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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    September 12, 2018

    How to Explain What You Do to a 4 Year Old

    The question, "What do lawyers do all day, Mom (or Dad)?" can sometimes best be answered by their off-the-clock activities.

    Deanne M. Koll

    Deanne Koll and kids

    Deanne Koll and her beloved “Monsters” Sylvie (at left) and Paige.

    I come from a proud lineage of public servants. My grandfather was a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, my grandmother a nurse at the State Department, my mother a life-long public school teacher, and my dad spent his career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The virtues of giving back to the community, making the world a better place, and giving more than I receive run deep in my blood. So, what do I do? I become a lawyer and go into private practice. A family black sheep, no doubt.

    Deanne M. KollDeanne M. Koll, William Mitchell 2006, is an attorney and shareholder with Bakke Norman S.C., with offices in Menomonie and New Richmond, Wis.

    Introspection on this career choice can lead you down a rabbit hole a lawyer may not want to traverse. What about my career is making the world a better place? One of my law partners once told me, “you just move money around.” Regrettably, I think he’s probably right.

    I have twin 4-year-old daughters. When you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they say things like police officer or teacher. (Okay, sometimes one of them says “princess,” and I’m reminded that she will be a struggle later on in life.) But, generally, they name noble, public service-oriented professions. Never (ever) have they said lawyer, no matter my prompting. You may say that this is because they don’t know what lawyers do. Then, please share your thoughts on how I am to explain what I do to my 4 year olds.

    Once when I was picking up The Monsters (as I affectionately refer to them) from daycare, one daughter said to me, “Mom, did you do important things on your computer today?” I choked on my gum. That summed up what she thinks I do every day. No wonder she never has said she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. On the one hand, yes, I suppose I did work on my computer the vast majority of the day. But, was any of what I did important? I mean – in the global sense? Probably not. My clients were taken care of, I managed to meet all my deadlines, and I don’t think I have too much work to do at home once the kids are in bed. But, did I really do anything important?

    This is the point where we’re halfway down that rabbit hole I addressed above, and there’s no U-turn available. I think we, as lawyers, fancy ourselves an essential part of society. And, I suspect that we’re right – to a point. As lawyers, we’re trained (for three very painful years) to critically think about issues, argue both sides of everything, and become overall pains-in-the-rear. But, if we take that skill set and solely use it to “move money around,” are we doing society a disservice?

    As lawyers, we’re trained (for three very painful years) to critically think about issues, argue both sides of everything, and become overall pains-in-the-rear.

    I genuinely like my work, and I don’t regret my career path. But, I do need to channel my genetic mandate to make the world a better place – to give more than I get. Some would say that I need to go out and do some pro bono work for the disadvantaged. You mean, do more of what I already do every day? Have more clients to whom I answer? No, thanks – I have enough of those stressors. But, if I’m not doing pro bono work, what am I doing with my legal attributes to create change and inspire hope? How do I make my career into something that my daughters are inspired to follow?

    I think the answer is in the nonlegal context. A lawyer’s toolkit is filled with character traits and a knowledge base that are transferrable into nonlegal endeavors. My confidence and feminism have made me a successful coach for girls’ basketball. My critical thinking has made my various positions on local nonprofit boards valuable. My firm’s financial donations to civic and nonprofit causes have a tangible effect on the community in which I will raise my children.

    Those nonlegal contributions matter. They matter to my public service-oriented family, they matter to my community, and they matter to my Monsters. This, my friends, is a thoughtful way to consider using the arrows in your legal quiver. And, a rather clever way to coax your kids into wanting to become lawyers.

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