LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2020: Sabra Northam

IL photo/Eric Learned

You could call Sabra Northam a mover and shaker. As a young attorney in Barnes & Thornburg’s government services practice, she lobbies lawmakers and officials, pushes for reforms and is considered a public policy thought leader on the state’s drug crisis, among other things. She also is active in community and civic efforts, including helping save a historic church building as its congregation declined. Moreover, Northam advocates for opportunities for young professionals, especially in positions of leadership.

What is your favorite thing about your government services practice?

My favorite thing about my government services practice is working with clients to help them better their relationships with elected officials. Advising them on how to increase relationships and navigate the Legislature are the parts of my practice I enjoy most. This is important whether they are seeking to change the law, keep the laws the same or more simply increase their presence and profile around the state.

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

One area of the law I would change would be to make it easier for local counties, cities and towns to adopt ordinances to impose a food and beverage tax. Currently, when a community seeks to do this, they must first go to the Legislature for statutory authority. With small towns (and some cities) struggling around the state to keep Main Street alive and some larger cities struggling to address criminal activity, it would give more tools and local control to these communities to address their specific needs.

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

I very much enjoy listening to live music, playing sand volleyball with friends and reading — mostly Stephen King. I also love spending time with family (and my two cats) whenever I can.

How did you help save the former building of your church, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran in Indianapolis?

I was part of a small group of remaining members from St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church that ultimately aided in the saving of the church building, along with legal counsel from lawyers at Barnes & Thornburg and members of Cornerstone Lutheran Church. As with many churches across the nation, the population had dwindled since its beginnings in the early 1900s — in our case, dwindled to eight faithful members. The dedication from those remaining members helped us to collectively search for help from other churches and pastors. In the end, we formed a partnership with Cornerstone Lutheran Church and were able to ensure the members would continue to be good stewards of the church building and that ministry would continue on the near-east side of Indianapolis.

Why are you so interested in steering younger attorneys toward community involvement?

For one, I think it is incredibly important to continue to expand and develop one’s professional and personal network — getting involved in community activities you care about is a great way to do this. There is the benefit of giving back to the community, but also the enrichment you receive by expanding relationships and adding to one’s personal growth through education and involvement.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Not to sound too cliché’ but I would tell myself to believe in myself more, to enjoy the time of life I am in and to be present in the moment. I would say to worry and stress less, that challenging times pass and that you can be greater for them.

What do you think you might be doing if you weren’t a lawyer?

I would likely still work in government relations, most likely in policy. I have always had an interest in government relations, back to my days at Hoosier Girls State in high school. I loved working in Washington, D.C., with Sen. Lugar’s office and once thought I would return to work there as some sort of staffer or policy expert.

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

I have had many excellent mentors throughout my life so far, but one great one that I still rely on for advice and guidance is Jeff Linder, the former vice president of public affairs and government relations for Indiana University and former state legislator. Jeff has taught me many things, from how to navigate challenging situations with grace and a smile to the basics of advancing legislation and building coalitions. I loved working with Jeff and learned a great deal from watching him interact with legislators, fellow university representatives and other IU faculty and staff. I often think of a Ronald Reagan quote that sat on Jeff’s desk at least the entire time I worked with him, which is a notion I try to put into practice every day: “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

What do you get from mentoring younger attorneys?

I thoroughly enjoy helping others, especially other young attorneys, just like others helped me in guiding me to where I am today. I think more people should actively seek to help others – we all at one time were struggling in one way or another to determine our own paths. I think it is a continual process to grow professionally and personally. I am certainly still growing in these ways and could not do so without the guidance of my mentors, family and friends. I seek to do the same for others.\

Where do you see yourself professionally in another 10 years?

I will most likely be continuing my government services practice — perhaps I could expand my practice to include other areas — but I love working in the lobbying space and don’t see myself not doing at least some lobbying and general government services work.•
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