LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2020: Tammara Porter

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IL photo/Eric Learned

As a young leader in law, Tammara Porter has already successfully argued before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and handled complex multidistrict litigation with the skill and confidence of far more veteran attorneys. A colleague describes her as “utterly unflappable” — a quality she says she learned in her prior broadcast news career. When she’s not at work, you might find her volunteering at IPS School 58, for the Indiana Repertory Theatre board or for any number of other community service efforts.

A colleague described you as “utterly unflappable.” How do you achieve that?

I learned that working in the newsroom during my prior career as a newscast producer. Breaking news goes a lot better when the person in charge of the show is calm — and that person was me. It puts everyone else at ease. At some point I realized that when I am calm, everyone else can do their job with the belief that everything is going to be just fine. People trust you and believe in you when you can manage stressful situations. I also picked up this trait by keeping things in perspective. If the most stressful thing I have to do in a day is manage something on the job that no one was expecting, then my life is pretty good.

You’ve already argued successfully before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. What was that like?

It was nerve-wracking. I jumped at the opportunity and was excited to do it because I knew it would be a career-defining moment. But when the day came, I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life. I allowed myself to feel those nerves and used them to push me to get up and deliver a convincing argument. I represented the appellee, and it was very apparent during opposing counsel’s argument that the panel was likely to rule in my client’s favor. With that said, a whole new set of nerves kicked in because the panel was essentially making my argument in the questions they were asking opposing counsel. I knew no one wanted me to repeat the points that were being made. I had to decide if I was going to stick with my original plan or “wing it” and do what was best in the moment. I ditched my original plan and we ultimately won.

What’s something about being an effective litigator that you only learned through experience?

You have to be willing to change course in a case based on the information you have or whatever decisions the court makes. You can still hang on to your underlying theme, but if you are going to get the job done, then you have to make necessary changes and not be so tied to an idea you may have had when the case first started. I think hanging on to things sometimes ends with you trying to force things that just do not fit anymore.

What do you most enjoy about serving on the Indiana Repertory Theatre board?

I absolutely love working with the IRT staff. The IRT has the most committed, dedicated and hardworking staff I have ever seen. On top of that, they are some of the most pleasant people. Additionally, the IRT is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. I like being part of an organization that is intentional about something that is important to me.

What do you get from your involvement with students at Indianapolis Public School 58?

My primary goal was to just show up and let those students, especially girls, see that there was someone who looked like them with a career in law. Representation matters. I never thought there was something I could not do or be because my mother made sure that I was surrounded by doctors, engineers and accountants who looked like me. All of our children deserve that sort of exposure.

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

I would make documentary films. The first documentary film I ever saw was called “Born into Brothels,” and I have been hooked ever since. Telling someone else’s story is one of the most satisfying things in life.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Do everything, even if it scares you.

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

I love a good spa treatment/day. I strongly believe in self-care, so even if I do not have free time, I will make time for one or two spa treatments a month.

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

I have a lot of mentors who have either coached me through certain situations or who have coached me over the entire course of my professional career. One of them is Telvin Jeffries. I have known him since I was teenager. Several years ago, he told me that life is pretty much an equation: Events + Reaction = Your Response. This is what I find myself considering at least once a week — how did I respond to something? Or did I react versus respond? There is a difference, and I am still learning.•

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