Tara Cragen

Tara Cragen

  • Court Appointed Special Advocate with Child Advocates of Marion County
  • Former Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office Employee
  • IU Student Outreach Clinic, Supervising Attorney
  • Graduated College in 3 Years
  • Took and Passed the Indiana Bar Exam Before Even Graduating Law School
  • Surprisingly Good at Quoting From Movies

Life Has Thrown Me a Ton of Curve Balls… and That’s Okay By Me

Hardships and Unexpected Obstacles Have Made Me a More Empathetic and Effective Lawyer For Our Clients

I can remember the heavy weight I felt in the pit of my stomach when I found out I was pregnant during my first semester of college. At the time, not only was I attending college, but I also was holding down a full time job. My initial thought was “as it stands, I can barely manage both college and a full-time job, how can I do it with a baby?” I even considered the drastic step of terminating the pregnancy. However, after my initial consult with the nearest clinic, I just couldn’t follow through. Although I now better understood why others have made that decision, it would have flown in the face of my own belief system. After I finally made my decision, I had to face the gravity of the situation and let my parents know I was pregnant.

For many years, becoming a lawyer had been my goal, but as tears streamed down my face and I talked about my future I believed then that I would never make it to law school. I also believed that I would not be able to afford to raise a child. My dad listened to me and didn’t say a word. He then calmly provided me words of wisdom and encouragement. My dad assured me of two things that day: 1) I could accomplish anything I put my mind to, especially with the right team of people to help, and 2) although it wouldn’t be easy, I could afford to raise my child. He told me that I would have to work harder and make sacrifices but he was on my team and would support me no matter what. That was an important conversation. It allayed my fears and most importantly my dad reassured me that he would be fighting alongside me to help reach my dreams.

My dad was right. (Emphasis in case he reads this). It was not easy. I crammed all of my classes in two days during the week from 9am to 9pm. I worked the remaining days of the week, in the fast-food industry (Captain D’s), from 4pm to 10pm so that my dad could watch my daughter. Of course, my schedule changed each semester, but my dad and I would strategize and come up with a plan each time my schedule changed. I was never “in this” alone.

I graduated college early, in three years, and immediately applied to law school. I chose to stay close to home even though I had been accepted to a variety of law schools across the country; I knew that to be successful, I could not do it alone. After I completed my first year of law school, I took a leave of absence to get married and move to Missouri. Unfortunately, my marriage was short lived, but one of the blessings that came from the marriage was our son. A contentious divorce propelled me to finish my law degree quickly. As a divorce litigant, I knew for the first time how it felt to lose control and to seemingly leave important decisions in the hands of lawyers and judges. I also experienced what it was like to have a bad lawyer. My first lawyer worked as a solo practitioner. He had no team to back him up. My divorce needed more time and attention than my attorney was able to deliver. After a year using and paying the solo practitioner, I switched to a firm that specialized in divorce law and who then used a team of three attorneys to work on my case. Whereas communication with my first attorney was very limited, my new team of lawyers answered my questions and let me have more of a say in decisions. The divorce finally ended soon thereafter and I was able to move on with my life, including finishing law school.

While I completed law school in order to acquire the requirements necessary to become a licensed lawyer, it was actually my life experiences that gave me the empathy necessary to truly understand what a client needs so that I could become an effective lawyer. I understand how it feels to be on the other side of life altering events and the stress and anxiety that usually occurs during those times. I understand the importance of listening and of providing wise, supportive counsel. I understand the proper time commitment it takes to battle false allegations after being falsely accused myself. I also understand that obstacles that seem insurmountable can be overcome with personal commitment and the help of others. My experiences showed me that it not only takes a team to persevere through adversity, but it takes the right team. I will always want our clients to know that not only am I fighting for you, but so is our entire team. And just like my dad told me nearly a decade ago, although what you are going through may not be easy, you can get through it, especially with the help of caring and passionate people that have your best interest at stake.