Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Are there any life skills or personality traits you didn’t expect to use in practicing law—but find yourself using often?


Tom Berndt

Tom Berndt is a partner in Robins Kaplan LLP’s business litigation group. He represents both plaintiffs and defendants in high-stakes business disputes and is currently serving as secretary of the MSBA Business Law Section.

Before I started my legal career, I didn’t appreciate how important it is for lawyers to be able to think and communicate like non-lawyers. As an aspiring lawyer, I imagined myself making complicated, multi-faceted arguments to an audience that understood (and was genuinely interested in) the topic. If only this were reality. In practice, I’m constantly working to streamline arguments, simplify complexities, and brighten dry subjects. A judge’s or juror’s attention is a limited resource. And people aren’t persuaded by arguments they don’t understand or relate to. I’ve found that the most effective advocates write and speak like non-lawyers.

Another skill I didn’t expect to use as often as I do is adapting to change. A senior partner at my firm used to say: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Over the years, I’ve found that the best lawyers can roll with the punches and pivot on the fly. In my practice (commercial litigation), cases last years and involve dozens of battles along the way. There will be surprises and some will force you to make “halftime adjustments” à la Bill Belichick. This is particularly true in the courtroom, where you have to react in real time. While it’s impossible to anticipate every eventuality, I find that planning for a few surprises makes them less stressful when they inevitably occur.

Demetria-DyerDemetria Dyer 

Demetria Dyer is an attorney at Sapientia Law Group, where she assists clients in resolving a wide variety of commercial disputes and provides general counseling to small and emerging businesses.

To become an attorney, I not only had to overcome the obstacles of entering a white-male-dominated industry as a Black woman, but also had to overcome poverty. I boldly tell folks that I grew up in a poor, single-parent household. The only lawyers I saw were on TV. I used to think my background was a vulnerability, but now I know it is a source of strength. My upbringing has molded me into a tenacious person. And this trait shows up daily in my legal practice. I am tenacious when fighting hard for my clients in complex commercial disputes, and I am tenacious when I advise small or emerging businesses on how to best protect their brilliant business ideas or when they are faced with adversity. I never would have thought that my upbringing would someday help me practice law, but it has served as a consistent reminder that I have beaten the odds and I can continue to do so on behalf of my clients.

Melissa-Stull-Melissa Stull

Melissa Stull is a founding partner and trial lawyer at Soule & Stull in Minneapolis. She focuses her practice on commercial litigation and product liability defense.  Her community activities include service on the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection, MSBA Civil Litigation Section Governing Council, and as an MSBA mock trial judge. 

I decided I wanted to become a trial lawyer when I was 12 years old, but I had few real-life role models to shed light on the traits needed to become an effective attorney. I assumed I would need to work hard, listen and communicate well, and be agile—able to think on my feet. I hoped I would practice law with diligence, reliability, and integrity. Those assumptions proved to be true and are skills and traits I draw on daily. Other, less obvious skills I use often are creativity, teamwork, sense of humor, and patience. 

Creativity is perhaps the skill I expected to use the least. However, I find that creative problem-solving is essential to serving our clients well. We should not always look at problems through the same lens and take the same approach to each case. Rather, our clients benefit from creative thinking that takes into consideration the many unique facets of each case, including business decisions at play, long-term impacts of testimony and evidence-gathering, and the precedential value of settlements or jury verdicts.

Teamwork is something that comes naturally to me but is a skill that I thought would be less utilized after my days of competitive sport were behind me. Little did I know that I would be working on complex cases with teams of talented legal professionals, expert witnesses, clients and company employees, court staff, and more. I love working on a team and am thrilled this trait can be put to good use in my legal career. 

“Funny” might not be a trait people associate with trial lawyers, but I have found that having a good sense of humor and being able to bring a little levity to serious situations can go a long way. I recall making a joke during voir dire about being from out of state that endeared the jurors to me and our client, when all of the lawyers before me had made it a point to tell the jury they were good old southern boys. 

Patience is not a personality trait or life skill that comes naturally to me. But complex litigation is a marathon, not a sprint, and cases often span many years. It takes time to reveal the relevant facts, engage in discovery, work up expert testimony, and prepare a case for trial. The case themes and big picture take time to develop, and patience is required to work a case up well. 

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