Phil Schneider: Law career unplanned but fulfilling

Phil Schneider originally had plans to become a priest.

He attended Catholic Seminary in Evansville for his first three years of high school, but after his junior year, he returned to Huntingburg. “I always tell people I transferred after my junior year because that’s when they explained what celibacy meant at seminary,” Phil joked.

Joking aside, he admitted for some reason his interest in the priesthood waned. But he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. “I wasn’t good at math so I didn’t think I would be good at business,” he said adding that small towns aren’t necessarily the best place to be exposed to the plethora of potential careers out there. “I did admire what my dad (Norb Schneider) did, and I thought it (law) was interesting.”

He graduated from Huntingburg High School in 1969 and headed to Indiana University. That was the first year of the draft and Phil’s number was 365. “That (number) was great, but it didn’t count because I was only 17,” he said.

The next year, when it counted, he got seven. “I was guaranteed to go,” he said.

With the deferment that came from being enrolled in college, Phil made sure he maintained at least a C average. The draft even influenced his decision to go into law.

“I thought perhaps if I chose a career in a professional field, I could get a further deferment,” he explained.

With the aforementioned mathematical issues, a medical or accounting profession wasn’t likely for his future so he chose to become a lawyer. This gave him a couple more years of college to continue to defer the draft.

Fortunately, the year Phil graduated from IU the draft was abolished.

“I remember when it happened,” he said. “It was a Tuesday night, and there was a pretty big celebration.”

The draft no longer an issue, Phil’s next hurdle was getting into a graduate school of law. His grades weren’t high enough and he was rejected by IU’s school of law at first. “It was kind of defeating,” he admitted.

After the rejection, he applied to other schools of law but also headed to Indianapolis where he got a job in the state government. He was delivering pencils and mail to the offices in Indianapolis and living in a little apartment in the city at the time.

“I was so depressed,” he said. “Then in the middle of September, I got a call from Cleveland State, one of the universities where I had applied to law school. I packed my bags and got outta of there (Indianapolis).”

Phil did well his first year and was able to transfer to the IU School of Law in Indianapolis where he finished his law degree in 1976. He headed back to Huntingburg to cut his teeth in law at his father, Norb Schneider’s, law practice. His father was partnered with Joe Verkamp and Bill Lett at the time and between the three of them, they handled much of the municipal law in the county.

Phil planned on gaining some experience and then striking out on his own somewhere else. “But a month after passing my bar exam, my father died of a massive heart attack,” Phil explained. “He was only 55.”

With Norb’s passing, Bill Lett asked Phil if he would want to continue that partnership in his father’s place. He accepted and has been practicing law in Dubois County ever since.

In 1977, he was appointed assistant city attorney in Huntingburg working with the city utilities and subsequently, the same year, he was asked to be the Southwest School Corporation’s attorney.

In 1993, Lett stepped down from his position as city attorney and Phil was asked to take those responsibilities on and the city decided to consolidate all its legal needs into a single city attorney position.

In 2005, Phil took over for Lett when he stepped down as the Dubois County Airport Authority’s attorney.

These days, Phil continues to advise all three entities. It’s been a career of shaping municipal ordinances as well as protecting the interests of those entities he’s served. It’s not alway been easy.

“I always viewed my position not as being someone required to advocate a particular position but to make sure they do it legally,” he said. “My job is to be very objective and to guide the municipal officers in how to set policy legally.”

When asked though, Phil does offer his opinion based on his long experience in municipal law. He can reference moments and decisions in the past and how those decisions impacted the entity in the long run and use that experience to help guide the current counsels and boards he advises.

“That longevity does help when you have that factual background of what has gone before, what was tried before, what has worked and what hasn’t worked,” he explained. “Perhaps it’s spelled out in the minutes of a meeting somewhere that someone could reference but who knows.”

Being a city or municipal attorney has its downsides as well. “I dread anytime we have an administration change,” Phil explained.

On top of him potentially losing his position, there’s a certain amount of education that takes place.

“Everybody comes thinking they have brand new answers to old problems and they want to try things that, frankly, many times aren’t permissible or legal,” he said. “You gotta guide them through it.”

Sometimes those new personalities are challenging but Phil advocates that it’s good to get those different perspectives.

In addition to his municipal duties, Phil does probate work, completes real estate contracts and provides small business counsel.

It’s satisfying work.

Although he dipped his toe into criminal law when he first set out in his career, it wasn’t an area of law that he found particularly appealing. “I found out I wasn’t very good at it,” he said. “I think I was too gullible. I believed my clients and, of course, my clients expected miracles of me and I never got paid.”

The 67-year-old doesn’t have any plans to retire yet. “It’s not that I just love coming to the office dealing with peoples’ problems,” he explained. “I just need to continue to feel productive. I’m not ready to go sit on a river bank and flyfish full time yet.”

“The one thing I do enjoy about is the people I get to meet and the feeling that I have somehow helped contribute to solving a problem in their lives,” he added.

Phil and his wife Charlotte live in Huntingburg and they have five adult children, John, Peter, Michael, Ann and Natalie.

He is active in the community through Kiwanis, the Boy Scouts and his church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church. He has served on the Huntingburg Foundation’s board of directors and still serves in an advisory capacity with the Dubois County Community Foundation.

6 Responses to Phil Schneider: Law career unplanned but fulfilling

  1. Julie Dutchess February 18, 2019 at 1:23 pm #

    Thank you Phil for your passion of community and using your law degree locally. You are a jewel.

  2. Mike Uebelhor February 18, 2019 at 3:31 pm #

    Phil, you are not only a great friend, but also a tremendous asset to our community! Mike U

  3. Steve Smith February 18, 2019 at 3:40 pm #

    One of the “Good Guys.”

  4. Phil February 18, 2019 at 5:51 pm #

    Thank you for your kind words. While the recognition is flattering, there are so many in our communities so much more worthy.

  5. Brenda Winkler February 19, 2019 at 7:50 am #

    Phil, you were of great assistance during and after my dad’s illness. My brothers and I are so grateful

  6. Mike Hochgesang February 21, 2019 at 5:58 pm #

    Congratulations. Phil. You are an anchor of the community & helped many families. Thanks