Danny Garcia sports a henna design tattoo. As a criminal defense lawyer, he often tries to be a little bit on the edge. Garcia says his appearance often establishes a commonality with his clients, which leads to better representation.
Why did you pursue law as a career?
When I was a sophomore in college, I started my own exterior painting business. I specifically recall one project I worked on where my crew and I put in extra hours so that we could finish the job before the client came back from vacation – sort of like a way to surprise them. To my surprise, however, when I went to meet with the client upon their return, they threatened me with a hammer and said that they wouldn’t pay me. I was crushed – I felt so wronged by the whole situation. Luckily, the parent company I was working with had a brilliant lawyer who was able to come to the rescue. In short, I was inspired. Granted, that story isn’t the sole reason that I wanted to become a lawyer, but the idea behind it is the same. I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people in their times of need.
What advice do you have for lawyers just starting their careers?
I think one piece of advice I would give my younger self – and any new lawyer for that matter – is to be ready to delve into areas that you’re not familiar with. When I first started practicing, I was positive that I was never going to even touch criminal law. Now? It’s my favorite area of practice, because guess what? When you first leave law school, that’s the field you can find work in. And while that doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with every new practice area you come across (I, for one, could do with many fewer divorces), it is important to know that a lot of your career path is going to be shaped by experiences that you couldn’t possibly anticipate. So be open to trying new things. You never know what you’ll develop a passion for.
- Years in practice: 4
- Undergraduate: U.W.-Madison
- Law school: U.W. Law School
- Employer: Parks Law Offices LLC, Fond du Lac
- Favorite quote: “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog, Adventure Time
- Favorite book: I read a lot, there’s no way I could pick just one. But, a recent favorite is Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War.
- Hobbies: My go-to staples are running, reading, writing, and gaming, though I’m always looking for new things to do. Recently I took up rugby and woodblock printing.
- Contact: email@example.com
What has been your favorite moment as a lawyer (up to now)?
As the classic movie My Cousin Vinny so aptly observes, there’s an abundance of procedural minutiae they simply don’t teach you in law school – the ignorance of which has put me in some embarrassing situations. For instance, I once took a case in Calumet County where, apparently, they don’t use pink plea/sentencing forms (all the counties I practice in do). So when I showed up with rose-colored forms … let’s just say the judge had some questions. What with it being February at the time, I decided to justify my forms as being “festive.” A lesson in courtroom humor: do not do this.
You practiced in a larger city for a while. What was that like?
I spent my entire undergraduate, law school, and early career living in Madison. And while I have to say I love living in a bigger city, I’m really not so fond of working there, especially in a legal context. I just felt so out of touch with my work, like I was more of a tool than a person. I never even got to meet some of my clients face to face, much less get a broader understanding of their issues and needs! Put simply, I felt like a cog in a machine. It wasn’t for me.
How did you end up returning to a smaller community to practice law?
I grew up in a small town and part of my return to a smaller community was simply the fact that there were job opportunities – and good ones at that. When I was struggling to make a career in Madison, I went home to visit my parents on weekends. While I was there, I decided to call some old family friends – a husband and wife lawyer duo – and ask them for advice. We went out to coffee, and not only did they pick up the tab, they offered me a job. I was stunned. I suppose it goes to show that there’s always a need for work to be done in smaller communities.
OnMilwaukee recently named you one of the most powerful Latinos in Wisconsin. What does this distinction mean to you?
This award stood out to me among others because I had no idea that I was going to be nominated. And, to me, that actually made it more significant. I do a lot of work with the Spanish-speaking population in my practice – mainly because I’m one of the only lawyers in the Fond du Lac area who can speak the language. But I never do it for any sort of reward. If a court document needs translating, I do it. If someone walks into my office and doesn’t understand what happened in court due to a language barrier, I help explain it to them. I feel like it’s my way of giving back, my responsibility, even. So to be recognized for it felt like icing on the cake.
You’re the youngest person to serve as president of the Fond du Lac County Bar Association. How did that come about?
It’s amazing what people will allow you to do if you simply raise your hand and volunteer. When I originally moved back to practice in the Fond du Lac area, one of the first things I did was to attend a local bar association meeting. As it turns out, there were elections coming up, and the bar was in need of a president-elect. So, in the interest of getting myself and my practice out there, I threw my name in for consideration, and I won! Now, granted, being on the executive board of the bar association makes me little more than an event planner, but being the president allowed me to have input into the kind of events that I wanted to have. And that matters. From LGBTQ+-related continuing legal education to yearly judicial forums, I think I’ve made a positive impact.
Danny Garcia often knocks on doors for political causes. When he moved back to a smaller community, he noticed that if you weren’t the one doing something, chances are nobody else was doing it.
You’re active in politics, currently serving as the state LGBTQ caucus chair for the Democratic Party. What motivates you?
Something I noticed when I moved back to a smaller community was that if you weren’t the one doing something, chances are nobody else was doing it. Whereas in Madison there are whole entourages of people knocking on doors for political causes, back in Oshkosh? Fond du Lac? If you weren’t out distributing flyers, chances are nobody was. And as a law school graduate with, frankly, a lot of opinions, I simply felt obligated to get involved in politics. My continued involvement has allowed me to continue climbing the ladder – especially in issues that I’m passionate about, such as LGBTQ+ advocacy. Is there an elected office in my future? Perhaps. But for now I’m just focused on doing as much as I can to help people.
Why is it important for lawyers to be involved in their communities?
I’ve always been of the opinion that if you have the ability to make a positive difference, you have the obligation to do so. Now, that’s not to say you need to save the world by Sunday – self-care is important, and pushing yourself too hard is dangerous – but as people with advanced worldviews and educations, lawyers are uniquely poised to work for positive change in the world. To not give back is simply unacceptable.
What prompted you to write fiction under the pen name Danny Atramentum?
I’ve always had a passion for reading and writing – it’s one of the reasons I enjoy law. But I’m also a creative type and love to escape into fictional worlds. Writing my own stories was just a natural extension of these traits, not to mention an excellent way to decompress and, hopefully, bring some entertainment to others. I find it amusing to expand on ideas that most people only think about in passing. What if that wormhole in your apple was a dimensional wormhole? If Dracula were alive, would he have a day (or night) job? It’s little joys like these that keep me going. And, of course, I have to have a cool pen name – Atramentum is another word for black ink, so I found it to be a fitting moniker.
What do you do in your free time?
LOL. What’s free time? In all seriousness though, I use my free time for a lot of things. Generally, I spend a lot of time working out, running, lifting, and snowboarding, but I also try to indulge my artistic side, like with writing or artwork (I recently took up woodblock printing). I do a lot of costume-making too. Believe it or not, I’m a frequent attendee of comic cons and pop culture conventions. And, of course, there’s nothing like sitting down with a good sci-fi novel or video game to round out the day as well.
Tell me about your photo; what’s the significance of your tattoos?
Oh, that was actually a henna design that I got at the state fair. It has since worn off. Though, since you’re asking, on the subject of lawyers with tattoos and edgy haircuts – as a criminal defense attorney, I often try to be a little bit on the edge. I think that some clients – especially younger, criminal clients – are more comfortable and trusting knowing that their lawyers isn’t just some plain old cog in the wheel. My appearance establishes a personality, and often a commonality, with my clients, and that trust leads to better representation.
Meet Our Contributors
What famous person would you like to have dinner with?
I'd love to share a slice of warm apple pie with Bob Newhart. I think Bob's comedy is brilliant, but humble, and that a conversation with him would be no different. As for the apple pie? I chose it because it's like Bob – a classic, humble, and un-ironically heartwarming treat.
Danny Garcia, Parks Law Office, Fond du Lac.
Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our writing and submission guidelines.