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Home / 2011 Leaders in the Law / Negotiation pays off for Jennaro

Negotiation pays off for Jennaro

Hon. William A. Jennaro – Cook & Franke

Photo by Kevin Harnack

Photo by Kevin Harnack

The most significant negotiation in which William A. Jennaro ever played a role — at least from his perspective — took place in 1962.

“I had to negotiate my way into school,” he said with a laugh, noting that he hadn’t exactly applied himself in high school. But the 22-year-old Jennaro was determined to become a lawyer and nothing would stop him.

In the end, he brokered a deal with the college admissions director that if he didn’t get a B average or higher after his first semester, he wouldn’t return.

Not only did his grades suffice, but he completed both his bachelor’s and law degrees in just six years, while working close to full-time.

Just 3½ years later, while establishing the public defender’s office in Milwaukee County Children’s Court, Jennaro decided to run for judge against a well-connected incumbent.

“It was a bold move,” he said, “but I never thought for one second that I wouldn’t win.”

One of the campaign highlights was when U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, concurrently seeking the presidency of the U.S., paid a visit to Milwaukee on the campaign trail. Jackson stopped by Jennaro’s campaign headquarters to meet him and tell him how impressed he was with the organization and enthusiasm of Jennaro’s campaign.

Jennaro won, making him Milwaukee County’s first Italian-American to beat an incumbent judge in a contested election. He was 32.

Jennaro spent a dozen years on the bench until he made the move to private practice in 1984, joining Milwaukee’s Cook & Franke.

Another turning point came about five years later, when a colleague asked him to try mediating a case. He didn’t even know what that term meant.

But, ever the quick study, Jennaro has now become one of the state’s most highly regarded mediators and has mediated well more than 1,000 cases, mostly high-stakes civil disputes.

That’s in addition to a diversified, busy practice. He concentrates in real estate, family law, personal injury, white-collar crime and gaming law, and is one of the small number of experienced admiralty law attorneys in the state. Reflecting on his lengthy and distinguished career, Jennaro said, “When it’s all said and done, I hope people say, ‘He was a pretty good lawyer and a pretty good judge. He did the right thing most of the time and he respected the law.’

“But mostly, I try not to take myself too seriously.”

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