What are the top three unconventional lessons you have learned about law practice (so far)?
Bring food. A handful of almonds and a bottle of water have saved me from losing focus in overly long depositions or on trips when the only other option is nachos.
Dress for the occasion. Have you ever gotten off a plane at 80 below? You have if you were sent to Barrow, Alaska, to try a sexual assault case in February. Parkas matter.
Listen at least as much as you talk. You might have the law degree, but you probably don’t know how to lay brick. If you are litigating a construction case, the bricklayer’s knowledge might be a lot more important than application of the rule against perpetuities.
What are you most looking forward to in the next month or so?
Near the end of May, I’m heading out to my alma mater, Smith College, for my 25th college reunion. It will be the first stop on a family trip, with my husband’s 25th reunion at Georgetown following the next weekend. In between catching up with our old friends and their families – most of whom we haven’t seen in years – we’ll bore our kids silly with college stories, and show them as much of Boston and Washington D.C. as we can over the span of a few short days. I haven’t been looking forward to this for just a month – I’ve been looking forward to it for the last five years.
What is one of the biggest challenges you deal with in your practice?
As an in-house counsel for an Indian tribe, one of the biggest challenges I face centers on helping maintain positive intergovernmental relationships with the neighboring local governments. In typical situations, local governments deal with each other on a government-to-government basis, sharing services, and occasionally having disputes over municipal boundaries. When you toss in an Indian reservation that has overlapping boundaries with local government boundaries, a mix of tribal and non-tribal land ownership patterns, and a mix of tribal and non-tribal residents, you end up with a complex blend of jurisdictional issues.
In addition, while local governments derive their revenue from real estate taxes, tribal governments generally do not. Tribal governments also often have land taken into trust and removed from the tax rolls. The combination of jurisdictional issues and loss of tax base can frustrate local government officials. Likewise, demands for tribal governments to “pay their fair share” and “just follow the same rules as everyone else” can frustrate tribal leaders.
While we all acknowledge that governments have more to gain through cooperation, forming and maintaining positive intergovernmental relationships takes substantial effort. To address this challenge, I strive to remain in contact with local government in-house counsel, help coordinate efforts to keep staff and elected officials informed of pending issues, and assist in developing potential solutions that work for both the tribe and local governments.
Your practice focuses on litigation. What drew you to that practice area?
Brandon Evans, Kendricks, Bordeau, Adamini, Greenlee & Keefe P.C., Marquette, Mich.
I enjoy endless discussion and debate – solving the world’s problems. I particularly like complex litigation and, what I mean by that is, I like a messy situation. Give me a case with a complicated set of facts and law that requires numerous lengthy briefs and a client that can pay the bill, and I am in heaven. A brief email I received from a judge recently nicely illustrates my work:
“Good afternoon – yesterday I got the letter about your successful mediation. I promptly put it to good use as a cover for the 4-inch stack of motion filings I had received the previous day. Nice work settling your case. “
When you’re a lawyer and other lawyers often complain, “He’ll argue about this all night,” litigation might be the right area for you. Numerous clients have told me in a good-natured manner, “You’re having too much fun.” They might be right.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is also the most surprising to me. I am currently assigned to the criminal division, and I sentence people every day. I went into this job thinking defendants would invariably resent any sentence I impose. That has proven not to be the case. With very few exceptions, the defendants I have sentenced have thanked me at the conclusion of the hearing.
My goal is to do what is best for them and the community, and try to get that across to the defendant – explaining why I am doing what I am doing. I am interested in each defendant’s situation, and what the plan is for turning things around. I try to take that into consideration in imposing my sentence, and to motivate them any way I can.
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Likely find myself in either the 1950s or 1960s. I’m not sure how it happened, but a lot of the music I was raised on finds its origins in one of those timeframes; admittedly, I would enjoy the opportunity to have seen Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin perform. I also have a fondness for swing dancing (I do know how to ballroom dance), and I’m sure it would be something special to experience that during this time as well.
On the legal front, I think that the post-WWII decades in the country had some fascinating legal developments that I would have loved to experience firsthand. Reading about them in a history book just isn’t the same!
How did you find your way to your current position?
I didn’t set out to be a law librarian, but I’m so glad to have ended up there. I went to graduate school to become an archivist, but upon graduation found that those jobs were few and far between. Taking a chance, I applied for and received a position as the sole librarian at a law firm in Milwaukee. With little to no knowledge of the law at the time, it was certainly a trial by fire. But with a little luck, a lot of hard work, and a huge amount of support from my firm colleagues and fellow law librarians, I eventually developed a knowledge of and passion for legal research.
After two years, my husband and I were ready to move back home to Madison. Fortunately, this coincided with an opening at the U.W. Law Library, where I have very happily remained for the last 15 years. I’ve held several positions at the U.W. Law Library and am currently the assistant director for public services. I can truly say that I love my job. Just this winter, I also completed my J.D. from the U.W. Law School.
I often counsel students to be open to new opportunities. Your career may not follow the path you intended, but sometimes the best things in life are found just where you never thought to look.
What advice do you have for new lawyers wanting to practice in Indian law?
Ground yourself in both the core principles of Indian law and the history of the tribes you are interacting with. Every tribe has a unique history and relationship with the land it calls home. Without a basic understanding of a particular tribe’s history, it can be extremely difficult to understand what may motivate the tribe to make decisions in the present day.
Another very important piece of advice is for new lawyers to have a good understanding of legal ethics. The professional rules of conduct for lawyers that represent governments and organizations can be drastically different from those for lawyers that only represent individuals. Last, be open to new concepts, and be prepared to learn something new every day.
What is one of the biggest challenges you deal with in your practice?
The lack of funding for civil legal services for low-income individuals. Funding is a constant struggle, and we turn away three people for every two that we help.