Inside Track: Reflecting on 50 Years: J.D. Leads to Diverse Careers:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

News & Pubs Search

  • Inside Track

    Reflecting on 50 Years: J.D. Leads to Diverse Careers

    Dianne Molvig

    Share This:
    Ted Hodan with wife and grandson

    Ted Hodan: It seems that whenever Hodan notices something amiss, he gets the urge to put it right. It’s that mentality that has him still practicing law. Pictured: Ted Hodan with wife Mary and grandson Jack.

    June 5, 2013 – In this article, we highlight five more State Bar of Wisconsin members who have reached the 50-year milestone in their careers. Lawrence Bugge, Phillip Hellmuth, Tod Hodan, James Kolka, and Jack O’Brien join more than 100 Wisconsin-licensed lawyers, admitted to the bar in 1963, who were honored at a special event on May 15 in Delafield.

    In the last issue of Inside Track, you read about five members who became judges or law professors: Justice N. Patrick Crooks, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb, and Law School Professors Frank Tuerkheimer, Jack Kircher, and Larry Church. Those profiled below have pursued other career paths in and outside of the legal profession. 

    Ted Hodan: Civil Litigator

    On a late-April visit to his daughter’s home in Colorado, Ted Hodan noticed the oven door wasn’t closing properly. He felt compelled to fix it. During that same visit, he also worked on a poorly written will that had been created by another attorney. “I’m trying to straighten out the mess,” he says.

    It seems that whenever Hodan notices something amiss, he gets the urge to put it right. It’s that mentality that has him still practicing law.

    Hodan knew as a young boy that he wanted to be an attorney. Even while studying mechanical engineering as a Marquette University undergraduate, he knew studying law would be next, which he also did at Marquette. No one else in his class had an engineering degree – an unlikely background for a law student back then. “But I never considered it odd or unusual,” he says.

    Shirley Abrahamson at the 50-year event

    Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson instructs attendees how to provide a single clap in unison as each 50-year honoree’s name is called during the May 15 program honoring lawyers admitted to practice in 1963.

    His aspiration was to someday open a general law practice in Ozaukee County, where his grandfather was born. “He and I used to do a lot of fishing up there when I was a kid.” The Ozaukee County law office never materialized, but eventually Hodan did launch a practice, along with partner Frank Doster, in Milwaukee County.

    The path there began right after law school when Hodan worked for three years as a prosecutor with the U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocate. “I never intended to do criminal law work,” he says. When he returned to civilian life, however, his JAG experience led him to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, where he worked for seven years.

    He migrated to civil practice in 1973 when he joined former fellow assistant DAs Jim and Dick Podell in their father’s Milwaukee firm. Even though “I had zero experience in civil practice,” he notes, “all those years as a prosecutor made me a better civil trial lawyer.” Hodan next joined John Fiorenza in a mid-sized firm, and then left with Doster to start their practice in 1988.

    When he’s in Milwaukee, which is about half the year, he typically goes into the office every day. When he’s out of town, he still works, if he wants. “I don’t have to work,” he says, “but I enjoy it. I still do my own research. I enjoy writing briefs.”

    As for being part of the 50-year group, “I’m honored and proud,” Hodan says. “Maybe that can motivate younger lawyers coming along to stick with it and do a good job.” 

    Jack O'Brien

    Jack O’Brien: “When someone sitting in my office asks me why I’m not retired, I answer, ‘Because if I were retired, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.’”

    Jack O’Brien: North Woods Lawyer 

    People who know Jack O’Brien well may be aware of his nickname since childhood: Darby. “It’s an old Irish Gaelic word meaning ‘everything is fine,’” he explains. It also seems an apt description for how O’Brien views the life he leads as an attorney in Eagle River, Wis.

    The road there started in Madison at U.W. Law School. Prior to that, he’d earned his undergraduate degree from what was then Wisconsin State College in Superior in 1955, after which he flew helicopters in the U.S. Air Force for four-and-a-half years. When he returned stateside, he interviewed for various jobs, but nothing appealed.

    His brother, Jerry, had finished law school the year before. “I talked to him, and it sounded good to me,” O’Brien says. “There was no driving ambition from day one. It was just fortuitous” that he landed in law school.

    His first job after graduating was with a Wausau firm, where O’Brien remained for four-and-a-half years. “It was a good firm,” he says, “but I decided I wanted to be up north with the woods and the lakes.” That’s not surprising for a guy who grew up in northern Minnesota near Hibbing.

    Law firm of Warshafsky, Rotter, Tarnoff & Bloch

    The law firm of Warshafsky, Rotter, Tarnoff & Bloch, Milwaukee, honors partner Michael Tarnoff (front, center) for his 50 years of service to the legal profession. Tarnoff, at age 75, continues to compete in boxing. “But, I don’t think I’ll be boxing at 80,” he says.

    He found out about an opening with an Eagle River firm, took the job, and now has been there for 46 years. For nearly half of that time, he was city attorney for Eagle River and several other towns in Vilas County, as well as having a private practice.

    When he was relatively new to Eagle River, he got lots of appointments to criminal cases. Of the three other lawyers in the county at that time, one was the judge’s brother, another was the DA, and then there was O’Brien’s elderly partner. “I got every criminal appointment in Vilas County for five years,” O’Brien recalls. “I felt like I spent more time in jail that I did at home.”

    Mostly, however, O’Brien’s work has been in general practice. He’s still practicing, about “50 to 70 percent of the time,” he says, now that he’s approaching 80.

    “When someone sitting in my office asks me why I’m not retired,” O’Brien says, “I answer, ‘Because if I were retired, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you,’ And that’s really true. In a small town, you get to know everybody. You go to the grocery store and the post office, and people say, ‘Hi Jack.’ The people are what I like best” about being a lawyer.

    James Kolka

    James Kolka: Helps companies and their law firms figure out how to comply with ISO 9001 international quality standards.

    James Kolka: International Consultant

    James Kolka occupies an extremely small professional niche – one he shares with a Virginia attorney who works for the U.S. Department of Justice. “He deals with ISO 9001 all the time, too,” Kolka says. “But we’re it.”

    ISO 9001 is one of several international quality standards that fall within Kolka’s expertise. Through his Marietta, Ga.-based company, Kolka & Associates, he advises U.S. and European Union companies and law firms about the legal implications of such standards.

    His clients range from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, including, for instance, an American manufacturer of a medical device sold in Europe, and a U.S. company that makes railroad repair detection instruments sold worldwide. Besides providing legal advice, Kolka does training, liability auditing, and testifying as an expert witness.

    Prior to his career as an international legal consultant, Kolka spent several years in academe. After growing up in Eau Claire, Wis., he attended U.W. Law School, fully intending to pursue an additional degree. He earned a doctorate in political science and international affairs at the University of Kansas. “I was interested in law,” he says, “and I thought a legal education would be good preparation” for whatever came next.

    Dianne Molvig is a frequent contributor to area and national publications.

    After graduate school, Kolka was back in Wisconsin for 11 years, holding various teaching and administrative positions in the U.W. System. He made a couple more moves through the academic world before becoming a visiting professor of international studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1987. “That’s where I bumped into what I’m doing now,” Kolka says.

    Faculty members there talked about the need for international quality standards for manufactured items of all sorts. Out of that emerged the first such standard, ISO 9001, in 1987, and others followed. Kolka decided to learn more about them. “What was of particular interest to me,” he says, “were the legal issues.” Today he helps companies and their law firms figure out how to comply with the standards, while still maintaining his Wisconsin law license.

    As a law student, did he have any inkling where his career would take him? “One thing that struck me when I was in law school,” he replies, “was seeing people come back to get a master’s in a particular area, such as an L.L.M in taxation. I saw you could change and develop your focus if you had a reason to do so. I found a reason.”

    Lawrence Bugge

    Lawrence Bugge: After retiring from practice in 1996, he began teaching business law courses at the U.W. Law School. “Once I started teaching, I found I enjoyed it.”

    Lawrence Bugge: Business Advisor

    Inclinations toward a law career appeared early in Lawrence Bugge’s life. He was active in forensics in both high school and college, and he was a philosophy major as an undergraduate. But after finishing college, law school had to wait for a couple of years.

    It was a time when all young men faced the military draft, so Bugge chose to join the U.S. Navy ROTC while in college. After graduating, he fulfilled his obligations by serving on a minesweeper off the coast of California from 1958-60.

    Then he enrolled in Harvard Law School, and with his J.D. in hand, he returned to Milwaukee, his hometown, to become an associate at Foley & Lardner. “Given my forensics background,” Bugge says, “I started out thinking I would be a litigator.”

    But he wasn’t about to say no when Lynford Lardner asked him to join the firm’s business law practice group. As it turned out, “I didn’t do much, if any, litigation at Foley,” he says.

    When the firm decided to expand in 1975, Bugge headed to Madison to open a new office. “We started small,” he says. “It was me and an associate. Then the associate moved on, and it was just me for a while.” Today the Madison office has grown to some 60 attorneys.

    50-year members reconnect

    From left: James Long, Appleton; Dale Arnez, Waukesha; Don Mayew, Kenosha; John Castellani, Milwaukee, Phil Hellmuth, Madison; and Allan Idling, Milwaukee; reconnect during the 50-year Member Recognition Luncheon.

    A few years later, Bugge was approached about running for State Bar president. He was a strong candidate given his experience as a former president of the Milwaukee Junior Bar Association, the Milwaukee Bar Association, and the State Bar Board of Governors. During his tenure as State Bar president from 1980-81, “the perennial integration issue bubbled up,” he recalls. It also was around that time that the Bar created the Government Lawyers and Nonresident Lawyers divisions.

    Bugge spent all 33 years of his law career at Foley & Lardner. Besides practicing, he did a fair amount of teaching. “I did a lot of lecturing to bankers’ organizations about the then-new Uniform Commercial Code,” Bugge says. He also had a hand in drafting the Wisconsin Consumer Act enacted in 1973.

    Soon after retiring from practice in 1996, he began teaching business law courses as an adjunct professor at U.W. Law School. He continued doing that for “at least 10 years,” he says. “Once I started teaching, I found I enjoyed it.”

    Phillip Hellmuth

    Phillip Hellmuth: “Some people might say I wasted a spaced in law school. But I would argue that a law education is very valuable – for anyone.”

    Phillip Hellmuth: A Life in Academe 

    Like a lot of newly minted college graduates in their early 20s, Phillip Hellmuth wasn’t sure what his next step should be after graduation. Law or medical school seemed predestined choices, given that his family had many lawyers and that his father was a professor at the Marquette University School of Medicine (now the Medical College of Wisconsin). So Hellmuth enrolled at the Marquette University Law School.

    “Going to law school wasn’t my idea, or at least solely my idea,” he says. But he figured he’d either do well enough to stay or poorly enough “so I could slink away,” he says. He did the former, and while a OneL, he met a young woman, also a Marquette student, whom he viewed as “a real inducement to stay around.” They married soon after he finished law school.

    Hellmuth then set his sights on earning a doctorate in business at the University of Wisconsin. But with a biology undergraduate degree and a J.D., he had a few courses to make up before he could start the doctoral program. Meanwhile, he worked toward his M.B.A., while also working part-time in the campus personnel office.

    By the time he finished his master’s in 1966, his family had grown to include two children, with a third on the way. When the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences (L&S) offered him a full-time job as an assistant, Hellmuth jumped at the opportunity, foregoing the doctorate.

    He stayed at L&S for 33 years, retiring in 1999, by which time he’d become the associate dean. For the last six years of his tenure at U.W., he also had a joint appointment with the University-Industry Relations office, where he worked to build connections between academic departments and businesses.

    All in all, “It turned out to be the perfect career for me,” Hellmuth says. “I never looked back toward law, but I always kept my license current.”

    He says few in his law school class would be surprised he pursued a career that didn’t involve practicing law. Which brings up the question: What did going to law school do for him?

    “Oh my,” Hellmuth responds quickly. “It’s a way of thinking you never lose. Some people might say I wasted a space in law school. I couldn’t argue with that. But I would argue that a law education is very valuable – for anybody.”