Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Sam Edmunds: A born leader (or was that lawyer?)

When you ask people about Sam Edmunds, it doesn’t take long for the word “leader” to enter the conversation. Given how many leadership roles he has held, it’s almost inevitable. But his work as a lawyer is also well-respected, underpinned by his reputation for success in criminal defense.

Which raises a chicken-and-the-egg question: Did the leader become a lawyer or did the lawyer become a leader? To find out, one needs to go to the source: John and Twila Edmunds, Sam’s parents. Having raised Sam and his older sister Jessica, the Edmunds are now spending their retirement years near Jessica’s family in Plymouth. Ask them if they noticed any leadership traits in their youngest child and the stories pour out.

There was that time they met with his teacher to hear how Sam was doing in class. “Well,” Twila Edmunds recalls her saying, “When it’s playtime, everyone looks at Sam and he steps up on something high like a bench and says, ‘Okay guys, what are we going to do today?’”

“That’s when the teacher told us, ‘I think you have a born leader here.’” 

Sam was four at the time, and the class was preschool.

In high school, his parents recall, Sam was always the first to volunteer when a leader was needed, which worked out because he was so well-liked. “Everyone was grateful to have a leader,” Twila says. 

Sam’s popularity was bolstered by his ability to make friends from any group of kids. His parents were sometimes concerned by his choices in high school, worrying that he was hanging out with kids in trouble who could be a bad influence. His answer? “No, it’s the other way around. Maybe I can be a good influence on them.”

If the family recognized Sam’s leadership at a young age, they saw the future lawyer in him even earlier. Even as a small child he would ask for a later bedtime, for example, often winning his “case” through bargaining and sheer force of personality. “He was always a negotiator,” Twila says. “We’d say, ‘Sam you’d make a good lawyer.’ And he’d say, ‘What’s a lawyer?’” 

He did the same thing years later when his curfew was set, saying, ‘Well, could we talk about that a little?’ “He would talk his way out of things,” Twila says with a laugh, “but he was always so nice about it.” 

Despite their observations about Sam’s lawyerly ways, the Edmunds tried hard not to influence his career choice. Considering his obvious bent for the work, Sam came to that decision relatively late, while he was reviewing graduate school options after college. Which gives us the answer: It seems that the leader became a lawyer and not the other way around. 

With that puzzle solved, it’s only fair to ask Sam himself why he seeks out leadership roles. At first he demurs, saying he has always “just sort of gravitated toward leadership.” But then he acknowledges deeper reasons—making change, achieving goals, building relationships.

“It seems like anywhere I go,” he says, “I want to get involved in whichever group’s in charge and try to figure out how to improve things, and be a leader if I can. The leadership I find myself doing is usually geared toward achieving some kind of goal that has importance.”

Whether the friendships he makes are the cake or the icing isn’t a distinction Sam needs to make. As he says, “Being able to do that with a group of people who all want to achieve the same goal and that I can become friends with—honestly, it’s just people and friends—that’s what’s kept me involved all these years.” 

Steve Perry
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