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Leadership Columbus: James K. Voelz


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Name: James K. Voelz

Place of birth: Columbus.

Occupation: Elder law attorney at Voelz Law LLC who deals with estate and disability planning, estate and trust settlement, Medicaid and other matters affecting seniors.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Hanover College, law degree from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.

Family: Wife, Peggy, who also works at the firm and formerly was tobacco awareness coordinator for Columbus Regional Hospital’s Healthy Communities Initiative; three adult children, one grandchild (and another on the way).

Hobbies: Racing sailboats in various Midwestern locations, including Grandview Lake, where I’m a member of the sailing club. I started racing sailboats with my father, and we raced in regattas in Ohio and Indiana. My wife and I also windsurf. Peggy was a Michigan state champion. We also like to cycle, kayak, tennis and hike.

What was your first job?

Mowing yards in the neighborhood, near Schmitt Elementary School, when I was about 12 or 13.

What primary lessons did you learn from those jobs?

Hard work pays off. I probably made a few dollars, but it seemed like a lot of money at the time. I also learned to be responsible.

What prompted you to study law?

While studying liberal arts at Hanover College, I decided to become a lawyer because I wanted to be in a position to help people. Law was just something that appealed to me. I enjoyed writing and my constitutional law course at Hanover. Also, my grandfather, John Banker, guided me toward law. He was head of the trust department at First National Bank of Columbus and dealt with a lot of lawyers and developed an appreciation for the profession.

How did your career develop?

In law school, I started as a law clerk for a Columbus attorney and was later hired there, practicing divorce and criminal defense cases. I found I had a passion for real estate matters and estate planning, which I practiced a lot at the next law firm. I opened my own practice in 1987 and served as general counsel for First National Bank, working with a lot of real estate and zoning matters. I later decided to focus on elder law, because Columbus did not have any lawyers in that specialty, and I saw that a lot of older people needed a real advocate to help them navigate complicated issues including estate planning, nursing home care and making decisions about their health care.

Tell me about your speaking engagements about elder law and your motivation to share your expertise.

I write a lot of articles on elder law topics, including a pamphlet called “Senior Moments,” and I frequently make presentations to various groups across the state. I feel an obligation to improve my profession and help other attorneys improve their skills.

What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned?

Be a good mentor, delegate when appropriate, hire the best people and pay them well. You also want to create the right culture in the office, where people get along and work as a team. We also focus on being a healthy workplace. We’ve participated in the Bartholomew County On The Move competition every year, placing first, second and fourth. This year we had 15 people participate, and we took it seriously. Virtually all of our employees participated with their spouses or children.

What do you like best about your job?

The work is very rewarding, because you can help people deal with complicated and important matters. We frequently get thank-you notes and people dropping off candy or even boxes of corn.

What do you like least?

Working on weekends.

What advice do you have for people who are just now starting in their careers?

My dad always told me to work hard and keep my nose clean. You also should make sure to set your goals high enough and to disregard those who tell you what you can’t do. Unbeknownst to me, my high school counselor contacted my parents after I was accepted to both IU and Hanover and urged my parents to have me attend IU because she did not think I could be successful at Hanover, probably because I didn’t apply myself in high school. I went to Hanover and made the honor roll my first semester, because I had set my mind to being successful. Hanover was a huge influence on my achieving my goals. My parents did not tell me about the counselor’s “advice” until after I had graduated. I’m glad they didn’t.

What’s your favorite city to visit?

Missoula, Mont. My daughter, Mary, lives there, and Montana is a beautiful state with all kinds of outdoor activities, including hiking, rafting and fly fishing. But I feel very fortunate to live in Columbus. The more I travel, the more I appreciate my hometown, not just because of the buildings, but because of the culture of volunteerism and the benevolence of Cummins and other businesses.

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