Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
What did you study?
Did you go directly to law school after college?
No, I worked for three years in Washington, D.C., before law school. I came back to Indiana to go to the Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.
What did you do during those years in Washington, D.C.?
My first job there was for the Iran-Contra committee. My position was staff security officer, which I differentiate between real security guards who had guns and badges and paper security, which is what I did. I was responsible for handling the high volumes of classified materials that the committee was dealing with. Then after that ended, after about six to seven months, I was hired by a member of Congress, Tom Petri of Wisconsin. I worked on his staff in his office on Capitol Hill.
Are you originally from Indiana?
Yes, I’m from Muncie.
What year did you graduate from law school?
What did you do after law school?
I clerked for two years for then-Chief Justice Randall Shepard, and then I was hired as the chief administrative law judge at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. So I did my clerkship for two years and then I was at the IURC for 4.5 years. I left there to go back to D.C., briefly. I working as an attorney adviser at the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Back in those days they had an Office of Public Utility Regulation, which is where I worked. When I came back to Indiana in 2000, I was an associate at what was then Baker & Daniels, and I was there for nine years. I then joined the Indianapolis office of Bamberger Foreman Oswald and Hahn — we had a larger office down in Evansville, but we had an Indy office, as well. In 2017, my partners and I voted to merge with the Kentucky-based firm Stoll Keenon Ogden, and it was from there that I left one year ago to hang out my own shingle.
What is your practice area now?
Well I have three areas. It’s a general business practice with a focus in utilities, but I also do appeals and estate planning.
Why did you decide to go solo?
I’d say it was motivated in part by my experience under COVID and working from home and becoming much more self-sufficient than I think I ever imagined I could be as a lawyer. And I’ve been very happy with that decision.
When did you first get involved with the ISBA?
I think it goes all the way back to my time at the IURC. Back then and still today the ISBA has a very active Utility Law Section, and among other things that section organizes our two annual CLE programs and does some other things regularly for the utility bar, and that became a focus. And then also early on, when I was still at the commission, I answered an ad a call for members of different committees of the state bar. The president at the time was Kristin Fruehwald, who is now retired but she had been at Barnes & Thornburg, and she appointed me to two different committees, which I got involved in and ultimately I chaired both of them. The Improvements to the Judicial System Committee, I’ve not been on that committee for more than a decade, probably. The other committee was the Membership and Membership Benefits Committee. Only because of my recent leadership roles in the overall bar am I rotating off of that committee. The vice president of the state bar serves as the chair of the Membership Committee — I think that’s going to change, but historically that’s been the case. When I was vice president of hit state bar I was chair of the Membership Committee, and I just stepped off last year when I became president-elect and there was a new vice president.
What leadership roles have you held in the ISBA?
Chairing the Improvements to the Judicial System Committee. I’ve been active in the Membership Committee. I was the chair of the Utility Law Section many years, more than a decade. I have been involved in our sister organization, the Indiana Bar Foundation, and I served a few years on their board, as well. And then I’ve been on the board of governors of the state bar a couple of different times. I served as the secretary many years ago, and then I was the delegate for District 11, which is Marion County, and as one of the three Marion County delegates, the,n for my second year of that two-year term I also was the ISBA rep on the board of the Indianapolis Bar Association.
How did you move into senior leadership roles with the ISBA?
In terms of being nominated as vice president, president-elect, president, I had thought, “Maybe someday,” but it wasn’t something I campaigned for or asked for at the time, so when I got the call it was a surprise. And certainly very flattering.
What are your goals/plans for your year as ISBA president?
The main role I want to play is to support the overall direction and reinforce the new strategic plan that we’ve just been going through adopting as a board. I think it’s important that there be some continuity and have that focus that is based on consensus. So that was a document that was developed with a lot of input, not just from the many different perspectives on our board of governors, but through surveys of our membership and even some attempts to get feedback from attorneys of the state who are not members of the state bar association. So I would say that the first goal is to make sure that that becomes an active, meaningful document for the staff who provide the day to day management, from Joe Skeel our executive director on down.
I would say that apart from the focus on the strategic plan, I do think that there’s going to need to be some continued attention to the ongoing fallout from the pandemic. COVID-19 is unfortunately not behind us, and I think this past year the ISBA was able to serve as fairly vital resource, not just for attorneys in the state but for courts, as well, as we were all reacting on the fly to a changed environment, changed context for what we do as lawyers and the way the courts function. And I want to make sure the bar continues to be a relevant resource for different constituencies as we continue to navigate that. I’m hoping, of course, like everyone, that the worst is behind us, but it’s not completely behind us, we know that.
Were you involved in any COVID-related decision-making as president-elect of the ISBA?
At least tangentially. There were a couple times on the board of governors when some questions came up that probably did have a COVID component to them and that we deliberated on either as a full board, or as I was a member of the executive committee working with our current president Michael Tolbert on a particular response or proposal or what that might be.
Aside from COVID, do you foresee other challenges this year?
Well, yes, I do think of two different buckets of challenges. One is the more nitty-gritty challenges for legal practitioners that might take any number of practical components to them. And we’re not over the challenges of, “How do lawyers more efficiently provide legal services and ensure that the services that we provided are accessible?” Access to justice is right in our mission statement, so that has had some particular challenges under COVID, but there are other parts of that that have nothing to do with the pandemic. I think the profession may still face some external challenges in terms of business models. Are there changes coming down the pike that include a more artificial intelligence delivery of legal services? What are the pros and cons of those developments? That’s what I would put all in one bucket.
The other bucket, we’ve always had it, but it does seem to be a bit more acute. The second bucket I would put in the very broad category of promoting the rule of law. I think lawyers and certainly courts have had some particular — I think I can even say unique — challenges this past year with the legitimacy of some of our structures. How do we maintain public faith in the legal system? I don’t have the answers to that, but I want the bar, as the voice of the profession, at least in this states to not be indifferent to those conversations, and to be in a position to try to convene different perspectives and ultimately be a force for positive acceptance of the rule of law.
I link that to what I consider to be the very proud tradition of the ISBA going back, to the 20s and 30s, when we were at times a lonely voice speaking out to condemn the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. That was not necessarily a popular position to take, but I think it was both the right decision and a necessary decision that is consistent with our values as lawyers, consistent with our oath we took as lawyers and consistent with the mission of the ISBA.
Do you plan to address the issue of diversity in the legal profession as ISBA president?
Well it’s a continuing challenge for the profession and for our association. One of the four areas of focus of our new strategic plan is equity and inclusion. And one of my roles earlier, many years ago on the Membership Committee was, I was one of the two co-authors of our diversity statement for our state bar under the leadership of President Rod Morgan at the time. We very consciously took a broad view of “diverse” so that we were not talking only about racial diversity, although that is a key and perhaps the most important aspect, but not the only aspect of diversity. But having those diverse inputs makes us stronger, makes us better lawyers, makes us better as an organization and allows us to better serve all of our members and all of the attorneys in the state, as well as the general public. I’d say not only is it an ongoing challenge but it’s a matter of renewed focus, especially under the new strategic plan.
Did COVID impact ISBA membership?
It appears to have had a slightly positive impact in the sense that we had we held our numbers and grew them slightly. Every year you lose some to retirement and you gain some as new admittees to the bar. But I know that as a planning matter, we exceeded our budgeted number for dues revenue this past year. I don’t know that the same yet can be said for where we are right now. We do our dues on July 1, and so we’ve had the bulk of those come in, but there’s always a bit of a lag to get the last several hundred or so.
How has the bar benefited your career and practice?
The most immediate impact that I’ve received is probably through the Utility Law Section, first when I worked at the utility commission and then when I was at Baker & Daniels on the utility team. And that still is the majority of my practice, are utility issues. And so the ability for the lawyers who were closest to utility issues to gather and to plan CLE — it’s not just, “Well, here’s what his order did from the IURC,” but we try to also look at the bigger picture and we have occasionally bene involved in some advocacy. But even when we’re not involved in direct advocacy for, say, new legislation, our programming attracts not just the lawyers themselves but the commissioners and the administrative law judges at the utility commission, and they are part of the conversation about the development of utility law. Being part of those conversation and having the opportunities that the bar has provided to develop relationships with other practitioners as well as judges and commissioners has been a very important value-add to my practice.
How would you convince a lawyer who’s not a member of the ISBA to join?
First I would ask them about their practice area, because one of the great values the ISBA provides is a community of other lawyers in your practice area. We’ve got really wonderful Listservs that are a great source, especially for younger lawyers to be able to tap free advice from other ISBA members in their field. There’s no better place to network with other lawyers across the state. I would also note that whether they join or not they are benefiting from the ISBA and its advocacy at the Statehouse on a variety of issues, and we would hope they would recognize that benefit and help support that activity. And then finally, on an even more practical level, we do have a fairly robust legal search engine that is provided as part of your membership to easily save you more than the cost of your dues just on legal research fees. So that’s another practical way that the bar can help you in your practice.•