When Patricia Gibeault was starting out as a bankruptcy attorney, she was sometimes mistaken for someone’s secretary. Times have definitely changed.
“I remember arriving for a court date and someone asked who I was,” said Gibeault, the managing partner for Axley Brynelson LLP in Madison. “I told them I was the attorney and got an odd look. Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. There are plenty of talented female attorneys now in the field.”
Today, Gibeault is well-known for her bankruptcy practice that she built using strong critical thinking skills and a passion for the law.
“I attribute my success to a lot of hard work and timing,” she said. “As I was coming out of law school, there were a lot of changes to the bankruptcy code so I started on the ground floor along with everyone else.”
Throughout her career, Gibeault built a portfolio of successes — handling forbearances and foreclosures ranging from $100,000 to $120 million — that led her to being named Axley’s first female partner and more recently the firm’s first female managing partner.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School, Gibeault served as the first law clerk for Chief Judge Robert Martin in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court-Western District of Wisconsin.
“He was a wonderful mentor who really taught me a lot about how judges think, which was invaluable,” she said.
After her clerkship, Gibeault joined Axley, putting all of her energy into developing a practice focused on bankruptcy, commercial litigation and the Wisconsin Consumer Act. She also paid Martin’s guidance forward, serving as a mentor to younger attorneys.
“You don’t necessarily need a formal relationship. One way you can mentor others is just by being successful — you are showing other people it can be done,” Gibeault said. “I also have an open-door policy and people can come to talk to me about anything. Keeping communication open is important.”
Gibeault admits one common area of discussion younger attorneys frequently have is about balancing family life with work life.
“It’s difficult to have a family and be a good attorney, but it can be done,” she said. “I try to be an example.”
Fellow Axley attorney Laura Peck said Gibeault is always willing to share her wisdom.
“Patty has showed a woman’s remarkable ability to thrive in the profession,” she said. “More importantly, she refused to settle for mediocrity when success was at stake, an attitude she possesses to this day.”