This year, we’re celebrating a huge milestone: forty years in business. For forty years, we have accomplished our mission of treating clients like family. And what better way to start our celebration than getting to know our founder a little better? We sat down with Phillip Stewart to learn more about his personal and professional journey, the history of our firm, what has inspired and influenced him throughout his career, and the kind of legacy he aspires to leave behind. Learn more about the man who started it all.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the origins of Stewart & Stewart?
“I graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in 1964. I had a license to teach in Indiana and my first job was teaching science in a small southern Indiana high school. I enjoyed that very much and ended up moving to a much larger school after a couple of years, and taught there for several years.”
“I then decided that I wanted to do something other than teaching even though I enjoyed teaching. I really wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to start my own business and do my own thing, so my wife and I became involved in the beauty school business with some friends.”
“We named it PJ’s College of Cosmetology. The reason why it is called ‘PJ’s’ is because it stands for Phillip and Judith Stewart. We wanted to do something very short and that’s when Judy came up with the PJ’s acronym.”
“After we got that business established, I decided that I wanted to go to law school. I had always wanted to, but it never felt like the timing was right. At this point in time, it was 1977-1978, and I was accepted into the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.”
“During that time, they had a night program, so you could get a law degree in the evening and still work a full-time job during the day. It was not easy, but it was a good way to do it. It normally takes three years to complete law school, but as a part-time student, it took four years and you actually went to school year-round. There were no summers off.”
“I graduated in 1982, and right after I graduated, I celebrated my 40th birthday in April, and took and passed the bar exam in May. At that time, I still didn’t want to work for someone else. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to run my own business, so my wife and I purchased a small ranch-type house on this lot on Rangeline Road in Carmel. We turned that house into an office. We built and started the practice out of that small house. It was me and one secretary. We built it from there, and it’s grown and done very well. I am proud and thankful for all the people who have helped me along the way.”
What is your role at the firm and as a part of the Stewart & Stewart team?
“I don’t try cases anymore. I tried a lot of cases when I first started, and I enjoyed doing that. As the firm grew, so did my responsibilities of running the business and making decisions about how things would get done. So over the years, I’ve kind of moved away from practicing law to running the office and keeping things on the right path. Actually at this point in my career, I’m working very hard to shift as many of those responsibilities as I can to my son, and let him have those responsibilities. He is doing an excellent job and will continue to make the practice a success.”
What got you interested in working with the law?
“I think the law is very interesting. I look at the four years I spent in law school as some of my most enjoyable years. I really enjoyed studying the law. Even though I was one of the older of the group–I think I may have been the oldest person in my class–I graduated and finished law school. But I really did enjoy the process of learning about the law and how it works. I think that was one of the most interesting and fascinating things for me. We are truly a nation of laws and that controls all that we do and it allows us freedom.”
What is something you’ve been able to achieve in your time at Stewart & Stewart, personally or professionally, that you’re really proud of?
“I’m really proud of a lot of things, and it’s hard to single out one thing that I am proud of. But, I’m proud of my family and our two sons and daughter. Our sons chose to go to law school and become attorneys and do the same type of thing that I did: helping people recover from what I call bullying–corporations probably not the best term. Sometimes though, insurance companies do take advantage of the average guy. My sons are doing what they wanted to do and I think that’s a compliment to what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Who has been an inspirational figure in your life and why?
“I’ve had a lot of people who have inspired me, but the most influential person in my life has been my wife. She has always supported and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I also respect and follow the verdicts and the decisions that the courts make in regards to important matters that are going to affect people’s lives. I enjoy keeping up with the Supreme Court, the Indiana Supreme Court, and even some of the lower courts. I enjoy keeping an eye on their decisions. I think a lot of the people who are responsible for making those decisions have really influenced my thinking and the way I do things. I have a lot of respect for the judges. We are a country of laws and I think we all have to remember that’s what keeps us going and heading in the right direction and allows us to be free. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy. I respect the law and find it to be very important in people’s lives.”
What do you enjoy most about working as an attorney?
“What I’ve always enjoyed most about practicing law is helping people who are not in the position to, or have the ability or the wherewithal to help themselves. The big insurance companies have always been there and people have always needed someone to protect them from some of those entities. I’ve always enjoyed helping people get what they deserve and what they are entitled to in the end. They deserve to be treated fairly. I’ve always said that the insurance companies could put us out of business tomorrow if they were fair and treated people right, but they’re never going to do that because they’re all about making as much money as they can.”
Who has helped you reach your professional goals the most?
“My wife has been a sweetheart throughout this whole process. She took care of our children while I was teaching and in school. I know that was a lot of hard work. She not only did that, but she worked in the business and is my number one consultant when it comes to issues with the office, people, or life. She has been my inspiration and my driving force.”
What advice would you give to someone new in the industry or looking to start law school?
“Well, I think the one piece of advice for someone going to law school is to be prepared to do a lot of hard work. It is work, and it takes up a lot of time, energy, and effort. Even though it’s not extremely difficult, it just takes perseverance and effort to get through law school, pass the bar exam, and then continue to move on from there. Hopefully, if that’s what you choose to do, you choose it because you love it.”
What is one of your hobbies that people might not know about?
“I don’t have a lot of hobbies. The law is really my hobby [laughs], but I split my time between Indiana and Florida. I enjoy being together with friends and going out into the gulf or doing some backwater fishing–just taking the day off and enjoying the sun in the company of friends and maybe catching dinner.”
If you could snap your fingers and be an expert in something, what would it be?
“You must have stayed up late thinking about all of these questions! That’s an interesting question. A good question, but a tough question. I would like to be an expert in everything. I have a lot of interests. I really like mechanical stuff. I think part of that is because I like figuring out how things work. The law is kind of like that too. It’s kind of like a puzzle–fitting all of the pieces together. So, I guess it would be solving puzzles, no matter what kind of puzzles they are. Mechanical, legal, personal–that’s what I’d like to be an expert in.”
What’s your favorite way to wind down after a busy day?
“Well, I used to run. I don’t run anymore. I’ve had a knee replacement and other physical things that have stopped me from running. If it’s a nice day, I do like to go for a walk and at least get outside. If I can, between work hours, or before dinner or bed, I take a walk and get some fresh air. It’s a lot easier to do that in Florida than in Indiana. That’s my favorite way to relax and unwind. I used to jokingly tell my clients that if I thought about their case when I was running, I would charge them double since I thought so much more clearly. I enjoy light exercise. After that, I feel like I can unwind somewhat. If I miss a day doing it, I can definitely tell. It removes the cobwebs in my mind.”
Do you have a favorite book?
“I have a couple of favorite authors. I like Baldacci. I’ve read several of his books. I like John Grisham, of course. They’re both attorneys, so why wouldn’t I like their books? They don’t necessarily write about law. There’s also a medical examiner that writes mysteries from a medical examiner standpoint and I enjoy reading her books. Other than the legal journals that I read, I enjoy a good mystery.”
What’s your favorite movie?
“One of my favorite movies that I’ve always liked is Rocky. I love the music and I love the theme. It’s about an underdog. I feel like a lot of my clients are underdogs and I’m privileged to get to help them.”
What is the most important thing you’ve learned throughout your career?
“I’m not sure that I would say it’s the most important thing, but it’s important to be a good listener. Every story has two sides and it’s important to listen to both of those sides before you make up your mind about what’s right and what’s not right.”
What legacy do you want to leave behind at Stewart & Stewart?
“The legacy that I would like to leave behind is that we have always been the law firm that represents people and people who need to be represented because they’re being taken advantage of or not being treated fairly. They’re victims so to speak. Our legacy should be to ensure that there are hundreds, or even thousands, of happy people out there who know that we were able to help them get what they are entitled to.”
How do you measure success?
“I personally think that the best measure of success is what people think of you–what people believe you stand for. If people believe you stand for the right thing, and they believe that you’ll do the right thing, then you’ve been successful.”