The University of St. Thomas

Living the Mission as a Business Attorney, by Pat Zomer ’11

Published on: Monday, April 14th, 2014

The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.

Pat Zomer ’11 practices in the areas of utility regulation, commercial lending, and business law at Moss & Barnett, a Professional Association.

Pat Zomer ’11

These are probably not the first words that come to mind when you think about utility rate cases and commercial lending transactions. Actually, those two topics probably make you think of several, different words that are not suitable for publication on a website run by a Catholic law school focused on morality and social justice. So how does a business attorney live the mission?

First, it is important to acknowledge the mission means many things to many people. Take some time browsing this blog and you will see several wonderful people doing amazing things – each of them living the mission in their own way. Each member of the St. Thomas community is encouraged to conduct their own “search for truth,” including those of us in the commercial world.

The ultimate goal for any business attorney should be to become a trusted advisor. For me, integrating faith and reason while trying to practice (and live) morally are fundamental steps in that process. As Professor Hamilton writes, “A trusted advisor earns trust through excellent technical skills combined with both sufficient self-knowledge to be authentic and to subordinate the lawyer’s own ego to focus on care for the client, and empathy, including strong listening skills.” This means a good business attorney needs to have his or her house in order before clients are willing to make the leap of entrusting you with their commercial dealings (and dollars).

In my time at St. Thomas, I was lucky enough to observe several members of the St. Thomas community modeling the skills associated with being a trusted advisor. My professional career is similarly blessed with colleagues willing to share both technical knowledge and practical skills to assist my ongoing development. These relationships have been and will continue to be vital in my growth as an attorney and as a person. I am also blessed with a wife that makes me a better person (on a daily basis) and a family that is always there for me. All of these areas of support help me to grow into being an authentic person and a technically skilled attorney.

Combining technical skill and ethical practice lie at the heart of the trusted advisor relationship and the St. Thomas mission. So, yes, dear reader, it is possible to live the mission as a business attorney.

Pat Zomer ’11 practices in the areas of utility regulation, commercial lending, and business law at Moss & Barnett, a Professional Association.

A volunteer’s reflection on a journey toward pro bono publico, by Teddy Michel ’07

Published on: Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Teddy Michel '07

Teddy Michel ’07 | photo courtesy The Catholic Light

On Thursday, March 20, 2014, I had the honor and pleasure of presenting at a CLE sponsored by the Diocese of Scranton’s St. Thomas More Society of the Legal Profession. The one-hour ethics CLE manifested my ability to engage in self-deprecating humor regarding my Wheel of Fortune bomb out and was an opportunity to share stories pertaining to my past experiences as a legal aid attorney and member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

As I shared during the CLE, Teddy’s Ethics 101 is all about one word: Accompany. Accompany is defined as “to go with another person.” I believe amazing things can happen when we decide to intentionally journey with another individual – when we accompany another. And that, the journey with another, is what the CLE was all about.

And so I began recalling a serious of influential stories in my life beginning with my senior year in college where my management professor, Dr. Ernie Owens, challenged us to think critically about what we wanted to do in life. In short, Dr. Owens (and the rest of the UST undergrad campus) created an environment conducive to allowing me to discover a glimpse of who I was and what I was about. And after I saw that little picture, I knew the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (“JVC”) was for me.

Fast-forward eight months and I find myself up in Anchorage, Alaska, working at the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (“Four As”) as a Jesuit Volunteer. Four As is an HIV/AIDS social service organization, which provides comprehensive case management services to individuals living with HIV. In my capacity as a volunteer, I became quite close with a number of clients and staff. Several months into my volunteer year, one of our clients became increasingly sick and passed away. Prior to his passing, a staff member began to care for his 2-year-old son. Now that the client was gone, the little 2-year-old’s future was uncertain. The staff member, however, was interested in adopting the boy but wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

In walks Attorney Tom Janidlo, former Marine, and he picked up the adoption case pro bono. While I didn’t attend the court hearing that finalized the adoption, I remember we had a party at our office after the hearing. We had balloons, streamers, confetti, and lots and lots of food. I’ll never forget the moment when everyone returned from court. Our staff member was carrying her newest 2-year-old son in her arms and I remember thinking to myself, I know I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer or best tool in the box, but I know I’m a hard worker and would be able to bust my backside through law school to put myself in a position to be Tom Janidlo someday.

And so the seed was planted. After another year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Nashville, Tenn., at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program, my wife Cindy and I drove back to Minnesota for graduate school – law school for me and a doctorate in physical therapy for Cindy.

Fortunately, I was running late for my first law school class: Civil Procedure with Professor Sisk. As many of you know, late comers on the first day of class have relatively limited seating options. Ah but the Lord is good because an available seat in second row off to the far right was next to three of our law school’s best, most intelligent law students.

And while I may be a hard worker, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good because those three students plotted, carved, paved and smoothed the road to Teddy’s J.D., which led to a wonderful 4 1/2-year career as a legal aid attorney out here in Scranton, Pennsylvania!

Teddy Michel ’07 is judicial law clerk to the Hon. James M. Munley, United States Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Unexpected landings, by Carrie Anderson ’06

Published on: Monday, March 31st, 2014

I never saw myself working for the federal government, particularly in the field of immigration. I started my career as an immigration lawyer, zealously advocating for the downtrodden and weary, while representing a few businesses to pay the bills. I was an idealist and I loved my job. I could see on a daily basis how I promoted social justice and helped my neighbor. I also loved my area of practice. Immigration law was complicated, intricate and at times, entertaining. I enjoyed dissecting the facts and finding solutions that helped my client’s case. My work supported my faith in a very tangible way, but after three years I wanted to experience the law from another perspective and started working for the government.

Carrie Anderson '06 tests an innovative glove designed by the public for NASA space explorations.

Carrie Anderson ’06 tests an innovative glove designed by the public for NASA space explorations.

In 2009, I moved to Washington, D.C., to begin a career working in immigration law with the federal government. Since that move, I have been fortunate to hold jobs in multiple agencies. I have felt the frustration of bureaucracy and the thrill of making a difference in someone’s life by improving a government program.

At my current job, I help individuals and employers seeking immigration benefits who are experiencing problems using the government system. My casework still allows me the opportunity to dissect the facts and find solutions just like I did in private practice. The difference now is I am inside the system and, for better or worse, an active part of it. There are days when I feel like I make a positive difference in my work, and there are days when I feel like my hands are tied. There are days when I receive glowing letters of appreciation for the work I do and days when the phone will not stop ringing with irate individuals. At all times, I try and remember to recognize each person’s humanity. I try and remember that I am in a unique position to help people and help improve the system. I listen. I wait. I continue to help.

I did not expect to have a career in the government. I still look back at my days in private practice with fondness. I appreciate the lessons of compassion and wisdom my clients taught me. I value the work ethic I developed in my first years as a lawyer. And one day, I might return to that work again.  Until that happens, I try and see the intention of where I have landed in my career and strive to bring goodness to my work.

Carrie Anderson ’06 is a policy analyst with the Federal Government in Washington, D.C.

10 years as a public defender, by Keshini Ratnayake ’04

Published on: Monday, March 17th, 2014

Keshini Ratnayake

Keshini Ratnayake ’04

2014 marks significant milestones for me. May brings the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from law school. By September, I will have been a public defender for 10 years. This decade following law school has been the most challenging of my life. I have grown from an unattached, carefree 24-year-old into a 34-year-old who is married, a mother, and working full time at the public defender’s office.

While I always knew that I wanted to be married and a mother, I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a public defender. I do remember the exact moment I figured it out. It was my first year of law school, and our criminal law class had a speaker who worked in the criminal justice system. I didn’t like the way he was talking about people’s constitutional rights. He was cavalier, and seemed to liken them to inconvenient technicalities. I decided immediately that I would dedicate my life to pushing against that kind of thinking. It is exhausting, frustrating, heartbreaking, challenging, thrilling, and endlessly rewarding, all at the same time.

I became a public defender to stand up for our fellow human beings who have nobody to advocate for them. I believe that everybody, no matter what they’ve been accused of, deserves to have someone stand by their side and tell their story. Several years ago I overheard my mother defending my career choice to someone who held the opinion that “criminals” should all just go to jail. My mother is religious and relatively uneducated about the legal system, so she told the person that the Bible says we’re supposed to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Her perception of what I do has stuck with me because it really is that simple. Helping my partners in the criminal justice system understand that my clients truly are less fortunate is usually my daily goal. It explains why they can’t always make it to court or comply with court-imposed conditions – most don’t have their own car parked in their garage. Most don’t have a permanent home. Sometimes it’s difficult just to scrape together $2 to get on the bus.

Developing empathy for people in these situations is a continuing process for me. I constantly remind myself of the obstacles that my clients face when they do things that irritate me, like blow off office appointments right before serious court hearings. I stop and think about how I got to the office that day. I walked into my garage and got into my reliable vehicle that starts immediately and always has gas in it. I paid cash for my vehicle after law school with my parents’ assistance. I park in a ramp right next to my office that I can afford to pay for on my own because I grew up in a supportive, education-focused family. I am fortunate; my clients are not. I am grateful for every blessing I’ve been given in my life, and I have the privilege of helping those who weren’t so lucky.

Keshini Ratnayake ’04 is an attorney at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office.

Putting the “coach” in lawyer, by Christina Hilleary ’09

Published on: Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Student: Okay, so I want to impeach the witness.
Me: Right, that sounds like a good idea here. What he just said doesn’t match what’s in his affidavit.
Student: Yeah, okay. So what do I do?
Me: You know this! We talked about this!
Student: So, I ask to approach?
(I nod, and he begins to approach the witness.)
Me: Practice saying it!
Student: Your honor, may I approach?
Me: Yes, you may.
Student: Now what?
Me: Well, are you going to ask the witness a question? Isn’t that what you’d do?
Student, turning to the witness: Is this your affidavit?
(The witness says yes, and the student attorney reads the relevant portion.)
Student: Now what?
Me: You conclude by saying to the witness, “Did I read that correctly?”
Student, to the witness: Did I read that correctly?
Witness: Yes.
(I now look expectantly at the student, waiting for his next line of questioning. He looks right back at me, as if we’re having a staring contest. He blinks first.)
Student: Your honor that was impeachment!
Me: What? Yeah I know, but no, you can’t say that.
Student, quizzically: Okay…
Me: You’re done; you did the impeachment, now you just move on.
Student: Okay, your honor I move that this witness is impeached –
Me: NO!
Student: Okay, then I move that you impeach this witness!
Me: No! You’re done!
Student: But—
Me: STOP TALKING!
(The student and I both dissolve into laughter)

Christina Hilleary is a 2009 graduate of UST Law and currently works as a judicial law clerk in Minnesota's First Judicial District.

Christina Hilleary ’09

This was me in January, during practice with my students. Back in October, I was asked by a colleague if I would coach a nearby high school mock trial team as a volunteer. I said yes without hesitation.

At the beginning, it was a steep climb. The students needed to learn how to do direct and cross examination, while learning the facts of our case. They had to figure out how and when to object. We “covered” the Rules of Evidence in one forty-five minute session. I’m pretty sure not everyone understands hearsay, but we’ll do better next year.

I enjoy coaching because it’s fun, but also because it fits with my values. The mission at UST Law encourages students to integrate faith and reason in the search for truth – a mission I hold dear in my own life. My beliefs motivate me to do what I can with the extraordinary gifts I have been given. I remember vividly my experiences as a student in high school mock trial, and the lessons I learned stick with me to this day. I also think about the team’s need for my expertise. There is no way the school could pay an attorney to provide this training. I am reminded that just because “work” of whatever kind doesn’t pay doesn’t mean it lacks value.

Christina Hilleary is a 2009 graduate of UST Law and currently works as a judicial law clerk in Minnesota’s First Judicial District.

Moot court team advances to national competition

Published on: Friday, March 7th, 2014

University of St. Thomas School of Law moot court team members Rachelle Velgersdyk, Parker Olson, and James Todd emerged from a 33-team regional tournament in Las Vegas on March 1 to advance to the National Appellate Advocacy Competition Finals held April 10-12 in Chicago. The UST Law team bested teams from the University of Minnesota, Memphis, Vanderbilt, and No. 1-seeded Miami.

“The ABA moot court tournament is the largest and, in my opinion, the most competitive in the country. It draws powerhouse moot-court programs from the top law schools,” coach Aaron Knoll ’12 said. “The team had to fight for every point, judge, and win — and fight they did. They toppled Miami and Memphis (who rank among the top 15 programs nationally) along the way. This is a testament to the sheer grit, perseverance, and brilliance that personify these students. They are phenomenal.”

Also coaching the team is David Carrier ’12. Velgersdyk, Olson, and Todd are members of the UST Law Class of 2014.

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Inside the UN: Start of a new HRC session in Geneva

Published on: Thursday, March 6th, 2014

By Joseph Grodahl Biever ’13

Monday began the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The function of the session over the next four weeks is for both the Council and Member States to present their perspectives on particular human rights issues or the human rights records of particular States. The session began with the High-level Segment, featuring statements from government ministers,  heads of state from various countries, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The first day also featured a lunch event sponsored by the Mission of Thailand, generously offering Thai food and drink to all, at which the Secretary General ceremoniously unveiled a beautiful photography exhibit on the occasion of World Wildlife Day.

After the high-level segment concludes tomorrow, the Council will look at specific issues and countries. This session will include reviews of reports from appointed Special Rapporteurs or independent experts on such topics as the freedom of religion, children in armed conflict, the right to food, torture, and more. Special attention will also be given to the human rights situations in North Korea, Syria, Central African Republic, and more. The Holy See, as a permanent observer, will be present throughout the session, as well as making its own interventions on some of the issues presented. It will be a very active few weeks!

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, unveiling the “Wild and Precious” exhibit for World Wildlife Day.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, unveiling the “Wild and Precious” exhibit for World Wildlife Day.

Joseph Grodahl Biever is a Murphy Institute Scholar working to support the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations in Geneva.

Lawyer as counselor, and the American dream, by Jake Grassel ’09

Published on: Friday, February 21st, 2014

Jake Grassel '09

Jake Grassel ’09

The UST Law mission is a defining characteristic that reverberates throughout all of its classes, programs, and publications, and sets the law school apart from its competitors. Through the mission, the UST Law not only trains and produces exceptional attorneys; it produces exceptional human beings and community leaders. While the mission has always meant a great deal to me, I once thought that to truly live the mission, one must be dedicated to non-profit work serving the poor.

The services that our colleagues are providing through pro-bono or low-cost legal services to those who otherwise would not be able to afford representation is exceptional and should be celebrated and supported. Similarly, I have come to learn and appreciate that an attorney in private practice can also truly live the mission in his or her career by serving clients and the profession through exceptional service and professionalism in an ethical manner.

The clients I serve on a daily basis range from those who are having trouble putting food on their table each night to those expanding and growing their businesses while living the American dream. Each of these clients provides me with an opportunity to “live the mission.”

To me, the mission partly means helping my clients navigate some of life’s biggest personal and professional struggles – whether that is a home foreclosure or the loss of a loved one – through sound advice and legal expertise. Often times this means extending the relationship beyond attorney/client to counselor. In the counselor relationship, I rely on my experience and professional training but can only be effective if I truly combine my faith with reason to give sound advice to those in need.

The other part of living the mission is helping those living the American dream prosper through integrating ethical and moral practices in their businesses and personal life. This may mean giving advice that some do not want to hear, as it may not be the easy way, but the right way. It may also be done through planning for the future by providing for those who are less fortunate through planned giving.

What does the mission mean to me? Everything. Do I live the mission? I certainly try to, and I encourage others to do the same. What I have learned over the years is that anyone, no matter what their ultimate calling is, can live the mission. It is truly remarkable to see so many graduates of our law school distinguishing themselves by doing just.

Jake Grassel ‘09 is an attorney with Howse & Thompson, P.A., where he practices in the areas of business law, real estate, land use and government relations. 

Finding the Mission in Legal Ethics, by Phil Johnson ’11

Published on: Friday, January 24th, 2014

Phil Johnson '11

Phil Johnson ’11

Initially, I questioned whether my volunteer activity as a member of the 4th District Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee fulfills the mission of the law school. “Mission,” I reasoned, was surely related to work cross-culturally, such as feeding the poor, ministering to children or homeless, or developing a program to eliminate social disease. Surely the task of promoting professional ethical standards for attorneys and judges would not rise to issues of morality and social justice … or would it?

Working within a team to “maintain() the integrity and ideals of the legal profession” by investigating and providing a recommendation related to alleged violations in the code of ethics to which attorneys practice, the mission and action of this organization provides a framework by which the Hennepin County Bar Association and its members may operate with integrity.

In serving this role for the past four years, there have been a variety of cases assigned to me. Some indicated impropriety, others confusion, and a few a simple frustration with the results. In the end, however, each received a fair hearing: an air of their grievance, a search for truth, and a resolution taking all matters into account. No cases are declined, and all who feel wronged are afforded attention to their concerns. This board serves a vital role within this community.

I am thankful that as a law student, I studied under a Professional Responsibility Professor who raised difficult questions and explored grey areas of legal ethics. I am pleased to have served as a Research Assistant for him in my 3L year and observe legal ethics in practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with other legal professionals who give of their time to promote legal ethics and raise the standard of attorney behavior in Hennepin County. While this volunteer role might not encompass a traditional definition of “mission,” I am thankful that it surely fulfills the mission of the law school – that of providing a moral standard and promoting a sense of social justice that upholds the standards of professional legal behavior and speaks to those clients who have potentially been taken advantage of by those in authority.

It is a pleasure to serve.

Phil Johnson received his International M.B.A. from UST in 2008, a J.D. from UST in 2011 and an LL.M. in International Law from McGeorge School of Law in 2012. He worked for Ameriprise Financial as a Litigation Analyst while in law school and for CMS Hasche Sigle in Cologne, Germany, following his LL.M. pursuits. He currently is an Account Manager at Thomson Reuters in the Twin Cities. He volunteers for the 4th District Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee in Minneapolis and has served on the Board of the East London YMCA. He speaks French and German.

J-term getaway: ‘Great Books’ seminar discusses jurisprudence through literature from French Norman-style country home

Published on: Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn., where University of St. Thomas School of Law Great Books seminar is held

Imagine for a moment having the opportunity to step away for one week between semesters — away from the hustle and bustle of doctrinal coursework, long papers, clinics, internships, etc. Imagine spending the days and evenings during the first full week of the New Year participating with fellow School of Law students and faculty in fireside chats about some of the classic works of the great authors of ancient and modern times. Splendid conversations, great meals, comfortable room and board, all within the confines of a classic French-Norman style manse situated on a peaceful 180-acre horse farm just 60 miles south of the Twin Cities.

Now imagine earning three credits for this week of peaceful existence, learning and camaraderie. That’s the premise behind the “Great Books” seminar, a six-day residential seminar that has been offered to School of Law and Opus College of Business students during the J-term for more than a decade.

The Great Books course uses selected writings of great classic and contemporary thinkers as a launching point for intensive, focused group dialogue. The readings revolve around such universal human concerns as justice, rights, liberty, equality, the role of economics, leadership and community. Moderators lead conversations on the enduring ideas and ideals of world civilization, the problems and opportunities facing society today, and critical issues to be encountered in the years ahead. (View sample syllabus)

School of Law Professor Chuck Reid and Opus College of Business Professor Jeanne Buckeye will co-teach the 2014 seminar.

Students will read excerpts from some of the greatest thinkers and writers in ancient and modern history, ranging from Aristotle to Dostoyevsky, and Virginia Wolfe to Milton Friedman.

“It’s a focused period of reading and discussion on some of the grand themes in jurisprudence,” Reid said. “The wonderfully relaxing environment and the stimulating discussions that take place really provide a great backdrop for lifelong friendships to form as well.”

Participants stay onsite during the seminar and enjoy meals together at the beautiful Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, which is just an hour south of Minneapolis.

Great Books qualifies as a three-credit elective for graduate business and law students.

A few seats for the January 2014 seminar remain open. Students can register for the course through Murphy Online.