What is your favorite way to rest and rejuvenate?
I find long-distance running very restful for the mind. There’s something transcendent about focusing solely on the physical effort required to travel those miles. Especially when I’m lucky enough to run along the beautiful lakefront that we have here in the Milwaukee area, I feel filled with purpose and strength. I run because it helps me connect with myself and my natural surroundings. I’m learning more and more about how spending time in nature is key to our healthy functioning as human beings, so I prefer to run unplugged: no iPod, no GPS watch, no treadmill. Just me, the trail, and – to quote Robert Frost – “miles to go before I sleep.”
Your practice focuses on real estate law. What drew you to that particular area?
I have practiced real estate law for many years and enjoy driving past buildings I had a part in creating. Real estate development involves pulling many pieces together, and balancing many interests, to arrive at the best result for all parties. You have to always consider how that project will fare through changes in users, changes in law, and changes in the economy. I also like the practical benefits of learning about a parcel of land, resolving all the issues in the deal, having a closing, and moving on to the next project. Best of all, if we do it correctly, everyone walks away from a closing happy.
What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
During the past 35 years, I have researched, authored, or co-authored more than 100 amicus curiae briefs for various organizations. My most satisfying accomplishment as a lawyer was an amicus brief I filed on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind in Delaware Department of Health & Social Services v. United States Department of Education, 772 F.2d 1123 (3rd Cir. 1985). In that case, I was called upon to write an amicus brief on behalf of the Federation, which sought to interpret a very unusual and complicated statute known as the Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U.S.C. § 107, et seq. I was thrilled when the Court of Appeals adopted almost all of the language in my amicus brief into a decision that was very favorable to the rights of blind citizens. In fact, it became a landmark decision in the civil rights of the blind.
In 2008, the Federation’s then president, Dr. Marc Maurer, wrote a letter in support of my candidacy for a seat on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Dr. Maurer wrote: “Although [the Federation] had been involved in representing the rights of blind people for decades, your imagination showed us ways to apply the law which we had not considered.… [The] decision you won in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [established] national policy.”
I have had many successes before and since, but nothing as satisfying as what I was fortunate enough to achieve in that case.
What’s the most important advice you can give a new lawyer?
Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.
It’s hard to get all the experience you’ll need or want from practicing alone. So read about what other lawyers in your area think and how they practice, watch what they do, and do what you can to see them in action.
Over time, press for more challenging assignments and responsibility. You’ll make some mistakes, take a few shots along the way, and have some embarrassing moments, but just keep at it.
Experience forms judgment.
What is the most important career advice you could offer a law student?
Actually, there are two I would offer. First, you need to follow your instincts as to which area of law to pursue. In my case, it was tax law. I fought it at first, because I thought the subject matter would be perceived as too nerdy. Which it may be. Still, that is what has always fascinated me, for better or worse. Trying to conform to what someone else thinks you should do with your career is a recipe for disaster. The practice of law presents enough challenges, including some you can’t control, and requires so much hard work that you need to find a niche or calling that interests you the most.
My second piece of advice, wholly unrelated to the first, is to be prepared for the importance of personalities. Some people naturally rub you the wrong way, whether they be bosses, clients, or colleagues. You need to understand and work with them. Collaboration is critically important and oftentimes transcends other attributes you might feel deserve higher regard. You can be a genius, but if you don’t get along with others, it will all be in vain.
What do you know now about practicing law that you wish you’d known when you were just starting out?
Before pursuing a legal career, I envisioned the practice of law as finding the right answer to a client’s neatly asked question. I learned quickly, however, that this is not the case. As the facts change so does the answer. In other words, what is “right” at the onset of a case may change drastically as facts are discovered. Therefore, being an effective advocate means being adept at navigating the gray area of an issue – that is, appreciating the varying degrees of ambiguity posed by an issue. Effective answers to complex litigation are rarely cut-and-dry.
This notion of “navigating the gray” also served as a motivation for penning the article in this issue. As the Carson decision demonstrates, judicial opinions and legislative enactments require individuals to make business decisions despite legal and economic uncertainty. Based on this uncertainty, the goal is to help clients make the most well-informed decision based on the facts known at the time.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
After nearly 25 years of being a trial lawyer, I have many wins for great clients, only a couple losses, but importantly no hypertension, no high cholesterol, and no ulcers. So far, so good. Among the particularly satisfying wins was one for a local restaurant chain. The other side was represented by my father’s firm, so there was a touch of extra incentive. We prevailed, and then some, meaning we accomplished more than we expected, taking over full control and operation of the company and helping keep hundreds of people in their jobs. In the process, the clients and I became good friends and still keep in touch years later.
Aside from the law, my hobby is economics. And with the economic policy debates going on during a presidential election year, especially this year, I’m really enjoying the field of economics more than ever. Sounds dorky, I know. If it ever gets to be too much, however, I have my outlets: riding my road bike, skiing, snowboarding, or scuba diving.