Still Going Strong
Six leading Indiana attorneys reflect on the past 20 years and what lies ahead
Published in 2023 Indiana Super Lawyers magazine
By Nancy Henderson on February 22, 2023
To celebrate the 20th edition of Indiana Super Lawyers, we caught up with six attorneys we’ve featured in these pages over the past two decades to discuss how their practices have evolved, changes in the legal system and their predictions for the future.
“My practice has changed dramatically,” says David Tittle, a partner at Dentons Bingham Greenebaum. “I’m not sure I can explain why, but I was happy that it did.”
He’s not the only one.
Practice Makes Perfect
Nathaniel Lee, Lee Cossell & Crowley; Personal Injury – General: Plaintiff; Indianapolis: The most significant change in the practice deals with pre-trial issues. When I tried cases back in the ’80s and ’90s, we did paper discovery and short depositions. Jury trials were shorter and less expensive. So I could do a lot more jury trials.
David Tittle, Dentons Bingham Greenebaum; Business Litigation; Indianapolis: I’ve gotten into commercial litigation, and instead of having a lot of cases in state court, a lot of my work is in federal court. I got more into class actions, and then I got into more product liability cases, and it just sort of happened. I can’t explain it, except that I got to meeting more people out in the legal world who were doing cases, made friends with them and started getting phone calls to help them out when they came out here. It’s more interesting than when I was a young lawyer handling intersection collisions and falls. The cases are much more complex, more interesting and more challenging.
Linda Pence, Amundsen Davis; Criminal Defense: White Collar; Indianapolis: I’ve been practicing law for 50 years, and I started as a federal prosecutor doing white-collar criminal investigations, and then went into the defense world and moved back to Indianapolis to be in private practice. There have been times there were antitrust investigations. Of recent note, there are none. There used to be lots of tax prosecutions. There are very few now. There’s been a lot of increase in anticorruption, kickback schemes and that sort of thing, where the state or local governments are not acting in an honorable manner.
John Trimble, Lewis Wagner; Insurance Coverage; Indianapolis: The size and complexity of my cases have grown.
Irwin Levin, Cohen & Malad; Class Action/Mass Torts; Indianapolis: I’m more involved in strategic planning, both for the law firm in general and the cases in particular.
Betsy Greene, Greene & Schultz Trial Lawyers; Personal Injury – General: Plaintiff; Bloomington: I started my career as a deputy prosecutor. Then in ’88 I went to work for a personal injury firm here in town, and in 2005 I left to start my own firm. Six months later, my law partner, who also worked at the other firm, came and joined me. The nature of our practice has not changed. We have always focused on helping people who were injured through the carelessness of others. We hired our fifth lawyer earlier this year, and we are making plans to open an Indianapolis branch of our law office at the beginning of 2023.
Tittle: I represented a young woman who lost her husband and baby in a horrific automobile accident on a county highway. We got the defense lawyer [for the trucking company’s insurance carrier] and their insurance adjuster and showed them a photo emotive of a day in the life of that family before it was destroyed, and they were awfully quiet. We got that case resolved for what I’ll say was a significant amount of money. To me, it was more comforting and more rewarding than any case I’ve ever handled.
Levin: The most notable case I ever worked on was the Holocaust litigation, the first class action case against Swiss banks on behalf of survivors. But one case I’ve been involved in in the last 20 years involved a health insurance trust that was put together by the construction industry. That trust went broke and the state took it over. I was hired by the state, the liquidator, to bring litigation to try to get money back. People had lost $17.99 million. Because we collected over $25 million, everyone got 100% of their losses back after attorney fees and costs. Over 5,000 Indiana residents were able to pay all their medical bills back without having to reach into their pockets.
Pence: I represented Bei Bei Shuai, a Chinese immigrant who had been charged with murder following her attempted suicide while seven months pregnant. A documentary was made and garnered a lot of press and public outrage over criminalization of a woman’s pregnancy and actions during that. On the eve of trial, the prosecutor offered us a misdemeanor charge. So we went from the worst charge in the world to a misdemeanor.
Trimble: I represented the Indiana State Fair Commission after the collapse of the stage roof during the Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair in August of 2011. It killed seven people and injured 70. We settled the cases and raised nearly $2 million in public contributions. I worked with Kenneth Feinberg, the noted mass-disaster consultant, in distributing the funds to the victims and I argued the case against the state fair all the way to and through a successful opinion in the Indiana Supreme Court.
Lee: The Ashabraner v. Bowers and Rumpke case was decided by the Indiana Supreme Court on Aug. 30, 2001. That was the first case that said, “You can’t exclude minorities from civil jury trials in Indiana.” During jury selection, the African American jurors were excluded, so we challenged that.
Greene: Sometimes it’s about getting some form of justice, whatever that might be. One of my favorite clients—I’m really proud of what I did for her. In the end, there just wasn’t enough money and never would be to make up for what happened to her. But I worked really hard. I reduced my fee. I negotiated all the lanes and I got her enough money to buy a car. And you know what? I felt really good about that, and so did she.
Levin: Many lawyers are like children, and what I have learned is that judges need to be strong to be effective. The biggest problem of litigation for lawyers, for courts, and for clients is the discovery process; taking depositions and getting documents. That’s where there’s a lot of nonsense involved, and judges have the power to eliminate a lot of that.
Trimble: The best lawyers in any branch of law are problem solvers. We have to step into situations where we take on someone else’s problem and try to fix it without making it even worse. Within the last 20 years, I adopted the view that what my role was to my clients was to come in every day with the eye and the heart of a problem solver. It reached the point where one day I realized I needed to move “Attorney at Law” out from under my name on my business card and put “Problem Solver” under my name.
Greene: Most people are doing the best they can—or think they are.
Pence: You can’t predict everything that’s going to happen. Just as I think I’ve heard everything and seen everything, I can have a potential client that comes in and says, “This is what happened.” And I’ll go, “What!?” A year ago, people were talking about how you make billions of dollars in Bitcoin. Now it’s a multibillion-dollar loss that they think is probably due to fraud. As soon as they fix that hole, there’ll be another crime that comes up that they didn’t think of.
Lee: People don’t care how you think. People react to you as to how you make them feel. You have to look at the human element and try to connect with the human being you’re dealing with, particularly in jury selection or trials.
Changes for the Better …
Lee: Our Supreme Court in Indiana has been a leader in terms of embracing technology. Advancements in technology have been instrumental in helping lawyers administer cases. We have a dashboard now that tells you all your cases, hearings and trials. This has reduced some of the costs we used to incur, by making everything electronic.
Greene: When I first started practicing personal injury, Microsoft Windows had not been invented. We didn’t email. We sent letters. We dictated. We had mailboxes literally at the courthouse, and they would put paper notices in your box. Technology has allowed us to do so much more.
Levin: Practicing law has become more efficient, if you compare what we do today to back when lawyers were still using carbon paper. It’s like night and day.
Trimble: Our courts are more sensitive to the expense of litigation, so they have put in place more rules that require parties to be cooperative. We’ve also had the opportunity to do things more remotely to save clients money they used to pay us to travel. The advent of Zoom and Teams and Webex to hold hearings and take depositions and handle mediations has been, I think, a good thing.
… And Not So Much
Trimble: We are trying fewer jury trials and we are having fewer opportunities for younger lawyers to learn the trade of trial practice. The day may come where there are middle-aged lawyers who don’t have the trial experience to try big and important cases.
Tittle: Today, [law] is not treated that reverently, including the media saying things that there’s no basis for. As a lawyer, if you lie to a federal judge or say something that’s not supported, you are going to pay the price.
Levin: I very much appreciate the benefits of remote work, but it is hard to mentor a lawyer who’s working from home. The other problem is that it is a challenge to the law firm culture if people don’t interact on a regular basis in person.
Pence: I’m very upset over the composition of the Supreme Court and its refusal to follow precedent, because I think that makes the job more like the Old West right now. You’re trying to figure out what people’s rights really are.
Lee: When people were on Zoom, I called a couple lawyers and said, “What are you—a Zoom bully?” It was like a joke, but in reality, guys that were really nice and [whom] I got along with, when they got shut in, they became more irritable and difficult to deal with. Because of that, there was more acrimony in the practice. I attribute it to the fact that everybody was terrified what might happen next, but things have improved dramatically since we returned to in-person.
Greene: The downside of [technology] is that we as lawyers just don’t know each other like we used to. Issues like civility, professionalism and courtesy are strikingly different now. I started my career as a deputy prosecutor in a very small rural county with a very small Bar but, by golly, when we had a Bar association meeting, everybody showed up. If you never see anybody face to face, there’s no accountability.
Tittle: I think you’re going to see more mergers and acquisitions of law firms. When I started back in my firm in 1968, there were 12 of us. Today, we probably have 150 in the office and, around the world—get this—20,000 with Dentons.
Levin: We will continue to see more diversity within the profession. Having a law practice that represents [the diversity of] people who are clients is terrific. A lot of committees, for example, in the class action world are insisting on increased diversity.
Trimble: I do think that law firms are going to exist more virtually than they have in the past, with less reliance on brick-and-mortar offices. I think we’re going to see corporate America losing patience with our court system because of what they perceive to be the unpredictability of the risk of trials. So I think we’re going to see even greater emphasis than we already see on alternative dispute resolution—arbitration and mediation.
Lee: The biggest change, I think, is the cost of litigation. At some point in time, our legal profession has to take a closer look at that. For example, the court sent a bill for $1,700 for a copy of the deposition. I said, “Are you kidding me? That can’t be right.” There are expert witnesses and it’s typical for their fees to be $5,000 to $25,000 now. When I started practicing, I used to pay them $1,000. I know that’s a long time ago, but it’s getting cost-prohibitive now to litigate the smaller cases like we used to.
Pence: There are always going to be people that take advantage of others. There will be people who are accused of doing something wrong but haven’t, and they’ll need lawyers to help them navigate through those issues.
Advice for the Next Generation
Pence: Don’t minimize the importance of your role in society. You are the safeguard against abuse of individual liberties.
Levin: Relationships matter. It’s hard to build a relationship with your opposing counsel when most of your communications are by email. So I would urge everyone, to the extent that it is practical, to engage in face-to-face personal relationships.
Tittle: Proofread, proofread, proofread! Don’t ever hand a piece of paper, whether it’s an email, a letter, a brief to a senior partner, that you haven’t proofread three times. Because if you get caught once [with mistakes], that person is going to think you didn’t care.
Greene: Find what you’re passionate about. Find what you care about, because if you’re passionate and you care about it, you’ll work hard and you’ll be good. And the money will come.
Lee: The number one thing is that you have to educate yourself. When I started the practice, I was a seminar junkie. I went to a seminar every month. I invested in the educational process, and I think that was paramount. If you’re starting a practice, you have to develop skill sets. Law schools are deficient in terms of development of skill sets for the practice of law. I think young lawyers should gravitate toward taking a seminar at least once a month if they can. The second thing is you have to read and review current cases. In the old days, we used to get the green booklet that had the cases each week. So in my first 10 years, I read every case that came from the Appellate and Supreme Court.
Trimble: Be responsive to clients and to co-workers, and communicate well because clients don’t give repeat business to unresponsive lawyers. Get out from behind your desk and get out in the world and meet people as much as you possibly can. There’s a saying that I like: Dogs don’t bark at parked cars. Get out and get the dogs barking.
Remembering Past Super Lawyers Coverage
Levin: Lawyers can be kind of a sarcastic group. So I think what happens when you get that kind of publicity is that you get other lawyers who rib you a lot about it. But they’re also very complimentary.
Tittle: I first learned about [being on the cover] when our managing partner walked into my office and flashed the cover to me. I was momentarily stunned and at first thought it was a joke!
Trimble: I certainly got a lot of positive feedback and teasing about being featured. It has always felt surreal to me to be ranked as a top Super Lawyer because, in my opinion, there are so many truly outstanding lawyers who are also deserving of that.
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