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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Expecting the Unexpected

From the moment Terry Farmer began practicing law in 1980 in Canton, Ohio, he has learned to adapt to the legal arena surrounding him. His aspirations of serving as a trial lawyer were put on hold as the economy nosedived and a demand for bankruptcy attorneys ascended. Since then, Farmer has used those early lessons of changing as businesses have and enters his 34th year at Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald & Hahn, LLP.

“It wasn’t what I expected, but it turned out to be a very fortuitous time to be where I was,” says Farmer, who worked for Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths, and Dougherty for more than two years before deciding to relocate to Evansville with his wife Denise in 1982, where he had lived most of his life.

As the average mortgage interest rate hovered around 17 percent, Farmer says his career in bankruptcy representing creditors, primarily for banks, hit the ground running. A brand new bankruptcy code zeroed out the knowledge of those who had been practicing in the field for years, he says.

The experience made Farmer, an alumnus of Indiana University and Indiana University School of Law, a marketable employee for an Evansville general practice law firm, which was started by Fred Bamberger, William Foreman, Charles E. Oswald, Jr., and Robert Hahn in 1959.

“Bamberger primarily was a trial firm at that point of development,” says Farmer, 58, who currently is the firm’s managing partner. “It was a business practice, but they had very little depth. I appealed to them from that standpoint.”

The firm also represented Citizens National Bank of Evansville, which later was acquired by Fifth Third Bank, and “they didn’t really have anyone doing banking work. I was recruited to represent them and I did from that point until they were acquired,” says Farmer.

On Oct. 11, 1982, Farmer joined the firm as an associate attorney, and after four years, he became a partner. He has served in a management role for 30 out of the 33 years. 

“It’s a great group of people,” he says of Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald & Hahn, which is located the historic Hulman Building in Downtown Evansville. “Every organization has a culture and there are a lot of them that are toxic. This place isn’t. This place is extremely approachable. In an industry that is full of puffed-up egos, there aren’t a lot of them here. People here are normal. It’s an open-door shop. We generally get to know our clients pretty well.

“The thing that excites me the most about us right now is that we’ve always been ahead of the curve on technology. Our Indianapolis presence is not as large as I would like it yet, but it gives us significant reach across the state. These are good people. They really are.”

Farmer is the second to last attorney to practice with all four founders. Over the years, his duties have included significant client representation in banking, construction, coal mining, telecommunications, and some portion of trial work, which is what he currently is doing today.

In 2013, Farmer represented Lori Koch during a family dispute over ownership of the popular amusement park Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana.

According to the Indiana Court of Appeals opinion written by Judge Paul D. Mathias, when Will Koch, the majority owner in the partnership with his brother Dan Koch, died unexpectedly in June 2010, Dan was elected president of the business and took over operations. The judge ruled that Lori, Will’s widow, did not have to sell her shares of Koch Development Corp., which owns and operates the theme park, to Dan through a purchase agreement.

“I’m on the board up there now,” says Farmer of Holiday World. “I enjoy that relationship with them.”

Farmer says the opportunities to represent clients in large cases similar to the Koch Development Corp. and Daniel L. Koch vs. Lori A. Koch appeal is becoming more and more rare through the changes in the legal arena.

“Evansville has changed a lot over the last 30 years,” he says. “Its loss of headquarter companies is significant and really changes the nature of the legal practice here. For a long time, you viewed the guy across the street as your competitor. That’s a pretty parochial view. What is happening is the Chicago firms are eating up Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis firms are coming here.

“This is a firm that has had a long history of pretty high-end opportunities but some of those opportunities don’t exist anymore. Our firm did Washington Square Mall, the first covered mall in the state of Indiana. When they put up the fiber (optic network) that is now WOW!, we did that. At one point, I worked on a quarter of a billion dollar deal and you don’t get a lot of that around here.”

Farmer also has observed the accelerated pace in which cases are handled. When Bamberger first opened, there was one telephone that was shared among employees, and later in 1982 when he arrived at the firm, there wasn’t a computer in the office.

“You would do something, write a letter, and stick it in the mail, and you had bought yourself four to five days. That’s gone,” he says. “There have been some improvements with the ability to research on the computer. What has been wrung out of the process is the time to think. Complicated problems need a lot of consideration and no one wants to give you the time to do that anymore. It’s difficult to get time to reflect. If you do take that time, you are viewed as either being dimwitted or unresponsive. Sometimes that’s fair, and other times, the client has a bigger problem than you thought they did and you need to think it through.”

Farmer advises up-and-coming lawyers to challenge themselves to take on cases that are “above their weight class,” look for role models who work in other markets, and to get to know their clients.

“If you don’t really know your client, then you don’t get to know what they think the problem is versus the problem they have. The clients you really get to know, you can get to know their industry, their goals, and objectives. You can do a much better job representing them from a preventive standpoint. That’s what I’ve been good at.”

When asked to reflect back on his impressive career, Farmer says he measures success based on the people associated with him.

“It’s not only the quality of the organization, but the character of your clients,” he says. “Over time, they will define you.”

For more information about Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald & Hahn, LLP, call 812- 425-1591 or visit bamberger.com.

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