What would you tell your son/daughter, niece/nephew who was thinking about going to law school?
I’d encourage anyone thinking about going to law school to find out what it means to be a lawyer beyond “Legally Blonde,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Given that I’m an only child with no kids, I guess I’d have to tell my son/daughter or niece/nephew that they shouldn’t go to law school since law students have trouble with the apparitions. (That’s totally untrue. Harry Potter was huge when I was in law school.)
In all seriousness, I’d encourage anyone thinking about going to law school to find out what it means to be a lawyer beyond “Legally Blonde,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” Although I love each of these on-screen interpretations, they’re nothing like what most lawyers’ daily work life looks like. Find an internship or a mentor or someone to shadow.
I’d also encourage the prospective law student to learn as much as possible about the different areas of law. There are so many areas that I didn’t know existed until well into my career. For example, I have a friend that practices in MMA law. MMA! And, did you know that it’s possible to have a specialty in sweepstakes law? Makes sense, right? Someone had to write the fine print at the bottom of McDonald’s Monopoly game.
If I took one day off in the middle of the week …
If it’s during the winter, I would take my daughter to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum. My daughter loves looking at the fish from the Great Lakes, while I really enjoy the penguin exhibit (which reminds me of Boulders Beach near Cape Town, South Africa). Also, if you are in Chicago, the Field Museum’s dinosaur collection is excellent.
Not too far from the Shedd and the Field Museum is the Blues Heaven Foundation, which is housed in the building that was Chess Records. You need to call ahead for a tour, but if you like the blues, it is well worth it.
If it’s warm, we tend to head up to Kenosha (my hometown) to spend some time on the lakefront. Kenosha’s lakefront has gone through a period of revitalization. There is tons of open space, a few museums, and some great places to eat. My recommendation? Frank’s Diner – but get there early, as there is always a long wait.
What’s the best career advice you ever received?
The best piece of advice I received was when another attorney told me, “There is no plagiarism in the law. Watch how other attorneys act and try to emulate the good ones.”
If you don’t enjoy your work, you won’t do it well. Life is too short to spend it doing something you hate so don’t be afraid to try something different.
How did you find your way to your current position?
I am originally from De Pere. I graduated from Hamline University Law School in 1992. Employment for new attorneys was not easy to come by when I graduated; thus my first employment was with a solo practitioner in International Falls, Minn.
After two years “chilling out” on the Canadian border, I moved back to my home town to start my own general practice law firm with my brother, Dan Walsh. We started that firm in October 1994. My brother did mostly estate planning while I did family law, children’s law, and juvenile law. I was in court quite often as a guardian ad litem and as counsel for litigants. Thus, I had a great deal of contact with judges and other members of the bar.
With hard work and wonderful colleagues in the Brown County bar, I was elected judge in 2012. I feel very honored to serve the people of Brown County as a circuit court judge. I have also been fortunate that I have seven colleagues on the Brown County bench who have been very helpful and generous with their insights.
I was asked, “If I could have tried one famous case, it would be.…” Because I am now a judge, I will select a famous case in which I would like to be a judge rather than one in which I would like to be a counsel for a litigant. As a judge with a family law background, I have always admired the wisdom and discernment of the judge in that famous biblical story about the pro se family law litigants. (1 Kings 3:16-28).
Working with pro se litigants can be a challenge, and in family law cases the number of pro se litigants continues to rise. It is often hard to figure out the truth, and often not all the information is presented because neither side has prepared for the rigors of trial. While I would never engage in the methods used in that famous biblical trial, unique solutions are often called for with the goal being to help everyone.
My career has surprised me by …
My career has surprised me by how much fun I can have while helping attorneys conduct legal research. Working as a Westlaw account manager has allowed me access to almost every major law firm in this state, as well as court chambers, general counsel offices, and the two law schools.
I’ve worked with thousands of attorneys over my 23-year career (to date) as the company I worked for morphed from a privately held law-book-publishing company to a global professional-information company. Online legal research has come a long way from the 1200 baud dial up WALTS (West Automated Legal Terminal) to networked Internet access and mobile devices. During this time, I’ve seen summer associates who I trained now serving as managing partners, and many of those new associates have gone from law firms to in-house counsel, or ventured out on their own, or are on the bench.
When I first started my job I wondered why I needed a JD to change toner in the Westlaw printer and to teach attorneys how to type! While the technology has changed, the backbone of research has not, and my attorneys frequently share with me how a West Key Number saved the day. There are more than 15,000 State Bar members in Wisconsin but just one Westlaw account manager, and I count my lucky stars to be the one.