'I found it natural to seek out appellate work'

Van-Oort_Aaron-150AARON VAN OORT is a legal strategist, class action litigator, and appellate lawyer who co-chairs the appellate advocacy group of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. A former law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia and Judge Richard Posner, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, Aaron is a voice for clients in trial and appellate courts throughout the country.

Why did you go to law school?

I went to law school for two reasons. First, my mom’s sister Pat Johnson was a lawyer in the Twin Cities, and I admired her greatly. Second, I thought that the courts had misconstrued the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment, and in my youthful exuberance (and, truth be told, arrogance) believed that surely I could do better.

What led you to focus your practice on appellate courts and class action work?

I had the great privilege of clerking for two of the legal giants of our time—Justice Scalia and Judge Posner. Having watched and learned from them, I found it natural to seek out appellate work, and clients thankfully were willing to hire me to do it. My interest in class actions dates back even further, to the summer after my 1L year. I had wanted to work for a law firm to make money, but no one wanted to hire me. 

In retrospect, I’m grateful they didn’t, because as a fallback I worked as a research assistant for Professor (and later Dean) Dan Fischel at the University of Chicago Law School. The assignment he gave me was to investigate the origins of the 1966 amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, which created the modern class action. That was the summer of 1997, and Rule 23 had not yet been amended to allow for interlocutory appeals (that would happen in 1998), so the law was undeveloped. I felt like I was getting in at the ground level and have avidly studied class-action practice ever since.

Can you tell us one thing you learned from Justice Scalia and from Judge Posner?

From Justice Scalia, I learned that, no matter how much sense your position makes, you’re going to lose if you don’t have authority. From Judge Posner, I learned that, no matter how good your authority is, you’re going to lose if your position doesn’t make sense. Justice Scalia was the foremost formalist of his time and Judge Posner the foremost pragmatist. In practice, every judge is effectively some combination of Justice Scalia and Judge Posner, so when my teams are preparing arguments, I’m constantly asking them: Do we have authority, and does our position make sense? There are no better questions to ask in developing arguments to present to a judge or panel of judges.

What are the most valuable aspects of your bar involvement?

What I’ve appreciated most about my bar involvement is the community it has introduced me to. I’m inclined to be a bit of an academic who sits in his office and reads and thinks and writes. Through the Appellate Section of the MSBA, however, I was introduced to the state’s appellate bar and bench and became part of their collegial community. I’m grateful to the leaders who welcomed me into it.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy spending time with my wife, Tracy, and our four boys (ages 19, 17, 16, and 14) watching superhero movies, training our Great Dane puppy, eating really good barbecue, and traveling the U.S. and internationally. I also love football, both coaching my sons in the Mounds View youth program and watching the NFL (skol Vikings!). Finally, I read voraciously, from Vince Flynn and Lee Child novels to theology and apologetics, and I serve on the board of directors for Substance Church.