PART 6 – BETSY K. GREENE – IN THE MOMENT
Accomplished trial lawyer Betsy K. Greene leaves it all in the courtroom—and on the running trail.
It’s a sunny spring morning in Bloomington, and personal injury lawyer Betsy Greene jogs toward the Jackson Creek Trail, taking her typical unhurried gait around the Winslow roundabout. Greene just finished a half marathon four days ago, and she’s up to her eyeballs preparing for upcoming case depositions in California. Last night, she accepted Indiana Lawyer’s prestigious Leadership in Law award, and she’ll spend today frantically circling the office to get things in order before she leaves town to teach a course at the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College in Wyoming.
But what’s on her mind as she runs? Absolutely nothing. And that’s by design. “Running is my meditation,” Greene says. “I just get to the point where it’s me and my steps and my breath, and that’s a beautiful place to be.”
It’s a practice that feeds her psyche and makes her a better attorney. “As a litigator, you’re constantly making decisions and juggling things,” she says, “because your clients aren’t going to be taken care of until you can get their case to resolution. But you’ve got to take care of yourself so that you can bring all your brain power to the problem at hand. Running lets my brain rest so I can do that.”
It wasn’t always this way. In 2005, when Greene first attended a regional seminar of the Trial Lawyers College—a think tank and training ground for attorneys who represent individuals—she was a partner at a large trial firm, Nunn & Greene, and constantly racing from case to case. She remembers the seminar speakers emphasizing how important it was to be present, to be in the moment.
“I was so not in the moment, I had no idea what they were even talking about,” she says. “I was thinking, what do you mean I’m not present? I’m freaking here, aren’t I? Then it crossed my mind—I was a zillion miles away all the time. I wasn’t present at all. And that got in the way of my listening, and my communications, and my being an effective advocate.”
When she got home from that seminar, she quit her job and started her own firm, Greene & Schultz. And out of the blue, she took up running.
The summer before sixth grade, Greene didn’t look like much of a future marathon competitor: she’d shot up to five foot eleven almost overnight, and her knees balked so much at the change that she could barely move around. She was relegated to a summer of reading—not terribly disappointing in her eyes—and the previous occupants of her new house had left behind two bookshelves of blood-curdling detective novels and true crime stories. Greene was in heaven. And she’d found a purpose.
“Perry Mason, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, Sherlock Holmes . . . I read every single one of those books over the course of two years,” she says. “My dad went to law school at night about that time, which was a big influence, too. So I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. That’s all I ever wanted to do.”
She went on to college and law school at Indiana University, and landed her first job as a deputy prosecutor for prosecuting attorney Jane Spencer Craney. There, she got a handle on what it means to be a trial attorney—and knew instinctively that she was good at it.
“Trial work doesn’t suit everybody,” she says. “The hardest thing about it is you’ve got to be ready to lose. You’ve got to pull your heart out of your chest, put it out there in front of the judge and jury, and let them stomp on it. If you leave it all on the floor or all in the courtroom—which is the way I do it, and the way most good lawyers do it—you might lose, and you’ve got to be able to live with that.”
Greene actually thrives in that environment. She’s got the laurels to prove it: she’s a member of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association’s exclusive College of Fellows, past president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, past president of the Monroe County Bar Association, and an eleven-time Indiana Super Lawyer.
Turning Over a New Leaf
Soon after Greene left her firm in 2005, she turned to colleague Fred Schultz with two requests: 1) join her in a new law practice, and 2) sign up for a 5K running class with her.
“So Fred meets me at the Y and we’re signed up, and he’s reading the course schedule and says, ‘Betsy, this is a half marathon.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you know, like a 5K or something.’ I had no idea. Fred said, ‘No, Betsy, this is thirteen miles.’ I just started laughing. But you know what? I did every single training session as best I could, and when I crossed the finish line of that first half marathon, that was really one of the finest moments of my life.’”
Schultz finished the race with her, and laughs when he remembers how Greene simply decided to go for it right then and there. “She had never run before, except maybe down the street to the pub,” he says. “But she just said, okay, let’s do it.”
He joined her new firm about a month later. “Betsy had been my mentor for many years, and she was the person I turned to for guidance and direction,” he says. “So it was a natural fit. We have the same view of things but different strengths.”
And what does he admire most about his law partner of 10 years? “She is, on the one hand, extremely compassionate, while at the same time extremely tenacious,” he says. Then he laughs. “You could say she’s very tenacious in her compassion.”
Greene is now a volunteer teacher at the Trial Lawyers College, the place where she first found inspiration. The College was founded by prominent national attorney Gerry Spence, who believed that trial attorneys need specialized training in order to represent the people effectively—and his methods are indisputably unique.
“It’s all about communicating,” Greene says. “We use techniques actually associated with group therapy, namely psychodrama, which means acting things out and using devices to revisit past events. It’s a discipline, it requires certification, and it’s actually kind of therapeutic, but we aren’t teaching people to do therapy: we’re using these methods to discover the emotional truth of a case.”
Greene has taken this approach in her own practice with tangible results. She often encourages her clients to revisit past events in a supportive setting, sometimes unearthing the kind of raw emotions that will help sway a jury, and sometimes even discovering facts that help resolve the case. For example, one client’s infant son had been the victim of malpractice. Greene had her client act out the scene at the hospital as it had unfolded, and in doing so, the client remembered that the doctor had left the hospital room briefly to get a different size feeding tube, even though that had not been recorded on her son’s chart. That tube was ultimately not placed properly, and the triggered memory allowed Greene to formulate a theory about how the passage of time affected the child’s treatment. The case was settled for the maximum possible amount.
“It’s fascinating on a gazillion levels,” Greene says of psychodramatic technique. “When you put people back in time and ask them to physically act out what happened, they get in touch with how they were feeling about it, and the body remembers.”
Other times, old-fashioned detective work—the kind she’s wanted to do since sixth grade—is the key to resolving a case. She’s still friends with a quadriplegic man she represented who was thrown from a mechanical bull. “He had signed a release, so it was a hard-fought battle,” she says. “But I got witness statements, did a really good investigation, and found evidence the operator had cranked up the speed and thrown him off. I was able to get a significant recovery for him and allow him to be independent in his living.” (Greene dedicated her first New York marathon finish to him in 2013.)
Not all cases wind up in the victory column for Greene, but that isn’t the most important thing. “There was one young man I just loved, loved, loved—his was a really tough case,” she says. “And we lost. I saw him two years later at the county fair and he gave me this huge hug. He said, ‘You know, I want to thank you. I know we lost, but nobody outside my father and mother have ever fought for me like that.”
Greene takes pride in that knowledge. When she fights for the people who need her the most, she knows she has to leave it all in the courtroom, win or lose. But she never gets tired of the process. It might have a little something to do with her runner’s mentality.
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘What is it you do?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, you see that wall over there? What I do is I run at that wall as hard and as fast as I can. And some days I run through that wall, and some days that wall puts me on my ass. But the next day, you know what I’m going to do? I’m gonna get up, I’m gonna look at that wall, and I’m gonna run right at it again.’”
Leaders in Litigation is an advertorial series created by WKW to feature some of Indiana’s most interesting and accomplished lawyers. We hope you enjoy learning more about these fascinating lawyers as we did interviewing them.
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