As an undergraduate, Patricia M. Hanz’s boyfriend had an unfortunate experience with a used car that he’d purchased from a dealer.
Let’s just say it didn’t work out very well. But something positive came from it in that Hanz decided to apply to law school, possibly to become a consumer-protection lawyer.
Fortunately for Briggs & Stratton Corp., that plan changed and Hanz ultimately switched her career goal to in-house practice.
Hanz came to Milwaukee-based Briggs, the world’s largest producer of air-cooled gasoline engines for outdoor power equipment, in 1993 after eight years with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
At the DNR, she negotiated a clean-up with opposing counsel Thomas R. Savage. Hanz must have impressed him, because Savage later went in-house at Briggs, and when the company was looking for a part-time environmental lawyer, he called Hanz.
Although Hanz was hired for her environmental law emphasis, she’d been a generalist at the DNR, and Briggs quickly realized that was the best way to utilize her skills. Once her children were enrolled in school full time, she was ready to go full time as well.
Hanz is now one of two generalists of the six attorneys in Briggs’ legal department.
She participates in business meetings, reviews contracts and other documents, and serves as a resource for her nonlawyer colleagues about upcoming transactions or potential legal issues involving multiple practice areas. Her door is always open for their questions, because, “The job of an in-house person is to be able to issue-spot.” Plus, she enjoys learning from them, with the wide variety of backgrounds and expertise they bring to the company.
Law is largely a conflict-driven profession, and that’s true for in-house work, too, although the focus tends to be problem-solving to head off conflict. But the most rewarding days for Hanz, as a corporate attorney, are when deals are successfully concluded – “When you work on an acquisition, you get to the end, the documents are signed with the ceremonial pens, there’s an exchange of gifts and everyone is excited about the future.”
By the way, Hanz says it didn’t work out with the boyfriend who inspired her to attend law school. But she did meet her future husband at law school. She is married to Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Feiss. They have two college-age daughters.