Welcome to our Speaker Spotlight. For over 50 years the backbone of the Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum has been the dedicated lawyers who step forward to serve as its leaders. This feature highlights those generous individuals.
Our Speaker Spotlight today features John M. “Jack” O’Drobinak, whose outstanding leadership for over 20 years has assisted ICLEF in achieving its goal of providing quality continuing legal education. We are pleased that Jack spent some time with us recently reflecting on his legal career and his ICLEF experiences.
The Law – Why and How
When asked how and why he chose a career in the law 54 years ago, Jack O’Drobinak responds explicitly, as if it was yesterday. He recalls the years when he was an undergraduate student at Notre Dame. How he felt strongly that he wanted to be an architect and how much he enjoyed his courses in that field. “I loved the process of building something, creating a plan that fulfilled a person’s vision.”
But then, he met a friend of his father’s. This lawyer in Whiting named Ben Dankow, introduced him to aspects of his estate planning practice…helping clients to reach their goals, not only for themselves but for their heirs. Jack explains, “I learned how much I enjoyed assisting people with their estate planning….the rewards are both financial and personal for clients.” He was hooked.
The O’Drobinak legal career began in 1960 when Jack received his Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University, after graduating cum laude from his beloved University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. At this point he also began the relationship with his chosen community of Lake County, Indiana, that is a lasting and cherished piece of this man’s being.
His first job was with Chicago Title Insurance Company where he was an examiner and learned about the impact of real estate title transactions. In his first law firm position, he plunged head-on into pending estate cases, learning by doing. Jack’s own law firm came about soon thereafter, immersing him for life as a counselor in probate, estates and trusts. Another fondly-remembered segment of his career is his 17 years as Probate Commissioner, directly impacting people’s lives in yet another manner.
Estate Planning continues to bring Jack O’Drobinak those rewards that he identified back in 1960.
Today the O’Drobinak & Nowaczyk law firm in Schererville includes his daughter, Amy Nowaczyk. They both chose the estate planning practice due to the satisfaction they have from knowing they are having a positive impact on people.
Estate Planning – Serving the Client Now or Later
Describing his interactions with estate clients, Jack has a key pointer he provides often about how important planning ahead is: “Your heirs are going to see the benefit of what we are doing to prepare for when you are no longer here.” Watch this short video for a glimpse of Jack’s feelings on the estate planning practice.
This engaging conversation about practicing law led to an interesting vignette that has been repeated over Jack’s 54-year career as an estate planner. We all know, there are those who have a hard time realizing the value of good counsel and taking action before it’s too late on their estates. He speaks very candidly to individuals when he gets the question “Can’t I just do my will online?” He has one repetitive answer: “Do me a favor….leave my business card with your family so that they can call me to clean up the mess when you die.” You can be sure that this lawyer will give you his straight opinion, at any point, or whomever is involved.
Working On Your Practice and Not In Your Practice
And how did Jack O’Drobinak come to find his sweet spot in the practice of law? Are there warnings he has for someone considering a legal career? What thoughts might he have for anyone that’s reached a point of dissatisfaction? Jack has definite suggestions in these areas. He says: “You have to love it, or get out. A lawyer can bring themselves to a point where the practice dominates your entire life.”
O’Drobinak developed long ago a strong belief in the benefit to both the lawyer and his/her client of a balanced life. As a result, he has in place throughout his law firm a system and philosophy that organizes every process to save time and increase efficiency. The system has proven to be the best formula for his law firm and his family, producing more satisfied, healthy people. Let’s take a moment to hear personally from Jack O’Drobinak about “working on your practice and not in your practice.” Click on the video link below for his thoughts:
Another aspect of his legal career that brings Jack satisfaction are the times when he can help others grow through one-on-one advice, assisting new lawyers in building their successful practice. He approaches mentoring as he does his law firm’s operation, expecting to use valuable time and energy as effectively as possible. In mentoring situations, he asks: “What does the law say? – If the lawyers knows what the law says, they are ready to discuss how to fit the client into a broader description of the law.” He then is willing to give his knowledge and guidance to the situation. These are the times he feels he can provide the best advantage for anyone who wants to learn from his experience.
Fortunately for ICLEF, along the path of acquiring his legal expertise, Jack O’Drobinak also identified the joy of sharing his educational skills. He chose 20 years ago to participate as an ICLEF speaker. His faculty contributions incorporate 50 to 60, always popular, Estate and Trust Administration CLE programs. About this involvement, Jack says: “I’ve enjoyed every one of my experiences with ICLEF seminars. Excellence is always a key component. It provides me a very satisfying opportunity to share my knowledge of guardianships, probate and trusts with others.”
Speaking of his CLE participation, let us mention a recent event that marks a significant milestone for Jack. He and his daughter, Amy Nowacyzk, teamed up for their first cooperative CLE entitled: Guardianships in Indiana. This excellent family ICLEF presentation is available in locations around the state by video replay. We’re looking forward to additions to the O’Drobinak & Nowaczyk estate planning seminars.
After these years of dedication to ICLEF’s educational goals it was natural that Jack would evolve from his faculty role into other leadership roles. He is currently using his knowledge of the organization in his service as Secretary on the Board of Directors.
As we chatted further, Jack was willing to pause to consider any recommendations for lawyers considering joining in as educators. We asked: “What have your years of attending and presenting CLE taught you is an important focus for a faculty member?” He recalled that he’s been to seminars at all levels of quality, both the presentations and the printed materials. Unfortunately, he’s been surprised on occasions that there were subpar ingredients. Not ICLEF programs, of course! Thinking back on both being seated in the audience and standing at the podium, Jack offers his characteristic, to-the-point suggestions for anyone who wants to be a valued educator:
“#1. Be well prepared. #2. Have accurate materials.”
Where’s CLE going?
Of course, ICLEF’s leaders are constantly engaged in anticipating CLE needs for Indiana’s legal profession. A few of the questions they ask themselves are: “How do we insure that ICLEF’s quality continues? What kinds of CLE do you believe meets the current demands and those of the future?” We asked again for Jack O’Drobinak’s valuable input in these areas. He responded first by sharing the guidance that he provides to his associate: “Attend as many CLE programs as you are able.” Jack follows this tenet himself, and believes in the results.
Further, looking to where the practice of law is trending, Jack notes that the operations of his law firm have benefited from expanding technology, electronic systems being an important component. He sites the advances in software that have made his law office considerably more efficient. Jack points to providing education in the quickly-changing law practice management areas as a key to meeting demands. As well, he identifies “desktop CLE” is an area that increases in popularity every day. This 50-year lawyer has decided: “I like to sit at my desk for CLE. I see more and more of that.” He gives ICLEF high marks for the quality of our On Demand and Webcasting presentations.
“Take a good long look”
There’s no doubt about Jack O’Drobinak’s passion for his legal career and his dedication to making it a satisfying way of life. When asked how he would close this conversation, he quickly offered these thoughts:
“Take a good long look at your practice. You control everything about the practice of law, from beginning to end. If there’s something that bothers you take a look at what it is and how you can overcome it.” His suggestions on making sure you’re happy are in the following video. There’s valuable advice here for everyone:
His candid perspective on life and the law made this Speaker Spotlight conversation with Jack O’Drobinak a unique pleasure. Thank you again to Mr. O’Drobinak for participating in ICLEF.
It is through these types of Indiana lawyers that this organization continues to meet the high standards established in 1964.
See Jack at the ICLEF lectern as a presenter at the 42nd Annual Midwest Estate Tax & Business Planning Institute, June 11 & 12 at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium – 500 Ballroom.