new headquarters?
They are in now. I believe there’s going to be some open houses within the next month or two. They’re working on getting everything set up and technology installed and all that. I was in there for the first time maybe a month or so ago — pretty great.

How will it work for you with the bar based in Indy and you being based an hour and a half away?
Well, have a great support staff here, and I get stuff on my calendar as quickly as I possibly can. Zoom is great — we’re able to do a lot by Zoom, and it’s a pretty easy drive. I’m happy to be over there when I need to. I’m kind of used to being over there almost on a monthly basis anyway with various committees or other activities I have over there — I’ve been on the Indiana Bar Foundation Board, I’m on the Board of Law Examiners, so I’m there every month for the Board of Law Examiners. So I usually will tell Joe (Skeel) or anybody, “Hey, I’m going to be in town this day if you need anything,” or I might just spend a day at the state bar’s office if I’ve got something in the morning. So it’ll be fine, just as long as I get things on my calendar as early as possible. It doesn’t feel that far.

You’re a solo practitioner, right?
Yes. I do have an associate.

Do you see any immediate needs that you feel like you need to dive into?
No. We’ve got a strategic plan, it’s mapped out so well and the staff does such a good job keeping in line with their goals and projects. So it’s really just making sure that things run well and that we’re offering the best value to our members that we can. I don’t see anything really big on the horizon in Indiana.

Were you part of drafting the strategic plan?
No, I came in at the tail end. I participated in whatever surveys came out, but I was not on the board when they started that process, so the final product came out when I just got back on as vice president. So I was not involved in that process very closely.

What’s your elevator pitch to someone who’s not a member of the ISBA or is a member but isn’t very active?
It depends on what they want out of it or what their needs are, and I think that’s really important. That’s one thing that the Membership Committee is really focused on right now, in terms of, different lawyers have different needs and they need different resources.

So you’ve got three buckets. There’s connections: Some people join the bar and are involved with the bar because they make really great connections with other lawyers and are able to gain that that kind of community that’s important. Sometimes you can only tell that story to another lawyer, because you have to explain so much (to a nonlawyer), like, “OK, I have to explain to you how this rule works before I can tell you this really hilarious story.” So sometimes only lawyers can really understand each other. So gaining that community, having that opportunity to make connections with other lawyers, whether that’s to advance your career in some way, whether that’s to make sure that you’ve got people in your practice area that you can call on if you need advice or help or if you’re stumped on something. For me, it’s almost like it gives me the inspiration I need to feel good about what I do during those times when I might get a little cynical about, you know, “I’m not getting anywhere, I hate when I do, this is terrible.” When I’m around my colleagues at state bar functions, I’m inspired again about what we do, our profession. So that’s one thing. So the connections part of it, that’s important, that’s invaluable, because I have never felt unwelcome. I’ve always been able to really make great connections with people, and so that’s really great. But for some people, it’s about the educational opportunities with colleagues in the same practice area — there’s opportunities to just be on an email list and ask questions of other colleagues. There’s CLE, those kinds of opportunities. So that’s another resource that the state bar has. And then there’s the advocacy piece, too, which I don’t think a lot of people are aware of, But we do a lot of really good work in the Legislature protecting the interests of lawyers. They’re passing laws, but most of them are not lawyers are, and so to help provide a lawyer’s perspective, especially on certain legislation that may affect the practice of law or affect the justice system, to be there to provide that information is really important. The state bar has been really important in making sure that interests of lawyers are protected in the Legislature. So that’s another really important piece of it.

I think those are the three buckets. And then there are benefits that you get as a result of membership. We have some legal research availability that could save thousands of dollars a year for people, and that’s just a practical aspect of it, as well. So yeah, all kinds of reasons to join the state bar.

Do you have a favorite role you’ve held in the state bar?
Oh, boy. Oddly enough, I really enjoyed being Budget and Finance chair. And I enjoyed being Legal Ethics chair, too — I haven’t been on that committee in a really long time. But I think because Budget and Finance was so outside of my comfort zone, and I learned a whole lot about how the sausage is made, and that was just fascinating to me to be involved in that. So I really actually got a lot out of that that was just something different. And being involved with the Leadership Development Academy — I’m not on that committee anymore either, but just kind of putting those sessions together and working with the folks on the committee and then seeing the vast array of young lawyers that come together in that class and work on things together has just been really fascinating.

That’s more than one thing. I put Budget and Finance up there just because I was asked to be treasurer and I was like, “I cannot add two and two!” But then out of that came doing Budget and Finance and it just exposed me to something that I hadn’t been exposed to before and that I’d tried to avoid. So it was a challenge that I really appreciated and gave me a new understanding of some things — and I’m not really all that bad at math!•

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