What’s the most unusual case a client has ever asked you to take?
Many years ago, as a young lawyer, I was approached by an 85-year-old man to represent him in a divorce proceeding. His wife of 65 years had started the action. They had a 60-year-old son who lived in their home.
I quickly realized that both the husband and the wife had severe hearing loss. Additionally, their unmarried son had become a major problem in the household, constantly interfering with their lives.
I approached opposing counsel and communicated my concerns. I proposed a meeting with the assigned judge. My suggestions consisted of an order from the bench that both parties see hearing specialists and that the son be ordered to vacate the home. Both counsels would waive any and all fees, contingent on the willingness of the disputants to comply with the judge’s order.
Needless to say, a sensitive judge and some hearing aids saved a long-term marriage by removing the obstacle of the controlling son, resulting in renewed “marital bliss”!
How did Freedom Summer shape you as a person?
I was too young in 1964 to have participated in the Freedom Summer. I was only 14. In 1965, when I was 15, I told my parents that I was going to Selma, Ala., but I did not go because I had no money, no means of getting there, and no idea of how to connect with people who were going. (This was way before the Internet existed. Access to information was not as easy then as it is today.)
But the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner and the behavior of the police in Selma sealed my political consciousness and made me understand fundamentally how difficult it is to challenge the status quo, the power of the government, and entrenched cultural and political interests. I did not know it at the time, but those events set me on the path to becoming a lawyer.
Recently, I represented the League of Women Voters in its lawsuit to stop Wisconsin’s voter ID law and argued the case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
What’s the best career advice you ever received?
The best career advice was that business is all about building relationships. You can have all the expertise in the world, but if you don’t know how to share it with others that knowledge will be wasted. Always be looking for ways to help others in a genuine way. It isn’t about keeping “score” or wanting anything in return, but truly looking to provide value for others and helping them reach their goals. Success in your own business and life will follow.
Take time to notice the details about a person. What is their favorite wine? Where do their children go to college? What is their favorite sports team?
Find ways to show people you truly care about them on a personal level. Send a hand-written card, flowers for an anniversary, or tickets to an upcoming sports event they would enjoy. It is the little things you do to go above and beyond that are truly memorable and will deepen the relationships you have in both your personal and your professional life.
As Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
How will you celebrate Independence Day this year?
In the morning, I’ll run the “Hairpin” 5k in Fish Creek, Door County. (It’s not a hairdresser race – it’s named after a steep turn on the course that destroys many runners’ egos.) In the afternoon, I’ll take my family to the Independence Day Parade in Egg Harbor – eating kettle corn along the way – followed by a “5th Quarter” performance by the U.W.-Madison Marching Band. In the evening, I hope to be on a boat on Lake Michigan soothing my sore legs and sunburn and slaking my thirst with a fine Wisconsin beer. Fireworks? Yes, on July 5th in Fish Creek.
What is your favorite part of Wisconsin?
My favorite parts of Wisconsin are, very specifically, the Molitor, Yount, and Uecker parking lot sections of Miller Park. I love summer, I love the Brewers, and I love a good tailgate. Not coincidentally, I think these three things are great together. I enjoy any excuse to get together with friends and family for a few hours before game time to eat one (or three) too many brats, share a beer, and throw a ball or Frisbee. Of course, it is always fun to exchange “pleasantries” with Cubs fans (especially my wife) and take in the scene around you.
One of my proudest negotiation moments may have been the time I was able to trade a few plastic forks to the group next to me for a few Miller Lites. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be in Wisconsin than right outside Miller Park.
What are you most looking forward to in the next month or so?
What I am looking forward to has nothing to do with work. It is the wedding of my son, Bryan, and my soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Meaghan. There is nothing quite like seeing one of your kids grow up and take such a life-altering step.
We all wish for nothing but happiness for children, and the happiness we see in our son’s eyes is truly remarkable. I remember his face lighting up the first time he walked into Fenway Park in Boston, but it doesn’t come close to the expression on his face when he’s around Meaghan. How could we ask for anything more than that?
It’s going to be quite a party. I’m looking forward to sitting back and watching the revelry. Of course, we haven’t had the ceremony yet, but my wife Lisa is already talking about grandchildren! She likes to plan ahead. I’ve already been asked about building a swing set in the backyard.