David Carlson and his wife, Oksana, pose for a photo on the night of their 50th wedding celebration in April 2019 in New York City. Carlson is the 2020 recipient of the John Lederer Award in recognition of years dedicated to mentoring others in the profession.
Oct. 29, 2020 – The situation can be common among new lawyers: That feeling of not knowing how to conduct a new practice.
David J. Carlson of Waukesha knows that feeling well. As a brand-new attorney starting his own practice more than 40 years ago, it was difficult not to feel lost at sea.
For five years early in his work career, he worked in Muskego as a police officer – and got to know the local attorneys, those in local practice and those in the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office. He loved the area, and when he graduated from Marquette Law School in 1979, he “hung his shingle” in that county.
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.
“A lot of people helped me through law school. And a lot of lawyers helped me with my new practice, at times walking me through things,” Carlson said. “But for their help, I don’t know if I would have survived a new practice.”
At that point, he decided that, once he was confident in his own competence, he would give back to the community of professionals who helped him. “I’ve made a point to give back ever since,” Carlson said.
He gained a reputation: that he would drop everything to help out his colleagues, taking time over phone calls or a visit to help with issues they were dealing with. “There are people out there who will drop everything to help me. We all do this for each other.”
Dedicated to Improving Solo and Small Firm Practice
Carlson, of the Law Offices of Carlson & Lunde S.C., is the 2020 recipient of the John Lederer Distinguished Service Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin Solo, Small Firm, & General Practice Section. Carlson received the award via a video presentation Oct. 29, 2020, at the online State Bar of Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference.
The Lederer Award recognizes those focused on improving the lives and practices of solo and small firm attorneys in Wisconsin. The award is given annually to an individual, group, or organization that exhibits the leadership, spirit, and dedication of the late Oregon, Wisconsin, attorney John Lederer.
Carlson admitted to becoming emotional when he received news he was receiving the award. “It is a great honor, because this is my peers saying thank you for helping them,” he said.
“Lederer saw it as his mission to help solo and small-firm lawyers master the skills and technology needed for their practices. He helped spearhead many of the things Wisconsin lawyers take for granted today – such as the Uniform Citations System,” said section advisor Shannon Wynn, who chaired the award committee.
“Recipients of the Lederer Service Award must show leadership in furthering the mission of the Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference – to educate and support solo and small-firm attorneys as they practice law, manage their businesses, and enjoy their lives,” Wynn said.
Carlson “more than meets the criteria,” according to section chair Kate Knowlton.
Carlson is “especially well known for being willing to share his 40 years of wisdom and experience as a solo/small firm practitioner,” Knowlton said. “His active participation in the Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory network is just one example of his outreach.”
What’s remarkable, she said, is his consistent mentoring of new attorneys over his years of practice. “He often meets with new attorneys to share his sample drafts of documents with them. He also encourages them to call him with questions or to bounce ideas off him as they work on their own documents,” Knowlton said.
“Ask Dave a question, and you will get a sharing of his wealth of knowledge and experience, and often a fun, interesting story of what he has learned through his experiences,” said Sally Lunde, firm partner with Carlson and one of several nominating him for the award.
David Carlson, left, holds his Lederer award after presentation from his law firm partner, Sally Lunde, via video during a virtual ceremony at the Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference on Oct. 29, 2020.
On Being Intentional
Carlson has another story: As a young litigator, his first trial was in Waukesha County, before now-retired Judge Neal Nettesheim. Carlson all but idolized the judge. “For decades, he was probably the brightest jurist in Wisconsin,” Carlson said. “It was somewhat intimidating to be in front of him.”
When the trial was over, Judge Nettesheim called Carlson over for a private chat. “Dave, you’ve conducted the finest cross-examination I’ve ever seen a lawyer do,” the judge told him.
“That one comment, from a judge I so looked up to, kept me going for the next 10 years,” Carlson recalls. Only about 15 years later, in a discussion with other litigators in Waukesha County, did he learn that the judge gave similar compliments to all of them. “He was intentionally planting seeds, helping us grow our confidence in our new practices.”
Carlson is also intentional – and the reason is really quite simple. “I’m grateful to be a lawyer. It takes a lot of hard work to get here. We are blessed to do this work – so I firmly believe everyone should help each other out,” Carlson said.
“During this pandemic, it’s important to reach out and connect with each other, and to pay it forward. In helping each other, we’re helping our clients and raising the level of professionalism for all of us.
“And, in helping a younger lawyer – we all become better lawyers,” Carlson said.
Past Recipients of the John F. Lederer Service Award