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Cayo gets what he wants from specialized practice

Richard Cayo (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Defending lawyers accused of professional misconduct isn’t glamorous, but Milwaukee attorney Richard Cayo, of Halling Cayo SC, said he loves it anyway.

Cayo, 61, began his legal career as a prosecutor for what is now the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation. But for the past 28 years, he has focused on representing attorneys charged with misconduct.

Cayo said a former law partner persuaded him to “go over to the dark side of the force,” arguing Cayo would have the practice area all to himself because he was the only attorney in the state who knew the rules of professional conduct.

“I was one of the only people doing that kind of work,” Cayo said, “so it’s easy to be the best when you circumscribe your practice to the point that you are the only one doing it.”

But the spotlight on attorney misconduct has gotten brighter in recent years. In February, an OLR Review Committee recommended several changes to the system, including the option of a lifetime ban for lawyers.

Cayo said such a measure, which the state Supreme Court rejected in 2010, is overly extreme.

“The fact that there is this initiative to have a lifetime ban,” he said, “reflects sort of an unfair light that I think a lot of lawyers show up in.”

But Cayo said the work is rewarding and he took time to reflect on his unique career in this month’s Asked & Answered.

Wisconsin Law Journal: If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?

Richard Cayo: It would be about the value of brevity, about which I could go on forever, but maybe shouldn’t.

WLJ: What was your least favorite course in law school and why?

Cayo: Tax. It required concentration well beyond my attention span and Professor [Shirley] Abrahamson could spot B.S. from the hallway. I recall vividly sitting in her office, where, in lieu of encouraging me to better effort, she said, ‘Richard, maybe tax just isn’t your cup of tea.’

WLJ: What do you consider your biggest achievement to date and why?

Cayo: After Max and Amy, my two exceptional children, I am proud to have helped make our firm a collaborative, progressive place where first-rate legal work doesn’t require sacrificing a balanced, fun life.

WLJ: What is the one luxury item you cannot live without?

Cayo: It’s tough to choose a favorite luxury, but I think the front-runners would be: my Ducati Monster, Wolf oven range or daily after-lunch naps.

WLJ: What is one thing attorneys should know that they won’t learn in law school?

Cayo: To speak or write persuasively, they should try to be clear, not impressive. If Jagger & Richards SC was a law firm, we might have, ‘One should anticipate being unable, on occasion, to achieve each of the objectives of their undertakings,’ instead of ‘You can’t always get what you want.’

WLJ: What is the first concert you went to?

Cayo: Traffic at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. I won’t say what year it was, but I will say it was their first U.S. tour and they were a back-up band. They were the opening act for a Chicago band called Circus.

WLJ: If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?

Cayo: I would be a back-up singer for Aretha Franklin or Mayer Hawthorne. Aretha Franklin for obvious reasons, and Mayer Hawthorne is a new R&B singer who is just a great artist.

WLJ: What is your motto?

Cayo: Progress not perfection.

WLJ: What is your favorite movie about lawyers or the law and why?

Cayo: ‘My Cousin Vinny’ just because you only have to be erudite when you are in front of an appellate court.

WLJ: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?

Cayo: An astronaut or a born heir.

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