About 2-1/2 years into her career at the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, Kaitlin Lamb decided she wanted to argue a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Colleen Ball was the first supervisor Lamb approached with her ambition. To get Lamb’s feet wet, Ball assigned her to what was supposed to be a five-minute oral argument in a case in which the SPD had filed an amicus brief. But the justices ended up grilling Lamb for at least 20 minutes.
“She didn’t just get her feet wet, she got dunked!” said Ball.
Since then, Lamb has become a mainstay in front of the justices. By Ball’s count, Lamb has argued more cases to the high court than any other lawyer at the SPD, including appellate lawyers who have between two and three decades of experience.
“I attribute her early success to the fact that she has X-ray vision for spotting good issues to appeal, she’s a tenacious legal researcher, and she has an exceptional work ethic — first one in, last one out, day-after-day, even on weekends,” Ball said. “She’s truly impressive.”
Criminal appeals weren’t always on Lamb’s radar. She did, however, always enjoy research and writing. She completed her undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at Marquette University while working in a neuroscience lab. When she headed to law school at that same campus, she said she thought she would use her research and writing abilities in practicing patent law.
But a stint with the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Innocence Project steered her toward criminal appeals. Not only does the work let Lamb write and research to her heart’s content, but she can continually use her training in science.
Lamb said that what she enjoys most about arguing cases to the justices is that it gives her an opportunity to help not only a client but also dozens of others.
“I have an opportunity to develop and shape the law,” she said. “That could also help other people in Wisconsin.”
But Lamb emphasizes that although she’s the only one at the podium, there’s also a great deal of work coming from her colleagues.
“I do think that my ability to get to the Wisconsin Supreme Court is more of a testament to the people I work with,” she said. “I feel like people always see the argument but don’t think about all the hours I spend talking to people about the issues.”