Jodi Arndt Labs was nine years old the first time she dealt with the court. “I had a light-bulb moment that said, ‘I could do better than those guys,’” Arndt Labs laughed.
“I wanted to make a difference. And I thought, ‘The world could use some good lawyers, and some women lawyers, especially.”
She’s spent the past 25 years with Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry proving just that.
It wasn’t the easiest option.
“They didn’t have an established practice,” said Arndt Labs, one of the only environmental lawyers in northern Wisconsin. “I mean, coming to Green Bay with an environmental law degree, it would have been much easier to go to a big firm. It would have been much easier for me to go to Madison or Milwaukee. I had to build my practice from the ground up without a mentor. I had to learn everything — water, waste, air, brownfields — all on my own.”
But it was worth it.
“It just goes back to my whole life experience. I’ve been through my own challenges, and I could have let them be excuses to not succeed in life. But there’s always a way around the next road block,” said Arndt Labs, one of seven children and the only one in her family to go to college, let alone law school.
Her uphill experience has made her tenacious.
“She’s very diligent,” said George Burnett, a partner at the firm. “But she combines that with a great deal of commonsense and practicality. She understands people come to her with a problem, not a theoretical legal issue. And she approaches it as a problem to be solved rather than a legal puzzle to be completed.”
That approach also has inspired her community involvement, something she credits to the Big Sister she was assigned as a child.
“She made a huge difference in the two years we were matched up, and I don’t think she realizes that. I’m paying it forward,” said Arndt Labs, a former mock trial coach who has also served as chairwoman of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Environmental Law Section Board.
It’s part of the reason Arndt Labs helped start a youth conservation program with the Izaak Walton League of American.
“It’s just always been about giving back.”