Real estate dealings have been part of Danielle Bergner’s life for a long time.
Growing up with a mother involved with development, real estate was a popular topic at home. At age 19, Bergner earned her real estate license. After graduating college, she entered the real estate industry full-time.
But Bergner, now the managing partner of Michael Best & Friedrich’s office in Milwaukee and the real estate practice group chair, sensed the good times of the early 2000s wouldn’t continue — so she entered law school.
“I had good timing,” she said of getting out of the industry before the real estate bubble burst.
When it came to picking a legal specialty, real estate was a natural fit.
“I enjoy helping people either sell, buy or build something. You have happy clients,” she said. “It’s fun to be involved in projects and drive by a building and say, ‘I helped get that built.’”
Real estate deals can be complex, which Bergner said she enjoys.
“It’s a little bit like putting a puzzle together. I get to solve problems on a daily basis and the practice is very dynamic,” she said.
Regulations are one challenge facing the real estate industry, Bergner said.
“It feels like it’s constantly changing,” she said, adding that developers are now wondering what a Trump Administration may mean to some of the tax credit programs in place.
As managing director of the Milwaukee office and the real estate practice chair — in addition to her own busy practice — Bergner admitted she wears a lot of hats. But good organization, time management and a great team helps her balance it all.
“My main goal as managing director is to make sure things run smoothly on a daily basis. We have a great support staff and attorneys here that make that part of my job easier,” she said. “For the most part I can plan when I need to do my administrative duties. If a client need comes up, however, I will always drop what I’m doing to serve the client since that is the top priority.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Danielle Bergner: Service to clients, service to colleagues and service to community. I am incredibly fortunate to be in a position to serve all three.
WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
Bergner: I’ve always looked up to lawyers who offer as much instruction on life as they do on the law. One that stands out is Dean Howard Eisenberg. I was fortunate to have started my law school education at Marquette under the leadership of Dean Eisenberg. He always stressed that it isn’t good enough to be good lawyers; we also have to be good people. Hearing those words during my first week of law school had a significant impact on how I approached my legal education and my career.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Bergner: Yoga is a great stress reliever and great for overall health. I started taking yoga classes about 10 years ago after suffering for years with neck and shoulder pain. Yoga fixed what no doctor could, which is what made me a believer. As the current board president for local non-profit CORE/El Centro, I advocate for the benefits of yoga and other holistic modalities in improving health outcomes, and work to make those services available to people of all income levels. I am really excited right now about our new partnerships with several major health care organizations and non-profits like Sojourner Family Peace Center that are helping us reach new populations, and helping traditional health care to better understand the value of integrating holistic components into individual care plans. Individual health is necessarily the foundation of organizational health and community health, and so a focus on individual wellness is critically important to any organization or community.
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Bergner: I’ve been told that I can be intimidating, which always surprises me. I am actually very friendly and approachable, but I am serious by nature, which I suspect contributes to this perception.
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Bergner: I walked into the career planning center for my first round of on-campus interviews wearing a brand new suit that I had purchased for the occasion. The woman at the reception desk looked horrified when I walked in. She said, ‘you are wearing pants to an interview?’ She then went on to kindly advise me that skirts were appropriate business attire for women. I told her, that’s nice, but I don’t wear skirts. I can laugh about the absurdity of it now, but at the time it was pretty shocking. I recall this as my ‘favorite’ memory because it was the first time I remember feeling like a disruptor — albeit, inadvertently!
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Bergner: I’m a transactional lawyer, so cases don’t stand out to me as much as deals do. I’ve worked on a lot of fun, complex deals, but it’s a simple purchase and sale transaction in northern Wisconsin that always makes me laugh. It was the week before Thanksgiving and we were up against a hard closing deadline. Of course, that’s deer hunting week. My client’s surveyor sends me a survey with an area labeled ‘area of confusion.’ After a lengthy Abbott and Costello routine between me and the surveyor about who was confused more by the area of confusion, we came up with a solution — but he was already on his way to his deer stand and firm that he could not be diverted. I begged, I pleaded and ultimately I offered him a 12-pack of beer if he could get the survey revised before he headed off into the woods. It worked and we closed. Some things they don’t teach in law school!