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Colleague Corner: What has been your best day as a lawyer?

TRACY-REID
TRACY REID

Tracy Reid has practiced law for 20 years in the area of family law and Social Security disability, and now defends juveniles with the Hennepin County Public Defender’s office.

“Your honor, this is a matter of life and death.” 

That was my best moment as a lawyer. It passed in slow motion in my brain as the words fell out of my mouth like a made-for-TV movie.

My best day as a lawyer boils down to a single hearing. Emily Cooper and I started our private law firm to help the poor who could not access free legal aid. In doing so, we committed to doing pro bono as often as we could. A nonprofit we were acquainted with was helping a grandmother who needed to consent to heart surgery for her grandson. Years prior, she had picked up her grandson from the hospital shortly after his birth and raised him as her child due to his mother’s inability to care for him. Child protection had not intervened, and until then, she had no reason to need legal documentation of this arrangement. The child had been enrolled in school, advanced through well-child visits, and was approaching his teens. 

Sadly, at the time she was sent to us, the need for heart surgery was immediate and the surgery was scheduled later in the week, if legal consent could be obtained. Emily and I filed emergency paperwork and got an emergency hearing. I was the lucky one who got to argue the family’s cause. Needless to say, it was an easy order for any judge to sign, and Grandmother was granted emergency custody of the child.

The surgery happened on schedule, it went great, and I got the best moment of my career.

 

ESTHER-AGBAJE

ESTHER AGBAJE

Esther Agbaje is a staff attorney with the Public Health Law Center at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. She also currently serves as a state representative for House District 59B in the Minnesota Legislature.

Short answer: One of the enjoyable aspects of being an attorney is the ability to help people solve their problems. This isn’t to say that that attorneys have all the answers, but rather that we are a good resource for outlining your options. When I volunteer with the Housing Court Advice Clinic, I listen to tenants who are going through a stressful housing situation, and I help them figure out their options or prepare for what to expect in court. Usually, people need support in how to talk with their landlords to resolve simple disputes. One time, I helped a student obtain their security deposit by providing guidance on a letter to their landlord. The landlord was not complying with returning the security deposit, and it was needed by the student so that they could have the resources to move into a better location. 

As a litigator, I appreciated negotiations with the opposing party because it meant that my client could resolve a situation more quickly than going through the stress of a lengthy courtroom process. In my new role, I get to help organizations and advocacy groups strategize about how to prevent young people from smoking and finding ways to advance health equity by stopping the flow of nicotine products. Being a problem solver attracted me to law in the first place, and I’m glad to have opportunities to continue to support others in finding a resolution to important issues.

ROBERT-SCHUNEMAN

ROBERT SCHUNEMAN

Robert Schuneman is an attorney with the Tentinger Law Firm in Apple Valley. His practice includes civil litigation, real estate, consumer bankruptcy, and estate planning.

She never told me what type of cancer she had, only that she was dying. She didn’t want to talk about herself, only about how she could care for her two minor children after she died. When we transferred the last of her real estate holdings to the trust I created for her, her aura of worry was gone, replaced by quiet resignation. I left her house knowing that my work was more than crafting a trust and transferring property into it—it provided peace of mind for my client, allowing her to die knowing she would still be providing for her children.

This is one example of the positive effects I’ve been privileged to help my clients produce in their lives. The best day of my life as a lawyer? It’s all those days when I know for a fact that my client’s life has been made better by the work I did for them.

These moments of affirmation have happened to me in several practice situations: getting a larger-than-expected settlement in a civil matter, helping a client obtain a harassment restraining order and evict an abusive former partner, helping a landlord evict a problem tenant, etc.

Of course, this type of in-the-moment affirmation doesn’t happen every day or with every client. But it does happen often enough for me to know that this is the work I was meant to do. It’s the work I want to do, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it.

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