My work is not sensational. As I was researching the ability of an individual to adversely possess a municipality’s undeveloped right-of-way, I realized that no one will ever make a movie about my law practice. I am not the lawyer that makes kids want to go to law school. I don’t defend criminals in high-stakes cases. I don’t prosecute large companies for preying on the weak. And I don’t represent the “little guy” against employers who have purposefully done him wrong.
I think that many students in law school have a vision – or maybe a fantasy – that one day they’ll wear a dark suit to work every day and take an elevator up 39 floors to get to their office. They’ll drive a German-made car and sit behind a mahogany desk, and people will bring them lunch.
That’s clearly not the case in my practice, or the practices of many. But, I also don’t see myself as a failure because I wear jeans to work, I pack my lunch every day, and I drive a Jeep. I’ve built a practice representing local municipalities, community lenders, small businesses, and individuals when they end up in litigation. My clients have “faces,” and they are easily accessible when I have questions for them. We share beers after work on Thursday nights (okay, sometimes Tuesday nights, too), and they know it’s okay to text me the occasional dirty joke. They appreciate my candid advice and practical approach to litigation.
I don’t see myself as a
failure because I wear jeans
to work, I pack my lunch
every day, and I drive a Jeep.
Maybe there’s some comfort with mediocrity. But, I don’t see it that way. Recently, there has been an initiative by the State Bar of Wisconsin to help new law school graduates consider getting out of metropolitan areas and relocating to work out-state. (I hate that term.) I would suggest that this is the best thing that many of them could do.
My clients have real problems – interesting problems – and they need real legal representation. They want someone who is approachable, pragmatic, and reasonable. They may not get that entire combination from a downtown lawyer, and I like that they recognize that. So, I suppose that’s a trade-off for both of us: clients get good service, and I get to wear jeans to work. I’m okay with that, even if none of my legal work lands me a book deal.
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What is your greatest talent as a lawyer?
Humility. Yes, I realize the irony in that response. But, I really try and not take life too seriously or think too highly of myself. When I’m wrong, I admit it and I don’t have any misconceptions that I’m not perfect. I’m not the smartest lawyer at my firm – probably near the bottom, in fact. And, I’m okay with that. I know when I don’t know something, and I’m not afraid to ask.
When I was a new attorney, a senior attorney I admire said to me, “There are no stupid questions, only stupid lawyers.” That didn’t (and doesn’t) deter me from still running into his office, throwing myself on my sword, and begging for advice on cases. I think that serves my clients. And, isn’t that what we’re here to do anyway?
Deanne M. Koll, Bakke Norman S.C., Menomonie.
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