While sitting in class at the University of Wisconsin Law School, Patricia Gibeault saw an opportunity.
“The 1978 Bankruptcy Code just became law, and I found it fascinating how intricate it all was,” she said. “I also realized that since everything was so new that I could get in on the ground floor of this practice area and build my career from there.”
It’s a career that recently hit a peak when the partners at Axley Brynelson LLP, Madison, elected her the firm’s first female managing partner. She balances that role with a practice focused on bankruptcy, insolvency, commercial litigation, receivership and the Wisconsin Consumer Act.
One case, dubbed “the Dead Cow Case” in her office, stands out, Gibeault said.
“It was very complicated and involved so many different issues, from environmental issues that affected the health of the cows and the health of the people who lived there,” she said. “The case went up and down the state and federal court systems on a bunch of different issues, but it was still the same case. It was kind of crazy.”
Though she found her practice area in law school, the roots of her legal career sprouted much earlier through her mother, who worked as a paralegal in the office of a local female attorney.
“Back then, she was one of the only female attorneys in northern Wisconsin, and I saw her as a role model,” Gibeault said. “I’ve just always found legal issues fascinating, and I’m lucky now to be involved in them.”
Gibeault, who became Axley’s first female partner in 1989, said she’s proud of the latest distinction.
“It’s been an honor,” she said.
Wisconsin Law Journal: If you could choose one super power, what would you pick?
Patricia Gibeault: Being able to read minds. It would eliminate miscommunication, understanding my kids and certainly help in court.
WLJ: Who do you admire?
Gibeault: The list is endless, but I will share my most personal example: my mother, who ran away from home at age 16. She was able to be a super mom before the phrase existed. She worked as a paralegal in a law office, primarily doing estate planning and tax work. She also did all the things a mom was expected to do in the 1950s and ’60s in raising her two daughters, from making Halloween costumes, to teaching us to cook and sew, attending parent-teacher meetings, being a Girl Scout leader and pushing us to excel in school. Despite not graduating from high school, she obtained a GED. She and my dad told me from the time I was born that I would be going to college, and I did. I was the first college graduate in the family. My grandmother was a teacher, but that only required a two-year teachers program.
WLJ: Is there a word or phrase you overuse?
Gibeault: Yes, but it is a four-letter word that shouldn’t be used in polite company.
WLJ: What was your favorite toy as a child?
Gibeault: Books of any kind. I had an aunt who was an English teacher and gave me the classics each year for Christmas. One year, my parents bought the World Book Encyclopedias for a Christmas gift, and I enjoyed just reading about the various subjects that I was interested in. Yes, I was a nerd.
WLJ: If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
Gibeault: Realistically, Door County, which is where I plan to retire. As a fantasy, Sydney, Australia, near the harbor. I visited there when my daughter did a semester of college abroad. It has the beauty of Door County, plus the Opera House and better weather.
WLJ: What app can’t you live without?
Gibeault: Although I use many apps, to me they all relate to work, except a Korean app, which I sometimes use to communicate with my son, who is a teacher in South Korea.