LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2020: Kathy Osborn

IL photo/Eric Learned

One of Indiana’s top trial lawyers and antitrust litigators, Kathy Osborn also steers the operations of the Indianapolis office of a major law firm that just completed a historic combination described as a merger of equals. But she is also known as a leader by example for her active participation in pro bono work and serving her community through such worthy organizations as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Youth Job Preparedness Program. Colleagues say she is a skilled, thoughtful mentor to younger attorneys and an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the profession.

What has been the most personally rewarding aspect of your legal career? 

There are multiple rewarding aspects of my legal career. Helping clients prevent or emerge from very challenging, dire litigation threats to their business or personal assets is high on the list. Facilitating access to justice for pro bono clients who would not otherwise be able to obtain a protective order, achieve naturalization, draw down Holocaust survivor benefits or secure guardianships for loved ones with disabilities is very gratifying. And supporting the career growth and personal aspirations of associates and other attorneys is exceptionally fulfilling. It brings me great joy to play even a very small role in helping those professional and life paths evolve and unfold.

What were some of the challenges in leading the Indianapolis office in the recent Faegre Drinker combination? 

Our combination is a great one because it leverages so many opportunities to better serve clients. We’re currently helping everyone get to know their new colleagues and the expertise and experience they bring to the table. Those efforts are energizing but also time-intensive. As Indianapolis office leader, co-leader of our Antitrust & Trade Regulation Practice Group and a member of our Food & Agribusiness Steering Committee, I have been and continue to be deeply involved in those endeavors. And I am pleased at how quickly and positively the integration has been. At first, the new name was an adjustment for some clients, alumni and colleagues. But Faegre Baker Daniels Drinker Biddle Reath LLP would be very cumbersome! And it was important to include elements of both legacy names to signal the combined strength and value of the new firm. Everyone quickly recognized the obvious — in all the important ways, we are the same Indianapolis office, attorneys and firm that has been building business and growing Indianapolis since 1863. Indianapolis is Faegre Drinker’s second largest office by headcount, and we gain the advantage for all our clients of a deeper bench and the added breadth of expertise that comes with a larger firm platform.

If you hadn’t pursued a legal career, what might you be doing? 

I would love to be an artist, spending my days painting colorful, abstract but organic images to lift and soothe souls. That or a forensic pathologist. My undergraduate degrees were in biology and religious studies, so there’s got to be a common landing pad there somewhere!

Why is doing significant pro bono work important to you? 

Pro bono work is important for many of the same reasons supporting young people is important to me. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to earn a law degree and have always been passionate about using my professional skills to help others, both before and during my legal career. As a lawyer, I find it gratifying to work on matters that transform individual lives in meaningful ways, as well as the lives of others by sometimes making lasting changes in the law. Pro bono matters also offer great opportunities to mentor newer attorneys in developing litigation skills that might not arise until later in billed client matters.

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Eat less sugar, get custom-made orthotics to put in your running shoes, make more art, and travel even more than you did and don’t hesitate to take on debt to do it!

What’s something you’ve learned from mentoring others? 

You can provide constructive criticism while also being kind and supportive. New attorneys crave feedback. Yes, they want to hear they are doing well and of course love praise, but they also want to improve, become exceptional attorneys and know they are just getting started on that path. And while cliché to say, the attorneys I mentor teach me new things every single day. They are creative thinkers, tech savvy, enthusiastic networkers and vested in creating a positive, productive work atmosphere that benefits all of us.

What is something that made you a better litigator that you could only learn from experience?  

Having a variety of mentors with very different litigation styles was essential to building my litigation skills. I was blessed as an associate to have cases with exceptionally talented partners such as Ellen Boshkoff, Jim Carr, Steve Claffey, Nancy Gargula, Jay Ham, David Herzog, Jerry Jenkins, Jon Laramore, Roberta Recker, Bob Stanley, Tom Stayton, Joe Tanner, Tom Vogtner, Jay Yeager and many others. Some of the litigators were/are more aggressive objectors at depositions, while others were/are much more selective and reserved, but all are well regarded as effective, successful attorneys. Attorneys have to find their own style and advocacy strategies that are effective for them and meet client needs. But to do that, you must observe and participate in real-time combat and see how others manage the myriad scenarios that arise for all attorneys, e.g., obnoxious opposing counsel, aggressive questions from the bench, strategically teeing-up the worst facts of your case and so on. Watching reruns of “Law & Order,” “The Good Wife” or “Perry Mason” just doesn’t cut it!

Why is personally supporting young people through Big Brothers/Big Sisters special to you? 

I had some tough experiences as a child and emerged from those with a relatively level head (though some might disagree!) because there were several people along the way who invested in me and lifted me up. Whether you take your inspiration from the Bible or Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, it unquestionably is true that “to whom much is given, much is required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48. Studies show that it sometimes takes just one champion to give a child coming from even the worst of circumstances the foundation he or she needs to pursue and create a relatively stable life of his or her own. I personally know the impact just one person can have and want to use my personal blessings to pay that forward.

What do you most like to do when you have free time? 

Travel with family and friends, wander art fairs, exercise, cook, paint, watch our son play basketball, visit our daughter and her boyfriend in New York City and take naps. I’m also a voracious Audible.com listener, in part because I can indulge my love of reading while also doing laundry and walking through airports. I’m a “marathoner” with Audible and “read” (my 13-year-old son insists I can’t claim to have read a book if I just listened to it) 64 books last year. A random sample includes “Catch & Kill,” “Educated,” “Turtles All the Way Down,” “Me: Elton John,” “The Testaments,” “Night” by Elie Wiesel, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” “Range,” “Born a Crime,” “Outliers,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Hate U Give” and “Bonehoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” A pretty wide range of topics interests me!

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

Bob Stanley was (and remains) an important mentor, particularly for the many antitrust and estate litigation matters on which I worked with him when I was an associate. Bob is an elegant writer, and he strengthened my own writing by taking the time to give me constructive feedback and help shape the narrative and arguments in our briefs. Bob always had my back and was a champion for me within the firm. He also was fond of saying, “Write every email as though the Department of Justice will be reading it” – words that stick with me to this day and that I use in my antitrust compliance trainings! I also had the great fortune to be a law clerk for two Indiana Supreme Court associate justices, Myra Selby and Frank Sullivan. Both are exceptionally talented lawyers and were model jurists. But, in keeping with my themes above, as judges they had unique writing styles, prioritized different areas of the law they wanted to see develop, and were involved with different aspects of community and bar service. As such, I very much benefited from the close-up exposure a law clerk gets to all aspects of their professional activities and work, and legal networks, in addition to the writing coaching I received from them both. I continue to be enriched to this day by their mentorship, friendship, teachings and exemplary legal contributions to our community.

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