Ruder Ware’s Steve Anderson freely admits that being a litigator allows his competitive nature to come out.
“I get a rush of adrenaline when I’m in court,” he said. “You have to be able think on your feet. No matter how much you’ve prepared, something unexpected happens.”
When he started law school, Anderson envisioned focusing on business transaction law, but during an internship with the Public Defender’s Officer in Hennepin County (Minn.), Anderson changed his mind.
“I had the opportunity to work on a jury trial and I was hooked,” he said.
As a business litigator, Anderson’s cases range from warranty/contract issues and shareholder disputes to tax disputes and construction issues. Whatever the case, it’s his duty to ensure clients understand what’s going on, Anderson said.
“Helping my clients understand the legal process and their rights is an important function of being a litigation attorney and it’s all about helping my client get through a difficult situation,” he said.
Anderson said when in court, attorneys “have to carefully listen to a witness’ answer as they’re thinking of that next question. You’re also trying to put together the best argument.”
But while he enjoys being in court, Anderson looks to help businesses and professionals solve their disputes before the case gets that far. Some cases may last less than a year while others last five years or more.
“These cases aren’t always enjoyable to work on and the circumstances can be difficult — it’s like going through a business divorce. People who worked together are now separating and going their own ways,” he said. “You just want the best possible outcome for your client.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Steve Anderson: There are two primary reasons my work is important to me. First, as a litigation attorney, I truly enjoy either obtaining a good result for a client or advising them on alternatives to litigation, which helps them prevent problems. Second, I truly enjoy my co-workers and others involved in helping me practice law. In this day and age, I cannot practice on my own. It requires both staff and other attorneys to perform effectively. It is important to me that the people I work with are not only helpful in that regard, but are also good people that are fun to be around.
WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Anderson: I don’t know that I have a hero, but someone I have always looked up to in the practice is my first mentor, Russ Wilson. Russ has always been an example to others in our firm that you can be ethical, patient and gentlemanly and yet still be an effective litigation attorney. He is also a very good teacher.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Anderson: My wife claims I take on a new hobby every week. That is not quite true, but I like to do a lot of different things when outside the office. We have a cabin at which I love to putter. I fish, bike, hike, golf, listen to music and join leagues like curling and Kubb (a lawn game), which keep me active and allow my mind to relax.
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Anderson: The most common mistake is that many people think I can help them on a criminal or traffic matter when my practice for 28 years has been only civil litigation. The criminal side of court procedure is foreign to me, and I have had to explain that to a lot of friends, family and clients over the years. I do, however, know where to send them to get the answers.
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Anderson: My friends. I made a lot of good friends in law school and keep up with many of them still today. Friendships forged in a new and stressful situation like law school tend to last.
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Anderson: There are almost too many to count. However, I will always remember my first jury trial. I defended the driver from a single-car accident on a rural gravel road. The jury found that the driver was not negligent because of her testimony that it felt like a tire had gone flat and the testimony of the police officer who found the car with a flat tire. The plaintiff’s attorney thought those defenses were unimportant and did nothing in discovery or the trial regarding that testimony. That proved to me that what attorneys may think is important may not be true of a jury.