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“It Takes Little Effort Not to Say No.”


Joel E. Tragesser

A few months before being honored by the Indianapolis Bar Association with a Professionalism Award, I received a call from committee chair Kevin Morrissey advising me of my nomination and upcoming recognition of my efforts for our profession and community. I was honored and appreciative of the opportunity to share why I strive to help others, not only as an attorney, but as an active member of our community.

In the weeks leading up to the award breakfast, I recalled that my career would not have been predicted by my elementary school teachers who were lucky to hear me say a dozen words a month. They would struggle to believe that I could stand up before a judge in court, share comments to a room full of peers, or even more astonishing, perform before hundreds in a charity dance contest as I did the year before for the Meals on Wheels of Hamilton County.

Early during my major study in economics at Wabash College, I learned about scarcity, supply, demand, and opportunity costs. Time management professionals will often explain the benefits of saying no. As a new attorney and then new father, I was advised to be selective with my time for community causes and organizations, with the best suggestion being to support events that align with my interests and my family.

But so much can happen when you have constant support from family and colleagues that breeds confidence. And you can have fun while supporting great causes, impacting your community, and fostering your career and family.

My late grandpa Bob Lewis and my dad Gene were constantly helping family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. My Grandma “GG” Lewis had a sign in her kitchen stating that next to every good man is a great woman. And she was one of many great women in my life. Not many 90+ year olds would let their grandson talk them into climbing 11 floors for the American Lung Association Fight for Air stair climb. But that is how she modeled to her grandchildren, through her actions rather than instructions.

My mom Susan also always challenged and supported me to help others and solve challenges. I have great memories solving Perry Mason shows during her lunch hour as well as puzzles in the monthly Games magazine, many of which required creativity that I use now when helping others with their difficulties.

Early on in my career, my assistant Stephanie Addington trained me to be diligent, organized, and client focused. I’m not certain how I survived a couple of brief absences from her watchful eye. And I met our office administrator Lisa Matheson when we opened the Indy office of Quarles & Brady in 2014. My energy, enthusiasm, and not-so-good humor at times almost chased her quickly back to Chicago, especially when I scheduled an event for the same day our new office opened. Or when I wore a Detroit Red Wings jersey to an Indy Fuel event for their parent team Chicago Blackhawks. The eagerness of these ladies to implement my crazy ideas have only enabled me to continue.

And the most selfless woman I know is my wife Kirsten Tragesser who has helped me tremendously since we met a few years ago. After losing her own daughter, she obtained her Child Life certification and has made a career helping sick and dying children as well as their families cope with issues and experiences similar to her own. She is a constant source of ideas, has unlimited desire to assist others, and is an inspiration to many.

So one trait common to most in the legal profession is the desire to help others. A little time, encouragement, or support goes along way. If you don’t have the time to lead a team or a committee, support somebody who does or sign up for your company’s caring events. Or simply share a word of encouragement and praise. Be a table captain for Little Red Door Cancer Agency and bring friends and clients who would enjoy your company. Donate an item for a Colby & Cate’s Charities silent auction. Better yet, buy a silent auction item to donate for another silent auction. Collect teddy bears for the Indy Bar’s paralegal committee who donates them to first responders to have for children.

Or collect food for Shepherd Community Center to help make certain that children have quality meals over summer break. Spend a Saturday morning washing vans at Second Helpings who provides nutritious meals each day.

As you can imagine, I deeply appreciate the recognition by the Indianapolis Bar Association and to all of the great organizations and people in my network for giving me many opportunities not to say no.

Thank you.