Mary Feldhake’s peers call her a pillar of the community, an outstanding attorney and a role model and mentor for younger attorneys. After a career in health care, she became a legal aid attorney before developing into a leader in medical malpractice defense and health care litigation. She has won landmark judgments and has been a key player in state and national health care risk management organizations. But she’s also helped make a difference for some of the most vulnerable among us as a volunteer and board member for Child Advocates, which gives a voice to abused and neglected children.
What attracted you to health care and medical malpractice law?
I was a radiologic technologist and an ultrasonographer prior to becoming an attorney. Being a medical malpractice defense lawyer seemed like a natural transition.
How did starting your career in legal aid shape your view of the profession and your career?
Indianapolis Legal Aid Society provided insight into many areas of the law. An ILAS attorney has to know many areas. Being a general practitioner is very difficult. I soon realized I wanted to focus on one area. I now really appreciate those who do general law. Additionally, as rewarding as it is to help people with limited means, I found that helping people who have a passion for their calling is just as rewarding. Attorneys can find satisfaction in their work — no matter what area of practice, as long as they put in the effort, and those they help truly appreciate the effort.
If you hadn’t pursued a legal career, what do you imagine you might be doing?
I would have loved to have been an obstetrician. I think delivering babies is the most wonderful profession in the world. However, I realize as an attorney who represents obstetricians that it is also one of the most litigious areas of medicine.
What do you like best about your work with Child Advocates and other volunteer efforts?
Doing volunteer work reminds me of how important giving back to the community is. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have an education and opportunities often lose sight of the struggle most people encounter in their daily lives. I certainly did not get through school on my own. My success is not something I achieved in a vacuum. Everyone needs help. Doing volunteer work offers help to those who may not otherwise have a support system.
Why is it important to you to mentor young attorneys?
There are very few young attorneys taking up medical malpractice defense. Physicians and other health care providers need representation. Indiana is a great state to practice medicine because of the health care-friendly laws. This has brought so many great providers to Indiana. In order to keep those providers, defense attorneys must be groomed to take over. I cannot practice forever. Also, I feel like there are so many things about being a lawyer that the older generation did not tell my generation. I see no reason to keep attorneys in the dark. Knowledge is power, whether the knowledge is learned from a book or from another’s experience.
Who is someone who mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
Kevin Murray was my medical malpractice mentor. I learned everything I know from him. However, the most important thing I learned was to be responsive. Call your clients back. Respond to emails. And never do anything you don’t want your mother to see on the front page of The Indianapolis Star!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Relax and enjoy the ride. All good things will come in time if you work hard and do your best.
What do you most like to do when you have free time?
I love to sit by the water and read fiction. I also love doing crafts and artsy projects.•
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