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Harrell thrives in complex cases

By: Corrine Hess//September 17, 2014//

Harrell thrives in complex cases

By: Corrine Hess//September 17, 2014//

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Kathryn Harrell, attorney,  Lawton & Cates SC, Madison
Kathryn Harrell, attorney,  Lawton & Cates SC, Madison

Kathryn Harrell grew up wanting to work with gorillas.

She planned to attend Indiana University’s well-known primate program but changed her mind after taking a criminal justice class.

Instead of gorillas, Harrell opted for a law career, which began with her primarily handling insurance and medical malpractice defense cases. In the past two years, the attorney with Lawton & Cates SC, Madison, has refined her career focus, making it a goal to work for people who are going through difficult times.

Last summer, Harrell was the co-lead in a medical malpractice case that involved the death of a baby. The case was a milestone for Harrell’s career and a unique one in Wisconsin, where most attorneys refuse that type of work because of the state’s $500,000 cap on damages for loss of companionship in the death of a minor.

“There are 100 things I could say I learned from that,” Harrell said. “It’s such a delicate balance between handling the work and separating the emotions.”

In the next year, Harrell will shift from the co-lead seat to lead attorney representing a family in a complex, brain injury case. She said she plans to draw on her experiences from co-leading but already knows the actual trial is easier than the weeks leading up to the case.

“It’s important to have an outlet to deal with all of the emotional feelings,” Harrell said. “I’m lucky. I have a great support system at work. Just being able to talk to various people, whether it be a senior partner or the errand person, is really important.”

While Harrell has handled many different kinds of cases, from treatment errors to dog bites, she said her favorites are those that are medically complex.

“I think it goes back to my interest in science before law,” she said. “I really enjoy working with the doctors and learning about the medical cases.”

Jim Gardner, shareholder and attorney at Lawton & Cates, said her ability to connect with people has resonated with clients, who repeatedly express their gratitude, even when the results are not what they had wanted.

“Folks seem to almost instantly like and trust her,” Gardner said. “Obviously, these are good qualities for a trial lawyer to have. When this is combined with intelligence and a willingness to work hard, I believe you have a winning combination.”

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