2023 Excellence Awards: James Poradek

Headshot of man in suit

James Poradek was awarded the 2023 Excellence Award for Improving Access to Justice. Through his work at the Housing Justice Center, Poradek has represented low-income individuals facing housing instability across the state. He has helped thousands of Minnesotans avoid mass eviction from landlords and sought compensation for residents who were exposed to shoddy construction and unsafe housing conditions. Poradek is known for his compassion and patience when dealing with clients who are mistrustful of the justice system.

1. What has been a meaningful moment in your work?

A meaningful moment for me at Housing Justice Center was when I told the tenants in my first big class action that the judge had not only denied the landlord’s motion to dismiss but had written a detailed opinion that overwhelmingly sided with us on the facts and the law. That’s the essence of why I became a lawyer—sharing that moment with my clients when it hit us that we had just completely turned the tables on a landlord that bullied them with impunity only a few months before.

2. What do you wish more attorneys knew about your area of work?

I wish more attorneys knew how fun and rewarding it is to litigate high-impact housing cases. The law is surprisingly favorable; the clients are cool, resilient people who are a delight to represent; and the courts do not hesitate to embrace the powerful concept from the Minnesota Supreme Court that a “lease is not a one-way street that entitles only the landlord to the aid of the law.” Cent. Hous. Assocs., LP v. Olson, 929 N.W.2d 398, 409 (Minn. 2019).

3. Who is a legal hero/mentor to you?

My biggest legal hero will always be Judge David S. Doty, the federal judge in Minneapolis I clerked for right after law school. Judge Doty was an elite civil litigator at a big private firm who became a legendary public servant, and who has been incredibly supportive of me throughout my career. The most important lesson that Judge Doty taught me was that mastery of the procedural rules of litigation is the difference between good lawyers and great lawyers—and the key to winning cases for your clients.

4. How would you like to see the legal profession or our local legal community change?

I would love for even more of the big firms in town to use their “big case” expertise and resources on affirmative pro bono impact litigation on behalf of mistreated tenant communities. It’s such a win-win for the firms and for society—incredibly satisfying work for lawyers of all seniority that makes a huge difference for deserving clients and changes the behavior of bad actors. Plus, you can get your attorney’s fees back if you win!

5. What do you do to unwind and recharge from your work?

I’m a huge movie fan, and my happy place is to go to an indie theater like the Trylon in South Minneapolis to watch some obscure gem on 35mm film, such as the last movie I saw there, Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, featuring Bob Dylan as an outlaw named “Enigma” in an unexpectedly good performance.

Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter