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Renlund thrives in private, public sector legal career

Cari Anne Renlund (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The pull to work in the public sector is something attorney Cari Anne Renlund said she felt early in her legal career.

So after three years with the Madison office of DeWitt Ross & Stevens SC, she joined the state, first as an attorney with the Department of Transportation and later as chief legal counsel for the Department of Administration.

When Renlund, 38, started work under Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, she said she never could have predicted the dramatic transition when Scott Walker took office last year.

As a high-ranking public figure, Renlund said she dealt with everything from the high-speed-rail controversy to legal challenges involving public access to the Capitol at the peak of the union law debate.

After seven years with the state, Renlund returned to DeWitt Ross last July and said she appreciates a lower profile gig.

“It is nice to get up in the morning,” she said, “and not expect to see my name in the paper.”

But Renlund hasn’t abandoned the public eye altogether. She focuses her practice on government relations and transportation regulation, solving complex problems for clients.

Renlund brought her unique blend of public and private law experience to this week’s Asked & Answered.

Wisconsin Law Journal: If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?
Cari Anne Renlund: I think that all of us could use a regular kindergarten refresher course on how to play well with others. All things really come down to personal relationships and working with one another, especially in the politically charged and divisive environment we’re living in now.

WLJ: What was your least favorite course in law school and why?
Renlund: My least favorite course was probably torts. I found the constant litigiousness of people to be depressing. All we were reading about was disputes and things that had gone really bad, people who had been really hurt and siblings suing one another.

WLJ: What do you consider your biggest achievement to date and why?
Renlund: Without question, my family. I have a fantastic husband, two fantastic kids and I’m blessed and overwhelmed with pride in all of them.

WLJ: What is the one luxury item you cannot live without?
Renlund: It’s not really an item, but it is a luxury: my hair stylist. I could probably get haircuts for lot less money than I spend, but I’ve had the same guy for more than a decade and I’m not leaving him for anything.

WLJ: What is one thing attorneys should know that they won’t learn in law school?
Renlund: I think attorneys have no idea that you may learn much more about the nuts and bolts of practice from your legal assistant than anybody else. Your legal assistant is very frequently the key to your success.

WLJ: What is the first concert you went to?
Renlund: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at the Marathon County Fair in either 1986 or 1987. It was awesome. They played my favorite song “Fishing in the Dark.”

WLJ: If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be and why
Renlund: Consistent with current events, I think I’d like to be a member of Navy SEAL Team Six. Who doesn’t want to be superhuman for a day? Plus, if I’m swapping with them, then one has to step into my life for a day. I think it would be pretty awesome for my boys to have a Navy SEAL Team Six member as their hockey mom for a day.

WLJ: What is your motto?
Renlund: “Is the juice really worth the squeeze?” It’s basically a way of saying, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

WLJ: What is your favorite movie about lawyers or the law and why?
Renlund: “The Informant” with Matt Damon. Before law school, I worked as a paralegal for the U.S. Department of Justice and was lead paralegal on the prosecution of the Archer Daniels Midland Company. That movie was about events I lived, so it was great fun to see Hollywood’s take.

WLJ: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?
Renlund: When I was a little girl, I really thought I was going to grow up and be a major league baseball player. I’m not sure why I thought that, but with my love of sports I really did consider a career in sports journalism or athletic event planning.

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