When Dan Blinka took a job teaching at Marquette University Law School in 1985, he intended to stay no longer than five years.
Twenty-six years later, Blinka said his love of teaching keeps him tethered to the classroom instead of a courtroom.
Before working as a professor, Blinka, 58, spent seven years prosecuting cases for Milwaukee County. He had planned to pursue a federal prosecutor position or go into private practice after a stint teaching, he said, but the stint stuck.
Blinka went back to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001 to earn his doctorate in American history, which he said enhanced his lectures on the historical elements of law. He now is writing a book on the history of jury trials at the time of the American Revolution and the early national period.
Blinka remains faithful to his lawyer roots as chairman of the Board of Bar Examiners and as an active member of the State Bar and Milwaukee Bar Association.
After the December onslaught of final exams to grade, Blinka took a break to impart his academic wisdom in this month’s Asked & Answered.
Wisconsin Law Journal: If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?
Dan Blinka: The problem with continuing legal education is that all we require is the physical presence of lawyers. In this day and age of cell phones and laptops, there is no requirement that people pay any attention to what the speaker is saying. So for me a really good CLE course is one that engages the listeners and one where they leave the session having learned something. That’s a real challenge.
WLJ: What was your least favorite course in law school and why?
Blinka: My contracts class in my first year. It was all on me. I had a great teacher who taught a really fine course, but the problem was I made the mistake of approaching it like an undergraduate course. It was all about what can I regurgitate back on the exam. It was my absolute lowest grade in law school and I absolutely deserved it.
WLJ: What do you consider your biggest achievement to date and why?
Blinka: Raising my four sons to be good men. My belief is that as they grow, they will contribute in different ways to the community.
WLJ: What is the one luxury item you cannot live without?
Blinka: Computer. Period. But I thought, ‘Boy, is that even a luxury item anymore?’ It’s more of a necessity.
WLJ: What is one thing attorneys should know that they won’t learn in law school?
Blinka: The importance of facts and common sense. To me, law school does marvelously well in teaching legal doctrines, rules and policy. But what we don’t and maybe can’t adequately teach students is so much of law practice, whether you are in transactional work or litigation, is all about the facts.
WLJ: What is the first concert you went to?
Blinka: I honestly can’t think of one. I like to listen to music, but usually in the background. Part of it is on a typical day, I get up at 5 a.m. A couple of times I’ve gone to concerts and as soon as the lights go down, I’m gone. I’m pretty sure I could sleep through a rock concert. It’s a personality flaw, but I think I could pull it off.
WLJ: If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?
Blinka: I’m a historian, so naturally my reflex is to think, ‘OK, what would I like to be part of and who would I like to be?’ But my heartfelt response is there is really no one I would want to trade places with. I like who I am and I’m just not willing to give up even a day of my life to step into someone else’s shoes.
WLJ: What is your motto?
Blinka: Don’t live your life by mottos. Every situation is unique. Think it through.
WLJ: What is your favorite movie about lawyers or the law and why?
Blinka: ‘Sleepers’ is dark movie. But what I thought was so powerful about it is you have a prosecutor who suborns perjury, fabricates evidence, not in the name of convicting somebody, but in the name of gaining an acquittal. It is a movie that is all about not doing justice, but making sure there is no further injustice done to people. When I teach legal ethics, I talk about that movie.
WLJ: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?
Blinka: I would be teaching history at a college. As much as I enjoy teaching all manner of law courses, I really enjoy teaching history, thinking about history and writing about history.