How can someone tell if her advice is held in high regard by her colleagues?
For those who work alongside Suzanne Hagopian, an assistant state public defender in the State Public Defender’s office, the answer is clear.
“It is not uncommon when a thorny issue is being discussed in our office for the conversation to conclude with, ‘Have you asked Suzanne?’” explained Ellen Krahn, a fellow assistant state public defender.
Krahn, along with several others, said that Hagopian — who has worked on criminal appeals for the past 26 years — both acts as a mentor and sets a standard that others try to meet.
During her time as an assistant state public defender, Hagopian has argued more than 20 cases in front of the state Supreme Court.
“As a frequent litigator in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she is literally helping to shape the laws of our state,” assistant state public defender Tristan Breedlove said in nominating Hagopian.
Hagopian said lawyers know that cases argued before the Supreme Court tend to carry great weight and, for that reason, can feel a bit nervous at that level.
“You know that there’s going to be a precedential opinion that could … alter the law either in the way you like or don’t like,” she said.
For these sorts of cases, Hagopian always tells her colleagues to not be afraid to ask for advice from other lawyers, in particular ones whom they respect. And before presenting oral arguments, her office will put together a panel to work through whatever case it plans to make.
Working as a team is especially important in the public defender’s office, Hagopian noted. This goes beyond helping colleagues prepare for big cases and arguments.
“When you do this kind of work where we frankly lose more cases than we win, I think it’s necessary you have a group around you that can help you in the hard times, and that you can also provide support to others,” she said.
And there’s something else Hagopian hopes she can get across to younger people, especially younger women, in her office: It’s important to strike a balance between life and work.
Hagopian has been married since 1986. She has two daughters: Annie, who is out of college; and Natalie, who is a junior in college. She said it’s sometimes hard to balance a heavy caseload with personal and familial responsibilities — but she hopes she can show her younger colleagues how to strike that perfect balance.