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Labor of love: Tilkens juggles legal, law enforcement work

Mark Tilkens (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Mark Tilkens (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

If there’s a traditional career path for attorneys, Mark Tilkens definitely didn’t follow it.

Tilkens, a partner specializing in labor law at Constangy, Brooks & Smith LLP, Madison, worked full time as a police officer while attending Marquette Law School.

“I worked the night shift and then slept for a few hours and drove down to Milwaukee from Appleton for classes and would be back in time for the shift change meeting,” Tilkens said. “It wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I would do it the same way again, but I am glad I did it.”

After graduating at the top of his class, Tilkens – who was involved with the police union – decided to focus on employment cases, working on contracts and negotiations, as well as arbitration and litigation. Handling both provides a unique perspective, he said.

“You really begin to think about labor and contract strategy differently,” Tilkens said. “I know what kind of contract language may be problematic if something comes to arbitration.”

The recession affected how companies deal with employees, he said, with businesses changing their bargaining processes.

“Many companies found themselves in a place where their benefit plans were not viable because of the economy,” he said. “It wasn’t the workers’ fault and it wasn’t the companies’ fault. They just got in a bad position because of the recession.”

Tilkens’ former union membership affords him the ability to bring a different perspective when working with companies.

“I have that background and it allows me to provide guidance to businesses on finding common ground with their employees,” he said.

Though he enjoyed law enforcement, the shift work was hard on family life, he said. And the work was dangerous; “I had a few close calls,” Tilkens said.

He still maintains his law enforcement certification, however, and picks up patrol shifts to help officers who are sick or on vacation.

“I really enjoy being a lawyer,” Tilkens said, “but I still feel like I have something to give back to the community through my law enforcement work.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What was the last book you read?
Mark Tilkens: ‘Boomerang!’ by Dave Skogan, the founder of the Festival Foods grocery store. I know him personally and his business philosophy is very similar to mine. I strive to be a servant-leader, much like the way he describes what he’s done with his stores.

WLJ: What app couldn’t you live without?
Tilkens: Earthmate. It basically turns your mobile device into a GPS and communication device even where there isn’t any cell service. It allows you to send texts messages, for example. I enjoy mountain climbing with my son and that’s how we communicate.

WLJ: Do you play an instrument?
Tilkens: I’ve played the guitar off and on since I was 10.

WLJ: What activity could you spend hours doing outside of work?
Tilkens: Climbing mountains. It’s a great escape. I’m especially fond of the Sierra Nevada range.

WLJ: What do you miss most from your childhood?
Tilkens: Playing hockey. I played from first grade through high school. I loved playing hockey.

WLJ: What person do you admire most?
Tilkens: My youngest brother. He has the ability not to be affected by the problems of the day. I admire how he is so even-keeled and lets things just roll off his back.

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