“We had to stay up until 5 in the morning, but we got it done,” Linda Pence says, sounding relieved. “I slept for about 20 hours and now I’m ready to go.”
It is the end of a long workweek for the Sommer Barnard attorney, one that began late Monday night after a case unexpectedly went into settlement negotiations, and ended Thursday morning. It’s nothing new to her. Pence has built her 32-year career on complicated, time-consuming cases. She can handle it. She’s the type of person who bikes through China on vacation. So for Pence, working nearly 72 hours straight to settle a case is simply “fun,” Pence says with a chuckle. “This is fun for me.”
Pence’s career started with a bang and hasn’t slowed down. After graduating from the Indiana University School of Law in 1974, she went to Washington, D.C., to work for the Department of Justice, where she represented such government agencies as the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, and worked with big money issues like price allocation for oil companies.
“I was thrown into cases where I was facing some of the best attorneys from the biggest law firms in the country, in the world really,” Pence says. “But I also had brilliant people to teach me. I learned more at the DOJ than I could have anywhere.”
At 5 feet 3 inches, the petite blonde says she was constantly underestimated by the good old boys across the table—and she used that to her advantage.
“Give me an opponent who underestimates me and I love it,” Pence says with a chuckle. “They’ll make mistakes.”
Pence learned to turn those mistakes in her favor, eventually making a name for herself in the DOJ’s criminal fraud division, where she investigated companies and their employees in cases that involved bribery, kickbacks, embezzlement, tax fraud and a long list of other white-collar crimes.
Pence enjoyed her time with the DOJ. She led large teams of investigators while they worked to “put pieces of the puzzle together,” earned a special commendation from the attorney general and worked as an instructor for the FBI. But by 1986 she was ready to return to her home state of Indiana. Pence started her own firm, then joined Johnson Smith, before settling in at Sommer Barnard, where she continues to take on complicated cases in her white-collar criminal defense and complex civil litigation practice. The only difference, she says, is that now she has the chance to represent “real people.”
Some of those real people include the more than 25 Central Indiana Shell dealers who sued Shell Oil for, among other things, fraud and breach of contract, after Shell decided to distribute gas through a different chain of convenience stores, many of which would be in direct competition with Shell’s existing, privately owned dealers.
“These people were not being treated fairly,” Pence says. “They put their whole lives into their businesses.” Pence stepped in, flexed her DOJ-trained muscle, and what happened? Shell canceled the deal.
She was also called in after the White River Fish Kill incident in 1999, where toxic waste was dumped into the White River, killing 100 tons of fish. Pence represented the state against Guide Corp. in a civil case resulting in a $14.2 million payout. The money is being used for environmental improvements throughout the state.
“I still read about the projects they are doing with the money,” Pence says. “They are building and cleaning up paths. It’s nice to see that.”
It’s the positive impact of her work that keeps her motivated—she has no plans to slow her busy career. “[In these cases] you’re not just resolving a civil case, you’re helping people and families,” Pence says. “Anyone who doesn’t enjoy that doesn’t enjoy being a lawyer.”