Monica Schmucker: “Support the community”

Support the community. So many are struggling; find a way to give back whether donating blood, volunteering to deliver meals on wheels or groceries to those at high risk, or otherwise. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from […]

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Support the community. So many are struggling; find a way to give back whether donating blood, volunteering to deliver meals on wheels or groceries to those at high risk, or otherwise.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Schmucker. She is a former Deputy Attorney General in Indiana and brings her keen investigation experience to her Florida litigation practice, assisting clients in the defense of negligence, personal injury, premises liability, vehicle negligence, and wrongful death claims. She embraces the opportunity each case brings to think outside the box and develop a customized litigation strategy to protect the interests and support the goals of her clients.

Before attending law school, Monica taught English at both Miami Dade County Public Schools and Miami Dade College until she relocated to Indiana to attend law school. While in law school, she worked at the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic helping clients in cases involving mortgage foreclosure and mortgage fraud issues. After law school, she clerked for Judge Kathleen Lang in LaPorte County Superior Court and later joined the Office of the Indiana Attorney General as a Deputy Attorney General in the Licensing Enforcement and Homeowner Protection Unit. She then began practicing insurance defense litigation in Indianapolis until relocating to Southwest Florida.

Schmucker is originally from Miami, Florida, and is fluent in Spanish. She is a member of the Lee County Bar Association and Lee County Association for Women’s Lawyers. She is a member of the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club Board of Directors and Chair of the Social Committee. Schmucker received her undergraduate degree from Florida International University and her law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School (cum laude).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Yes, thank you! It may sound silly, but one of the biggest reasons I became a lawyer was to combat injustices within the legal system. The “Fighting Irish” Notre Dame blood still runs deep in my veins. I knew I wanted to work in the defense side of civil litigation, being an advocate for people and businesses who fall victim to opportunistic litigants. I love the fact that I can investigate claims, separate truth from fiction, and protect clients from people who are merely trying to take advantage of others. Unfortunately, this happens too often and these frivolous lawsuits bog down the court system and take away resources from people who truly need them, and need them quickly.

Can you share one of your most memorable cases? interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

The greatest honor is helping those who have served our country. In this one case, I represented an elderly World War II Veteran who was a landlord. He loved being able to provide a good and safe place to call home for others. He was sued by a tenant who fell in his own bathtub! As you can imagine, this was so upsetting for my elderly client — he knew he had not done anything wrong and sincerely felt that the tenant maliciously filed suit. I was outraged that my client even had to deal with that situation and was prepared to defend him. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a very favorable resolution, and my client’s genuine satisfaction and sigh of relief has been one of the many rewarding and unforgettable moments in my career.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Every part of practicing law in 2020 is new — client meetings, hearings, depositions, and trial are all happening virtually. This is great considering everything was shut down earlier this year; however, the challenges this brings to lawyers is enormous. Face-to-face meetings with clients are crucial and I try to use zoom or other video chats when possible. There are instances when I turn instructor and educate my clients on the use and best practices of virtual hearings. Greater challenges are faced in depositions, hearings and trial. For example in a virtual deposition, a person could be sitting on the other side of the camera — outside the viewing area — coaching the deponent on answers, and I would have no way of knowing. It’s harder to read people without being present. And, something simple as pointing to the area of a slip and fall can be challenging on a computer. I am learning how to adapt to these new tools and helping my clients through these same challenges.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

To pick just one is extremely difficult — my parents, my law professors at Notre Dame — especially Professor Blakey with whom I worked closely, colleagues, partners, and others at the AG’S office have all mentored and helped me every step of my life. If I had to pick just one, my husband. We’ve been married for 9 years and there is no way I would be where I am without him. In law school, I was so busy studying he would look in my fridge, see nothing, and come back with groceries. Other times, he would notice the mound of laundry and just go do it. Who does that? He was and is my rock. He helps with the cooking, cleaning and is amazing with our children — everything he does allows me to do my job and focus on helping my clients.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

There isn’t a child or pet (and even the husband) who hasn’t made at least one guest appearance at a virtual meeting, deposition or hearing — although my husband does his best to keep the kids and pets away. People are very understanding because we all are facing these similar types of struggles as we try to adjust to so many changes. At the very least, it usually provides a bit of humor to everyone on the call.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I try to stay focused throughout the day during the mid-day hours, to get as much work done as possible during that time. It’s important to remain flexible and be ready to adapt to change. Honestly, that keeps me sane when I can’t get through the work I had planned to get through during the day. Oftentimes, I come back to the computer once things calm down later in the evening. I’ve noticed the same with clients and colleagues — more people are working odd hours, and it’s ok. It’s about remaining flexible and being open to changing and adapting constantly. It’s also important that we extend this flexibility and adaptation with everyone with whom we interact.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The biggest work-related challenge is really the same as my family related challenges, because they are both intertwined these days — my family is at work and my work is at my family home.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Continuing to stay focused, flexible, and adaptable, both with my family and with my work.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

It’s helpful to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the United States. As a Fort Myers Beach resident, PE class has evolved into kayaking and exploring native wildlife. For the first time ever as a mom, I told my kids it was okay to play ball in the house. My daughter was going to play T-ball but had her whole season completely canceled, so we had to adapt. We did arts and crafts, and made cardboard Easter egg decorations, loom pot holders, and friendship bracelets out of craft cord. Music class turned into piano lessons. The best advice I think I can give anyone right now is to just be creative with what you’ve got and don’t be afraid to be a little unconventional at times.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Carve out a sliver of “me” time. I walk four miles at sunrise over the bridge and along the beach to help keep my energy and focus. I also love to go paddleboarding — and have learned to keep one child on the paddleboard! I did try exercising at home but either a child or the dog would end up on my back. Again, it’s about remaining flexible and being open to change.

Another important aspect is to teach your kids the importance of community and giving back. Through the Fort Myers Beach Woman’s Club, we created a team of volunteers to deliver goods to folks who are at higher risk. Our family was available to anyone who needed a little extra hand. Our local community relies heavily on seasonal tourism, and we were hit with a pandemic at the busiest time of year — spring break. Many of our local small businesses rely on revenue during season to keep the lights on the rest of the year. The community organized a fundraiser to help out-of-work service employees put food on their tables. You have to find ways to support local small businesses. Connecting with my community and finding ways to be a part of efforts to help others wherever I can helps keep me balanced and grounded.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be patient. People have being doing a good job adapting but tasks undoubtedly are going to take a little longer.
  2. Be resilient. Many companies have been resilient through the challenges. Locally for example, a pet store has employees in PPE helping drive-up customers obtain pet supplies without even leaving their cars.
  3. Support the community. So many are struggling; find a way to give back whether donating blood, volunteering to deliver meals on wheels or groceries to those at high risk, or otherwise.
  4. Keep in touch. Make it a point to call, email, FaceTime or Zoom a friend, family member, client — someone in your network, to say hello and check in on them.
  5. Do what you love. Whether if it’s taking a walk on the beach, riding your bicycle, or reading a good book, carve out time for self-care.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Make sure they know they aren’t alone. Exercise with your kids, help out neighbors with groceries, deliver meals, and participate in community efforts that you are able to do safely. We have organized zoom calls with other parents, and it’s so cute to see our kids on a video playdate. For laughs, I still try and work out and see who I end up bench-pressing first, a child or a pet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Especially this year, I reflect on my alma mater and remember the words of Lou Holtz, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” I have learned that we are super adaptable and resilient. As long as we have the right attitude, we can accomplish so much — even if we have to figure out a new way of doing it. Those who will go far are the ones open to trying new things, because this is the year of “new things.” And it is that attitude that will determine how well you do them.

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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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