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Gates ‘not ready to quit’ law

January 14, 2011

Post & Mail photo/Becky Hand — The wolverine which watches over Ben Gates in his law office, above, was originally trapped in Alaska, then sent to Gates as a gift in honor of his alma mater, the University of Michigan.

COLUMBIA CITY — In a joint announcement, the firm of Bloom, Gates, Sigler and Whiteleather, LLP and Gates Law Office announced that effective Jan. 1, Benton E. Gates, Jr. has become “of counsel” to the Bloom, Gates, Sigler and Whiteleather, LLP. This means he will act in an advisory role with the firm while continuing to maintain an office in the Whiteleather building and to serve his clients and actively practice law.
After 55 years of practicing law and 35 years managing an office, Gates still maintains “I’m not ready to quit. Not as long as I know who I am,” he quipped in an interview this week. “I welcome doing it (working) without having to run an office.”
Gates comes from a family of lawyers going back to the late 1800s and the Gates family has partnered with the Whiteleather family at various times throughout their more than 120-year joint histories. (See sidebar, page A2).
“This was a very unusual community,” said Benton Jr. “I knew D.V. Whiteleather and Benton J. Bloom personally.”
While their descendants didn’t always practice law together, they were all mentored by their predecessors, from all families.
“It was a collegial relationship,” Gates said. He could not remember a time he came to one of the older lawyers with a question that they didn’t sit down and talk to him. Their political differences didn’t interfere with their personal relationships.
“Unfortunately, the days when two lawyers would fight like cats and dogs all day, then leave the courthouse arm in arm and go across the street and socialize, are gone,” he said.
Gates attributed the changes to the modern day lawyers treating their vocation as a business rather than a profession.
“It was ethically forbidden to advertise back then,” Gates said, “then 15 to 20 years ago that changed ... It used to be you thrived because of your reputation and social relationships. Word of mouth was your advertising.”
He feels that society is so much more litigious, going to court rather than settling differences by agreement, resulting in an overloaded court system.
The same is apparent in society in general, always wanting more, he said quoting his father’s sage advice, “Remember that bigger is not always better.”
Class action lawsuits, generated by lawyers themselves, he considers a scourge.
“Tobacco (class action) lawsuits made lots of lawyers and politicians wealthy,” he said.
He says he notices the change in Fort Wayne more than here in Whitley County, as Whitley has a more small-town feel and most practicing lawyers here have known each other their whole lives. “They don’t teach you that in law school.”
Gates also feels strongly about a popular catch phrase.
“I hate to hear ‘politically correct,’” he said, “but it drives everything today.”
Gates’ advice to new lawyers is simple: “Practicing law is much more satisfying if practiced under the ethical codes of the past.”
The Gates family has been a part of Whitley County law since almost the beginning of Whitley County and Benton Earl Gates, Jr. at age 81 plans to continue serving his community as long as he is able.

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