Here at Stewart & Stewart, we enjoy highlighting our team members’ achievements and also celebrating what makes them unique. In our new Team Spotlight Feature, we will be sitting down with our team members and attorneys to learn more about their passions, hobbies, and why they enjoy working at Stewart & Stewart.
This week, we sat down with Senior Litigation Attorney, Nick Wagner, to learn about how he became a successful litigation attorney and what inspires him the most. Nick details how his family history impacted his goals and gives valuable insights into finding success on a professional and personal level.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How long have you been a member of the Stewart & Stewart team?
“I was born and raised in Indiana. I went to IU for four years. I moved up to Michigan after that for law school and came back to my hometown. I’ve been with Stewart & Stewart for the last decade. When I started with them, I was a law clerk while in law school. I literally learned the nuts and bolts of the firm from there. The firm has really grown a lot since then.”
Where did you go to law school?
“Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To this day, my wife and I have an affinity for Grand Rapids. It’s just a beautiful place to be in and a really good law school. It was the start of our love for Michigan—going up there and being by the lake.”
What is your role at Stewart & Stewart?
“I manage all the cases that are in litigation. I’m the Managing Litigation Attorney. Any case, once the lawsuit is filed, I oversee it. If it’s not my own and I’m not the lead attorney on it, I’m overseeing and helping our other litigation attorneys handle them and move them either towards a trial or settlement. “
What got you interested in working with the law?
“You know, I’m not going to be cliché and say that I’ve always wanted to fight for justice or something like that. But my uncle, Larry Wagner, is a personal injury lawyer in Terre Haute, like myself. I just remember growing up and being around him and his family. He was my dad’s twin brother, so we would always hang out a lot. I think I just saw that and what he was doing for people—how he did it.”
“My dad as well. My dad is a business man—always has been. He works with people all the time. Between those two guys, that’s where it came from. And maybe a little bit of the fact I was just attracted to it for some unknown reason—took a course in college, that sort of solidified it.“
What is something you have been able to accomplish in your time at Stewart & Stewart?
“I think, generally speaking, the firm has grown in a lot of ways. There I am being cliché, but it really has! It has evolved too. Growth is a pretty general term—saying that it has evolved makes more sense because we’ve fine-tuned it over the years and made some changes and done some things to really establish who we are, what kind of injury firm we are. We’re not just your run-of-the-mill, billboard-every-half-mile, tv-commercial-every-minute type of law firm. We’re not like that. That’s my favorite part about being an attorney here. There’s respect with that. It’s a family-run firm, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that Stewart & Stewart has enabled me to do everything I have. As far as accomplishments go, I’ve tried several jury trials, and honestly, it’s all kind of a blur after my first two or three, but that’s invaluable. Trying a case takes a team effort. Having done several of them, it feels good to know how to do it for one but also to advocate for your clients with that experience.”
Who has been an inspirational figure in your life, and why?
“I would say from a professional standpoint it has to be my dad, Gary Wagner. He actually works right down the road from where I’m sitting right now. My dad has always been a business-minded, business-oriented person. He has that old-fashioned business sense about him that helps him relate and assimilate with people’s needs. And I get that from him, and he would probably say he gets that from his dad. There’s my mom, but also my mom’s side of the family. There’s a lot of honest, southern farming roots on my mom’s side of the family. That’s helped me stay stronger sometimes when it’s not easy to, and it toughens you up a bit when you have that in your blood. I get it from both sides of the family.”
What do you enjoy most about working as an attorney?
“I enjoy putting my thoughts on paper and into arguments on behalf of my clients. That’s anywhere from a settlement demand to an opening statement at trial. I love the sense of accomplishment of being able to do that. It’s not always easy to convey those types of things to a jury or to a defense attorney. If you can find the right words to do that and tell the story in the right way, then it works and works really well. That’s probably my favorite part about it—being able to put an argument or version of events and presenting that in a way that it means something to the other side, the jury, and the judge. That means something—it’s a big deal. There are small accomplishments along the way that build to the bigger ones. I like that kind of thing. I was an English major, so I was sort of schooled that way—to use proper grammar and get my version of the story out there.”
What has helped you the most in reaching your professional goals?
“I honestly think it would be having jury trial experience. It’s such a big deal. I can’t stress that enough to younger attorneys. If a settlement isn’t feasible, or the insurance company isn’t being reasonable, that is the alternative, and you have to be ready for that alternative. The other side needs to know you’ll be ready. It is an invaluable experience; it helps you in every single case.”
You mentioned the importance of attending jury trials. What advice would you give to someone new to the industry?
“It’s very important. I’m not saying you have to try 100 cases in your first year, but what you do need to know is the ins and outs of the jury trial and how that works. Sitting and observing one is super valuable too. You’re seeing something a lot of attorneys never see—the inside of a courtroom and a jury.”
“I think another thing I’ve learned over the years—you have to remember this is an adversarial system. It’s not the dog-eat-dog arena it’s portrayed as all the time. There are some professionals who are difficult to work with, but there are also those that are easy to work with. I think that you can’t take anything too personal. You can take the case personally, but know it’s an adversarial system. Just do the best job you can. If you do the best job you can, everything will fall into place. Be a good person, be a good lawyer, and be honest with people.”
What is one of your hobbies that many people might not know about?
“I try to golf. Most people know that though—that I like golf. A couple of things that they may not know is I like to do woodworking. A lot of the furniture in my own home was made by me. I like doing that in my spare time, not that I have any really in between soccer and baseball and things like that [laughs]. When I do have the time, I do things like that for my family and friends. I like working outside, working in the garden, and keeping the yard looking nice.”
If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?
“I would be a professional golfer. I watch it all the time and think to myself—man, that would be nice! That must be sweet—when they go to work, they are going to the golf course. But I get it. These guys dedicate a lot of work and hours. Yes, I would want to be on the PGA tour.”
What’s your favorite way to unwind after a busy day?
“I should put it this way: my favorite kind of day after a long day is one where we don’t have anything going on [laughs]. One where we can just hang out at home and have dinner as a family together and not be rushed. It’s nice when we can all be there and be together.”
What is the most important thing you have learned throughout your career?
“Well, I’ve learned a lot, but the most important thing is to not worry about the unknown. That is probably something I’ve developed—a skill for dealing with just life in general. It’s very easy when you’re in litigation to constantly worry about what is around the corner. You have to be prepared for what is around the corner, but you can’t constantly be worried about it—you’ll be a wreck. You know, they say 95% of the things you worry about never happen. And really, the things that happen you never really have a reason to worry about. It’s just doing the best you can, staying focused, staying positive, and not letting things drag you down. That does a lot for work but also for your life at home.”