Retired Madison litigator Earl H. Munson Jr., center, is one of two recipients of the Wisconsin Law Foundation’s 2019 Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award. He is pictured here with daughter Heidi Munson, left, and with his legal assistant of 40 years, Jane Ames, right.
Oct. 16, 2019 – Earl H. Munson Jr. is described by those who know him as a “consummate professional,” with sound counsel and good judgement.
Ask him, and he’ll point to those who came before him as his mentors for professionalism and integrity.
Munson, a retired Madison litigator with BoardmanClark, is one of two recipients of the Wisconsin Law Foundation’s 2019 Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award, along with Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Carl Ashley. The award recognizes a lifetime of service to the profession and the community. Both received the award at the Wisconsin Law Foundation Fellows Dinner on Oct. 10, 2019.
Finding a Home in the Courtroom
Munson, a native of Cambridge – which he describes at the time as a “very, very rural farming community” – watched his father practice law as a small town lawyer in general practice. After considering and rejecting engineering as a career, he chose law. “I never regretted it,” Munson said.
org sgreen wisbar Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
Earning his J.D. at the U.W. Law School in 1959, Munson did his six-month apprenticeship – a requirement at the time – with his father. On graduation, he joined the U .S. Navy, eventually becoming a Navy lawyer. He was thrown into trying criminal cases – something he had no experience with, but he gained a lot of experience in prosecution and defense over the next four years.
“I spent my Navy career out on the West Coast trying court-martial cases,” he said. To his surprise, he found he enjoyed it. “That was when I decided the courtroom is my home,” he said.
Back at home in 1963, Munson practiced criminal law as Dane County assistant district attorney for nearly three years before heading into private practice with the firm LaFollette Sinykin LLP, in 1965.
He continued in criminal law over the next few years as special prosecutor with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and a prosecutor with the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility, currently known as the Office of Lawyer Regulation. He also took appointments in criminal defense in federal court.
He also “did everything. And sometimes I would fall asleep at my desk because doing criminal law, I was busy all of the time,” Munson admits.
Slowly his practice gravitated toward commercial litigation. In his practice with BoardmanClark (he joined Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field in 2000), Munson gained distinction as a commercial litigator in complex litigation, business and commercial torts, and class actions. He retired from full-time practice in 2015.
Retired Madison litigator Earl Munson speaks at the podium during the Fellows Dinner on Oct. 10, 2019, in Madison, after receiving the 2019 Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Law Foundation.
Service as a Duty
Woven into his practice over the years is his fundamental belief that all lawyers should do pro bono work. “We are professionals and, as such, we consider the justice system to be justice for everyone,” Munson said. “If it’s not, than we are liars.”
Munson served both the State Bar – in many capacities, including his current position as president of the Senior Lawyers Division – and the community, especially in his dedication to pro bono work.
“Pro bono service is a part of his character,” says Madison City Attorney Michael May, one of several nominating Munson for the award. “And a service that has been part of his entire career. He strongly believes that pro bono work is a responsibility that lawyers should not ignore. The cases he worked on were complex, requiring a significant amount of time and effort – sometimes over years."
Service to the Bar and community is something Munson learned from Gordon Sinykin, partner at Munson’s first firm. “From him, I learned how you conduct yourself as a lawyer,” Munson said. “He was very professional and had a great deal of integrity.”
Having witnessed Sinykin receive the Goldberg award in 1987, Munson said he is “honored, pleased, and humbled” to also receive it. “I never thought when I watched Gordon receive this award that I would receive it myself 30 years later,” Munson said.
Impact on Lawyers and Clients
Read more in this issue of InsideTrack
about the Fellows Dinner
and about Judge Carl Ashley
, also a recipient of the Wisconsin Law Foundation’s 2019 Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award.
Munson also had a large impact on the young lawyers he worked with, taking time to act as mentor and consultant on ethics, say those who have worked with him. “Whenever anyone in the firm faced serious ethical issues, he was the person to go to for guidance. And he always found time to help,” said nominator Lawrence Bensky, who worked with Munson in the firm LaFollette Sinykin in the 1980s.
Munson served as an example to emulate in the courtroom and all other legal proceedings. “Earl Munson zealously represented his clients; even more, he zealously represented the best of the legal system,” Bensky said.
Munson is “a treasure that happens maybe NEVER in a person’s life,” said a Monona woman who Munson helped pro bono, in a letter nominating him for the award. “He did so much and more, knowing I could never repay him.”
Advice for Young Lawyers
For younger lawyers wondering about an area of practice, Munson has a message: Go out and give litigation a try. As a young man, he was the type of lawyer who would sit in the corner during networking events. “I did not ever visualize myself being in a courtroom and trying cases” as a new lawyer, Munson said. “But I found out that, in a courtroom, I am comfortable.”
Looking back, he’s had a very satisfying career.
“I really like being a lawyer,” Munson admits. He hopes that is true for the younger lawyers. “It is not something to do just to make lots of money,” he said. “If they think that way, then I am sorry for them.”