Joan B. Farrell got a new lease on her life in the law last December.
That’s when she became vice-president and general counsel of Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin Inc. in Milwaukee.
Farrell, a former private practitioner, mostly as a solo, had decided she wanted to go in-house, preferably for a non-profit. She explains, “I was hitting the 20-year mark [as a lawyer], and I knew the work I was doing in private practice was very important to my individual clients, but I wanted to have a broader reach.
I wanted to use my legal skills in a bigger way.”
When a law school colleague told her about the opening at Goodwill, she knew it was the perfect job for her. She couldn’t be prouder of the contribution the organization makes to the region. Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin serves both southeastern Wisconsin and the Metro Chicago area, and it the largest of the 168 Goodwill affiliates in the U.S. and Canada.
In 2008, it served almost 23,000 people. In 2009, it served more than 33,000 people. Moreover, Goodwill employs more than 4,000 people. About 1,500 of them are severely disabled, and the organization is just now starting to track how many of the remainder have disabilities that are not classified as severe, or who are disadvantaged in some way.
“It really is an inspiring place to work for,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing, when you look at the history of Goodwill. It was founded in 1919, during dire economic times, and it was all about helping people find work. …
“Now, 91 years later, we’re facing similar, dire economic times. So the demand on Goodwill’s services is huge.”
As the only member of the organization’s legal department, her duties are never routine.
“My primary function is to provide legal support for the organization’s diverse operations,” she said. “It’s a lot of real estate, contract negotiations and drafting, both with private vendors and government, and a lot of employment law. So my days are very varied, just like they were when I was in private practice.
“I’m working for a wonderful organization; I’m inspired by the people we serve; and I feel like I’m making an impact. And on a personal level and coming from private, solo practice, I really like being part of an organization and a team again.”