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Sunday, April 14, 2024

‘Reverse Retirement’

After 30 years in social work, Susan Wilkie pivots to the courtroom.

When Susan Wilkie concluded three decades in social work, she turned her retirement into a second career practicing law, and she has enjoyed both careers. Much of her work involves children and families in difficult circumstances, but therein lies her inspiration.

“Nobody can undo what already happened, but you can do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she says.

The University of Evansville graduate earned a master’s degree in social work from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and was hired in the mid-1970s as Evansville Police Department’s first social worker. Wilkie then spent a decade with the Indiana Crippled Children’s Program and later served as a case manager for the Indiana Department of Children’s Services. After 30 years as a social worker, she retired early in 2005 and started a second career.

At the time, her son Jared planned to go to law school. Wilkie looked into the process and realized, “This is something I could do.” In a career shift she calls “reverse retirement,” she passed the LSAT and had no problem filling out the applications with plenty of references. It took her two and a half years to earn a three-year Doctor of Jurisprudence at IUPUI’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where she often was the most senior student in the classroom by 20 years.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” Wilkie says, but “the closest I’ve ever come to a mental breakdown.”

She focused on criminal and family law. While studying, the William Henry Harrison High School alumna returned to Evansville for the summer to intern with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office. Then-prosecutor Stan Levco hired her once she graduated. Wilkie served as a deputy prosecutor from 2009 to 2013 before beginning her private practice focusing on family and guardianship law. She returned to the prosecutor’s office part-time in July 2023 to help bring sex crimes to trial.

“I think I’ve helped a lot of people with their problems. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done,” says Wilkie, 76. “This is the thing I feel like I was made to do.”

Wilkie’s favorite part of practicing law is trials.

“I come dressed for the game. I like putting the pieces together and explaining (things) to people in a way that will get their attention,” she says.

Her law career has won her several accolades, including the Evansville Bar Association’s Susan K. Helfrich Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service in 2019 and Doran E. Perdue Service Award in 2022. She volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates, coaches mock trials at Evansville’s Early College High School, and takes on temporary guardianships for medical patients who cannot advocate for themselves. Wilkie also enjoys a weekly game of bridge.

She keeps busy, but as far as the retirement question is concerned, no age limit is attached.

“I’ll stop when I feel like it,” Wilkie says.

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Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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