By Bryan Stoffel, Stoffel Law LLC
In June 2017, I had the distinct pleasure of attending my very first IndyBar Bench Bar Conference. What follows is a brief summary of my experiences during me weekend at Bench Bar. Names have been changed to protect the identities of those mentioned.
First, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude and appreciation to IndyBar, and specifically, to the Family Law Section Chair – Magistrate Kim Mattingly (I am relieved that you could not recall my first few appearances in your court), the Family Law Section Chair-Elect – Thomas M. Green, and all Family Law Section Board Members who vouched for me and played an instrumental role in making my scholarship to Bench Bar a possibility. From the bottom of my heart, I am very grateful and humbled.
Now to the good stuff. From the very outset of this year’s Bench Bar Conference, I felt welcomed and accepted. I made the (perhaps bold) decision to participate in the golf outing, as a first-timer. My trepidation and hesitance to sign up for the golf outing were in no way abated when, after reaching out to get some details, Drew Bloch told me that he was not golfing, and that many participants were solid golfers and took the golf outing “pretty seriously.” Great. As a recreational golfer who is thrilled when his final round score does not exceed two digits, I thought that I had made an enormous mistake by signing up for the golf outing. I envisioned the round from hell, hacking shots left and right in front of distinguished attorneys and, worse, judges. What a way to make a first impression on such respected members of the bar, right? My fears could not have been more unfounded. I was partnered with several other Bench Bar “first-timers” (shout out to the “Fearsome Foursome” – Brad Madden, Jordan Clouser, and Oscar Rivas!), and we had a great time out on the course. Granted, we did not bring home any hardware, but the day on the Covered Bridge Course was full of fun and laughs, and I was able to make lasting connections with a few great guys.
From the Golf Outing, we returned to the Hyatt Regency for check-in and then made our way to Churchill Downs for the evening Cocktail Reception and Dinner. To my wife’s pleasure, I did not lose any money on the ponies that evening, but I was able to catch up with some familiar faces, and was able to meet so many new folks. I was floored that many of my mentors and role models in the bar were so ready and willing to take me under their wings, to make introductions, and to ensure that I was never standing awkwardly in the corner being a Bench Bar “wallflower.” I am, admittedly, a bit shy and nervous in networking scenarios, but that is the true beauty of Bench Bar: the events are planned in such a way that you never truly feel as if you are being forced into some awkward networking event. Rather, the environment is friendly, laid-back, and inviting to even the most networking-phobic folks like myself.
My Bench Bar Friday morning began with tears, as I listened to a very moving, jaw-dropping and surreal presentation from Andrew J. McKenna, a recovering heroin addict, former DOJ prosecutor, and former federal prisoner. Mr. McKenna’s story of drug addiction, personal torment, loss & pain and recovery & redemption served as a fantastic jumping off point to Bench Bar’s CLE programming. The weekend was full of rich, enlightening, tailored and highly-beneficial and useful seminars, panels and informational presentations. I absolutely loved how I could pick and choose between which presentations and panels to attend and I felt as if I came away from the weekend with a plethora of new practice tips and tools, to aid in my family law practice.
After an intense Friday of high-quality CLEs and seminars, I was pleased to learn that Amanda Blystone would be leading a yoga session to decompress and recharge before the evening’s events. As I entered the conference room for yoga, I was greeted by Elisabeth Edwards shouting, “Stoffel is here!” I cannot stress enough that, over the course of the entire weekend, I always felt welcomed and accepted and never felt as if I did not belong at Bench Bar. As a relatively new “yogi,” I struggled through Amanda’s class, as I do during any yoga class, but I thoroughly enjoyed this brief “mental break” from the weekend’s madness. I even saw a few judges rock solid headstands!
Friday evening concluded with a marvelous dinner, a raffle that suspiciously saw a disproportionate number of winners from the Bench (investigation still pending), and trivia. Much like the results from the golf outing, unfortunately, our trivia team did not come out on top. Note: Target has not fallen out of the Top 10 retail chains in the past year, and the Indiana Court of Appeals did not hear over 100,000 cases in 2016. Our trivia team may have been heckled a bit by emcee Adam Christensen for that latter issue. Whatever. Trivia, much like the raffle, was rigged and the deck was stacked against our team from the outset. I will get to the bottom of all of this here shortly, and will provide an update in due course. The remainder of Friday evening did not consist of anything newsworthy, and did not involve my disgracefully and arrhythmically dancing at Howl at the Moon and other Fourth Street Live hotspots. It did not. I swear.
Saturday morning wrapped up Bench Bar, with a fantastic presentation by James Bell and an illuminating panel discussion featuring several of our Supreme Court Justices. These seminars and panels mirrored those from Friday – engaging, educational, and beneficial and useful to my own practice.
All in all, my first experience at Bench Bar was amazing, and I will not soon forget the graciousness and inclusiveness with which I was greeted in Louisville. I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank Judge Alicia Gooden, IndyBar President Nissa Ricafort, Eric Engebretson, Julie Armstrong, Deneen Fitzgerald, Lesley Hayes, and all other IndyBar staff members, Bob York, and others for planning, executing, and ensuring that Bench Bar was the most successful program possible. My weekend at Bench Bar reinforced what I already knew about our bar association: it's full of kind, collegial and like-minded professionals, who truly want to see the next generation of attorneys succeed and thrive in the practice. I cannot thank IndyBar, the Family Law Section, and my friends, old and new, for your kindness and support, and I feel now, more than ever, that I have found my home in IndyBar. I have now officially become a Bench Bar “lifer,” and I cannot wait to see everybody next year in Louisville.
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