What is the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to?
This is a hard question to answer because I’ve had some amazing experiences. Last year I got to ride a camel in the middle of the desert in the Middle East, and earlier this year I held a koala bear in Australia (an item that was on my bucket list before I knew what bucket lists were). But I would say the most interesting was probably South Korea.
I was on a work trip there, and our training location changed at the last minute. As a result, my teammates and I spent 10 days in a small city in the northern part of the country near the DMZ. We sampled foods we normally wouldn’t have been able to try; in fact, we all tried live octopus, which is considered a delicacy. Later, several of us went into a small cosmetics shop in town, and playing on the radio was “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Even though the proprietors spoke no English, we all sang in unison during the chorus. We then spent a long weekend in Seoul, a very modern city with a population bigger than New York City’s and great shopping! Random fun fact – the police officers in Seoul do not carry guns.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned while practicing law?
Here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way.
1) Clients do not want answers, they want solutions, especially when the answer is no.
2) If you don’t like the statutory law, you can change it. The process does take patience. I suggest you become involved with an association (such as the State Bar of Wisconsin) and work through their lobbyists to rewrite the law. You will be surprised by how few people actually get involved in trying to write statutes.
3) It’s okay to change jobs. If it is difficult to succeed at your job or you are frustrated and no change is on the horizon, look for a job that is more fulfilling.
On a different tack, someone asked with whom I’d most like to have dinner. The answer is Bill Gates. Dinner at his Lake Washington house would be fascinating. I would like to talk about how one exercises philanthropy that can make a difference and whether his wealth is a blessing or a curse.
What have you read lately that isn’t work related?
Browsing the airport bookstore at the conclusion of an exhausting trial a couple months back, I finally picked up my first Tom Wolfe novel, Back to Blood. I knew from college that he had a reputation for piercing criticism of various norms and subcultures, and for arrogance. The plane was still on the tarmac by the time I concluded that both were probably well deserved.
But Wolfe also has a gift for dissection, the ability to strip conventions and norms and “polite conversation” down to their essence and reveal the unstated (and almost always self-serving) motivations behind them. Wolfe would have made a natural lawyer. His work feels like a series of biting cross-examinations, framing a series of discrete events and admissions in a manner that reveals ugly truth. One could picture him in a deposition spending an hour with a witness on a single email or conversation, refusing to let the witness off the hook with glib, superficial explanations.
The question of “why” matters a great deal in the law. With his talent for distilling truth by refusing to accept socially acceptable responses at face value, Wolfe reminds us that answers to those “why” questions are always incomplete.
What do you do for fun?
com douglashoffer gmail Douglas J. Hoffer, City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
That is an easy question. I really enjoy spending time with my wife, April, and my two daughters, Elizabeth (age 7) and Rachel (age 5). My girls are at that age when they are really interactive and curious, and still enjoy spending time with their mom and dad. It is really fun to watch my girls experience things for the first time. Whether it is seeing a movie in the movie theater, or going on amusement park rides, or visiting museums, or learning new games – interacting with my girls and getting to watch them try new things is really a blast.
What is your favorite nonwork activity?
Reading, golfing, and fishing are rewarding pastimes, but for me they do not compare with spending time with my grandchildren. I am blessed that my two grandsons (Jacob, 6, and Owen, 4) live close by, so I see them and play with them almost every day.
Here is a test: Who are Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo? If your first answer was “famous artists,” you need to spend more time with your little ones. The correct answer is of course the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who, by the way, are all over my house.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
I am lucky. My greatest professional accomplishment occurs time and time again. Yet, it never occurs in the office or a courtroom.
I practice family law. I work with good people making bad decisions. For the client, it is a period of great uncertainty and very raw emotions. There is a reason why so many attorneys I meet look at me with pity when I tell them that I practice family law. The common response is, “I would never touch family law with a 10-foot pole.” They are missing out.
There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from advocating for a client’s financial security and future relationship with his or her children. Admittedly, though, the sense of professional accomplishment may come months, if not years, after the case is finished. It occurs when I come across a past client in a grocery store, cafe, movie theater, or even on the street. Almost without fail, the person looks younger, happier, and more at peace. The weight of the divorce and unhappy marriage is behind them. They will tell me how they joined a gym, a book club, traveled the world, became reacquainted with old friends, or found the love of their life. They are living a life of confidence, security, and happiness. The fact that I could be a small part of that newfound happiness is indeed my greatest professional accomplishment.
What do you like most about your job?
I really have two different jobs – that of a business owner and that of a legal representative for clients. As a business owner, there are so many upsides. I like potential-client interviews, making checklists, and working cross-legged in pajama pants. Never all at the same time, of course, as I’m not sure WILMIC would approve.
As a legal representative, I like solving problems, of course! So much of what we do as lawyers (appeals lawyers in particular) entails banging our heads against the wall, which can cause headaches. But on the 30 percent of the occasions that I can solve the problem, change a court’s mind, or create the result that I intended in the first place – well, it makes the more headache-inducing parts of the job worth it. And I just love making that call to the client telling him that I made it happen, and hearing his sigh of relief on the other end of the line. What a great feeling!
What is your favorite part of Wisconsin?
Dane County. Not only is this where I live and work (Madison), but also Dane County provides some of the world’s finest biking. Southwest Dane County, in particular, serves up hilly terrain that challenges even professional cyclists. It is no coincidence that if Chicago had hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, the rugged climbs of Blue Mounds, Cross Plains, and Mazomanie would have been the site for the Olympic road race.
These challenging courses provide a perfect stress relief from a hectic professional life, and if you can catch your breath long enough to look around, the views are spectacular, with sweeping hilltop vistas that allow you to see for miles and miles. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, nor would I want to ride anywhere else (except when I’m really tired, in which case the big climbs are a bit much).
What would you do if you won the lottery?
If I won the lottery, I’d take my kids and the entire extended family to Iceland. I’d also take my dad to the Kentucky Derby, celebrity style. (I’d even buy a huge, fabulous hat!) I’d have to buy a log cabin on a lake up north, with lots of canoes and spare bedrooms, plus room for some horses. Then, I’d trade in my current minivan (a/k/a the Batmobile) for a brand new, top-of-the-line Honda Odyssey, customizing it with purple flames along the sides.
After all of that, however, I’d go back to work as a lawyer. I’d take fewer cases and more vacations than I currently do, but I wouldn’t stop practicing law. Five years ago, my answer probably would have been different, but after more than a decade as a lawyer I’ve come to appreciate how much my profession has shaped who I am and how I look at the world: I think like a lawyer, talk like a lawyer, and I even like hanging out with judges and (most) lawyers. So I’d keep practicing law, at my current firm, which has a great group of lawyers who just happen to be a ton of fun. Of course, I’d also work from my new home office, which would be tricked out like the Bat Cave (and with my own personal IT expert)!