Fresh out of college, Jennifer Powers was working as a paralegal when, she said, she looked around at the lawyers and thought, “Oh, I can do this.”
So she went to law school and became a labor lawyer.
Years later, when her firm needed a finance expert, Powers said, she once again thought, “Oh, I can do this.”
So she carved out a new practice in finance law.
Now, as the Quarles & Brady partner drives through Wisconsin, Powers can see the results of her work. She specializes in public transactions that pay for construction and renovations at most of the state’s nonprofit colleges, universities, hospitals and nursing homes.
“I just love helping these people,” Powers said. “They are so wonderful and smart, and I love the fact that what I do might contribute to lower tuition and health care costs.”
Powers, a Waukesha native, is part of the Quarles public finance practice group. She is the general counsel and bond attorney for the Wisconsin Health and Educational Facilities Authority. And, as special tax counsel to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, she was instrumental in securing $150 million in tax-exempt bonds to build the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
“It’s not just the big, flashy projects,” Powers said, “but the little ones as well, where you know everyone and the people are so appreciative.”
Her colleagues notice her work, said Quarles partner Liz Blutstein.
“She exemplifies the type of lawyer we would all aspire to be,” Blutstein said. “Plus, she completely retooled her practice partway through her career. I admire that.”
It’s the type of commitment that could be expected from someone like Powers, whose idea of relaxation is to go home and work in the garden, Blutstein said.
“Most attorneys like to put their feet up,” Blutstein said, “not grab a shovel.”
Powers, her husband and their cat live in a 160-year-old Lisbon farmhouse and have spent about 30 years renovating it.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” Powers said.
She also is a survivor. Powers battled breast cancer when she was 39. While the year of treatment was awful to endure, she said, it left her with a deeper conviction that she can rise to most challenges.
“When I encounter something hard, horrible or difficult,” she said, “all I do is think, ‘I survived chemo, I can do this,’ and it makes what I have to deal with easier.”