LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2021: Brian Zoeller

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(IL photo/Eric Learned)

Brian Zoeller

Cohen & Malad LLP

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, 1996

Why did you decide to enter the legal profession?

Honestly, it was because I realized there wasn’t much I could do, that I wanted to do, with my double major in political science and history. Plus, my academic adviser at UIndy, whom I had many classes with, said I liked to argue a lot in class, so I’d make a good attorney.

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

Hopefully a race car driver, but that’s doubtful. More realistic would be a management position.

Who is someone who has inspired you in your career?

There have been many, but probably our managing partner, Irwin Levin. He’s handled so many different areas of law at the highest level yet also guided our firm in a way that has allowed us to thrive and build all of our own individual practices. Our firm is known for being the absolute best in many different areas, and that flows from the top down.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

One of my mentors, Jim Sargent, once told me to dial back the passion a bit in my advocacy, and he was right. You can be a strong advocate without being overly passionate. You can care about your clients and their work without injecting unneeded emotion or invective.

What makes a good lawyer/judge?

I’m still trying to figure that out …

If you were an animal, what would you be?

A wolverine.

Which superpower would you rather have: invisibility or the ability to read minds?

Read minds.

How do you spend your free time?

I like to snorkel, hike and chase rattlesnakes. I’m a bit of a daredevil on vacation and will likely die on vacation from my own stupidity.

How did you get involved in family law, and what do you enjoy about that practice area?

The law firm I clerked at all through law school, Sargent & Meier, did mostly family law, and I really enjoyed working on those cases. When I graduated, I became an associate attorney at that same firm doing mostly family law. So I kind of fell into it, but I’m glad I did, because I’m very passionate about what I do and get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people through what is sometimes the very worst time of their lives.

Your nominator described you as an active mentor — tell us about your work with young lawyers and what you get out of it.

I really enjoy watching young attorneys grow and spread their wings. At some firms, associate attorneys just help the partners and are often not allowed to run their own cases. The family law associates in our family law department run all their own cases, because the only way you can truly learn is by doing it yourself. So I spend a lot of time talking to them about their cases, strategizing with them and just answering questions they have as they encounter new scenarios. Our approach gives them ownership over their files and allows them to learn from their triumphs, and their stumbles, but in the end, it is about allowing them to develop their own practice and identity. I’m very proud of how many former associates have gone on to establish excellent reputations in the family law arena, and I hope I’ve been some small part of that success.

I was involved with the Bar Leader Series for five years and chaired it one year, and that was incredibly rewarding to watch all the future leaders of our profession learn important aspects of how to make meaningful impacts on their communities. If we are truly to be a “profession” then we must invest in the younger attorneys so that they understand what it means to be a professional in every aspect of their practices.•

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