Statehouse attorneys work long hours to meet the demands of counsel, legislation

Ryan Hatfield

As Vanderburgh County Assistant District Attorney, Ryan Hatfield was inspired to run for the Indiana General Assembly because he often encountered new state laws that either had errors or were simply not correct. applicable to the daily practice of criminal law.

But ironically, due to some disagreements over whether Indiana law actually allows prosecutors to serve as lawmakers, Hatfield quit his job to prosecute sex crimes and homicides and joined his father in a law firm. private at the Hatfield Law Office before starting his campaign.

The Evansville Democrat, now in his third term in the Statehouse, said the only way he was able to juggle the demands of his legal practice and his legislative duties was to work lots and lots and lots of hours. ‘time.

Hatfield typically spends several hours in his office on Monday mornings before traveling to Indianapolis when the Legislature is in session. Then he answers emails and phone calls and files documents with the courts whenever he gets a break between committee hearings and House sessions before spending more hours in the evening. On Fridays he is back in his district and usually in court.

“One of the differences perhaps in the practice of law that may not carry over to other industries is that…your obligation to your client never ends,” Hatfield said. “I have no right to close the business or hand it over to someone else while I’m here. This responsibility continues and it is a responsibility that I take seriously and that requires diligent work.

As a lawyer-legislator, Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, right, says he enjoys setting aside partisan beliefs and working with other Statehouse lawyers on legislative language to ensure that bills will do in practice what the authors intended. (Photo courtesy of Indiana House Democrats)

Many legal professionals see the enormous difficulty of running a successful law firm while being an effective legislator as the primary reason why more lawyers are not filling Indiana House and Senate seats. . Of the 150 members of the Statehouse, only 21 have a JD degree. This compares to 1986 when former President Brian Bosma was newly elected and had 25 practicing lawyers in the lower house alone.

Brian Stier

When Brian Stier served as chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party in the 1990s, he recruited various people to run for public office, but he preferred lawyers.

“Through their training, they solve problems,” Stier, an attorney at the Guido Law Firm in Fort Wayne, said of the lawyers. “They attack the problems and they attack the problems. That training, that experience, and the insight that comes with it is so valuable to a State Representative or State Senator.

However, none of these legal professionals had any suggestions on what the profession could do to reduce the burden on lawyer-legislators. While it’s helpful to be able to attend court hearings remotely and earn continuing legal education credits for some General Assembly activities, there’s really no choice but to work very hard. long hours.

Marci Reddick, an attorney at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, spent a lot of time at the Statehouse, including serving former Gov. Frank O’Bannon when he led the Senate Democratic caucus, and former Gov. Evan Bayh.

She noted that as lawyer-legislators struggle to meet the demands of their practice of law, the legislative process has become much more complex. Serving in the Legislative Assembly, she said, is “grueling but extremely important work.”

Having a mix of professions in the Legislative Assembly is important, Reddick said, and while “hundreds and hundreds of lawyers” provide their legal expertise to the General Assembly through testimony, lobbying and work in legislative committees, the Statehouse needs lawyer-legislators.

Marc Reddick

“I think it’s extremely important that there are lawyers sitting in the caucuses, sitting in those chairs and voting,” Reddick said. “Many decisions and many policies are made through caucus discussions, and having the voice of a lawyer and people from all walks of life in caucus decisions is critically important.”

A couple more is OK

Although he has already served a session in the Legislative Assembly, Rep. Chris Jeter, R-Fishers, confessed that he is still trying to figure out how to run a law firm and serve at the Statehouse. Slipping calls and emails between meetings and in-room debates, as well as filling his calendar on Friday, the day the General Assembly does not meet, are some of the ways he does his legal work.

Still, Jeter said he thinks the stressful juggling is worth it because of the contributions lawyers can make to public service.

“I think it’s a really great choice for lawyers in any political office, because whether it’s in the state legislature, county level, or city council, it’s about to be a good critical reader, to be a good critical thinker, to be able to analyze different issues and take different courses of action, and I think lawyers are really perfectly suited for that,” said Jeter, who is partner at Massillamany Jeter & Carson at Fishers “I think there really is a need, and I think there is a real appetite for lawyers in public service at all levels.”

Chris Throw

Both Hatfield and Jeter pointed to the unique skills lawyers bring to the legislative process, particularly their ability to rephrase the wording of proposed bills to ensure laws will work as intended. They spoke of their experiences as lawyer-legislators putting aside their political differences and working together to rewrite and craft clear provisions and amendments.

“As a lawyer, it’s the kind of thing that comes full circle,” Jeter said. “Seeing a law that we’re changing that you’ve already tried to interpret and then hearing the discussions about it is very, very cool actually.”

Since being assigned to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, Rep. Robin Shackleford said she has often relied on lawyer-legislators. They gave him the legal perspective, told him about the precedents, what the law currently does and why the law needs to change.

Even so, the Indianapolis Democrat said she thinks the Legislature has a good mix of different backgrounds and doesn’t necessarily need more lawyers.

Robin Shackleford

“A lot of these lawyers are already sitting on the courts and on the Criminal Code or they’re sitting on the judiciary (committees) because that’s where you get heavier on the law,” Shackleford said. “The other committees like family and children, and health, and things like that, it might be more beneficial to have someone who is in that profession…. I think right now we’re down to a lot of lawyers we have, but if they want to add a few more, that’s okay.

Maybe do without

In the Delaware Legislature in 1981, and possibly for several years before that, there was no lawyer to be found, according to dispatches. A story in the February 22, 1981 edition of “The Morning News” from Wilmington, noted that the Los Angeles Times had sent a reporter to Delaware to investigate.

“On the one hand, there is more plain speaking and plain writing in the legislative halls of Dover – and sometimes more humor – than is found in other state capitals,” says the item. “…(Delaware lawmakers) take pride in the fact that state legislation has been made with less than anything legal minds are supposed to bring to the process.”

steve shine

The Indiana legal community sees no danger in having a legislature without a lawyer despite the current low numbers. However, attorney Steven Shine, chairman of the Allen County Republican Party, speculated that the General Assembly may one day do without solo practitioners.

As the Fort Wayne partner at Shine & Hardin noted, lawmakers see their work interrupted more than during the three or four months the Legislature is in session. They also have to sit on interim study committees in the summer and fall, as well as hold town hall meetings for voters and raise money for their next campaign.

Those requests, he said, would likely be easier for attorney-lawmakers practicing in a law firm. The other lawyers could make up for their colleague’s absence by taking on more clients and, in turn, bringing in more revenue.

“It is very difficult to get a lawyer who can be an independent lawyer to devote the time necessary to serve in the Legislative Assembly, because the independent lawyer, very often, does not have the ability to say: ” I’m shut down for two months…and I have to serve in the Legislative Assembly,” Shine said.

Yet, he continued, the expertise of those lawyers hanging a shingle by themselves would be lacking at the Statehouse. “A sole practitioner, by nature, is probably exposed to more types of law because he has to deal with more types of problems, more types of diverse subjects than someone who is in a firm.”

Hatfield said when he considered running for Statehouse, he considered his legal career. Specifically, he considered which firm he would join in the private sector and which area of ​​law he would practice. It was also “vitally important” to have a legal partner who supported his efforts to sit in the Legislative Assembly.

“While it’s unclear if I would go practice with my father, it made sense because of his support, understanding and availability to my clients while I was also in legislative duties,” said said Hatfield. “I don’t know how you manage without legal partners supporting you.”•

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