Joel Aziere hasn’t followed the typical career path.
He earned an engineering degree at Purdue University, went to law school, worked in the military’s Judge Advocate General’s unit, and worked at a large law firm before leaving with a group of other attorneys to form their own firm.
Earlier this year, he was appointed president of that firm, Buelow Vetter Builema Olson & Vliet LLC of Waukesha.
“I’ve done a lot of different things, but I can honestly say that right now I am where I was meant to be,” said Aziere, who specializes in labor and employment case litigation. “Starting this firm has been very rewarding. It’s a good, close-knit team and everyone is working together.”
Aziere originally studied engineering at the urging of his father, who was also a lawyer, but worked for the FBI.
“He thought lawyers were a dime a dozen. It was agreed I could to law school if I got my engineering degree so I could have something to fall back on.”
While studying at Purdue, the U.S. invaded Iraq as part of Desert Storm and Aziere left school to join the military, which he loved. When he returned to school, he stayed in the military through the ROTC program and received a deferral to attend law school. After getting his law degree, Aziere was assigned to a JAG unit.
“That was wonderful. You get so much experience since you spend a lot of time in court arguing cases,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time there and learned a lot.”
After leaving the military, he joined a firm, specializing in labor and employment cases.
“It’s the kind of law I enjoy,” he said.
Being appointed president of Buelow Vetter Builema Olson & Vliet is an honor and Aziere maintains his caseload while tending to the firm’s managerial oversight issues. After donning so many different roles in his career, Aziere is confident he’ll be staying where he is for the rest of his career.
“We are a growing firm and I’m getting to do what I love best and working on the cases I enjoy the most,” he said. “It’s a great team and everyone is here because they want to be.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: What was your least-favorite class in law school?
Joel Aziere: Tough call. I obtained my engineering degree from Purdue University and had to work my tail off the entire time in a field that was very difficult and was not my passion. I loved studying the law so law school was very enjoyable. However, if I had to pick one, my least-favorite class would be Trusts & Estates. While I really liked the professor, the subject matter just did not hold my attention like many of the other classes.
WLJ: If you hadn’t become an attorney, what career would you have pursued?
Aziere: I would be a career Army officer. I loved my time in the Army. Leaving the Army was the most difficult professional decision I have ever made. I had early success as an Army litigator. My desire to remain in the courtroom for my entire career conflicted with the Army’s desire to promote me early, pull me out of the courtroom, and put me in command of an office of litigators. Had I not gone to law school, I would have returned to the Army after college in another branch and stayed my entire career.
WLJ: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Aziere: I am not sure how much credit I deserve for this ‘accomplishment,’ but I would say it is my ability to surround myself with people who are better than I, forcing me to rise to their level. It started with my parents, transitioned to my classmates, reached a new pinnacle with my wife, and continues with my colleagues at Buelow Vetter. Some people strive to be the smartest person in the room. I pride myself in putting together that room.
WLJ: What was the most difficult case you’ve ever worked on?
Aziere: While in the Army I was deployed to the Gulf where I served as Command Judge Advocate. This included prosecuting criminal cases in my jurisdiction. An Army Reserve unit fell within my jurisdiction. A staff sergeant was physically assaulting the privates under his charge. The soldiers were devastated and terrified. Because they were reservists and near the end of their rotation, the command sent them back to States for the trial. At the trial, my star witness – a sergeant who witnessed the abuse and corroborated all the conduct while we were in the Gulf – flipped on me. He lied on the stand and claimed none of the allegations were true. I asked for a break and pulled the sergeant into a conference room where I confronted him. He refused to look me in the eye or speak with me. I had to put him back on the stand and impeached him. During this sergeant’s testimony, I caught the faces of the soldiers who were the victims of the assaults. Watching the devastation on their faces as another member of their command betrayed them was gut-wrenching. There was no way I was going to lose that case. Ultimately, I obtained a conviction, which included jail time and a bad conduct discharge. But, it was the most difficult case of my career.
WLJ: If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Aziere: Power mimicry. This is the ability to mimic another person’s skill and/or ability. During my Ironman races, I would have the ability of Ironman World Champions Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack or Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander. Can you imagine arguing a case before the Supreme Court and having all the legal acumen of the justices before you? More importantly, being able to double the skills and abilities of the greatest surgeons or scientists could lead to miraculous advances.
WLJ: What was your favorite toy as a child?
Aziere: Legos. I had a small suitcase full of Legos. I loved to sit and build things for hours. My greatest accomplishment was a 6-foot-long spaceship that I built on our ping-pong table. I spent days building this enormous structure and weeks playing with and building smaller ships to fight and protect the massive ship.
WLJ: Where is your favorite place to visit in Wisconsin?
Aziere: Lambeau Field. As a native of Green Bay, I bleed green and gold. My dad and I have had season tickets since I was a little kid. We went to every game through the lean years and during the return to glory. For us, game day is a major experience. We have a group that gets together and arrives at the gates four hours before gametime to set up the tailgate. Biebel’s Catering hosts the gathering that includes a large buffet and full bar. We usually have 80 to 120 people for the tailgate. Spending all day with my dad at Lambeau is my absolute favorite activity.
WLJ: What person do you admire the most?
Aziere: My father. He spent over 25 years as an FBI agent, putting himself in harm’s way to protect his country. Despite constantly being on call, he always made his family a priority. He was my soccer coach, scout master and took me skiing, camping and to Packer games. He did all this while being active in many service organizations and activities. Growing up, it seemed everyone knew him and everyone respected him. Every day I try to live up to the example he set.
WLJ: If you could have drinks with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Aziere: If he was still alive, Ronald Reagan. Although I was too young to ever vote for him, I was always in awe of President Reagan and would have loved to spend time with him. For someone still living, I would have to say Packers GM Ted Thompson. I have more than a few — let’s call them suggestions — regarding free agents and defensive schemes.
WLJ: Do you have a phrase or word that you tend to overuse?
Aziere: I have a tendency to say ‘This is good stuff!’ quite a bit. I use the phrase most frequently during meetings with associates regarding some big case on which we are working. I have a tendency to get a little excited over litigation and I want them to join my enthusiasm. Used in context:
Me: Opposing counsel just filed a motion to compel, motion to extend, motion to substitute, and motion for change of venue. We need to have draft responses by the end of the week.
Me: Come on, this is good stuff!