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McClean keeps his competitive edge

Matthew McClean (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Matthew McClean (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The last place business owners want to be is in a courtroom.

Matthew McClean, the chairman of Davis & Kuelthau’s litigation, appellate, commercial-litigation and employment-litigation practices, knows that well.

“When it comes to business disputes – whether it is a small or large business – companies want their problems solved and it’s my job to help them solve it,” he said. “Business owners want to be focused on their business, not a problem. I work hard to identify solutions and help the client get results.”

McClean initially concentrated on business litigation since he liked the competition he found in that particular field and the idea of doing trial work – although he admitted few cases are resolved in courtrooms nowadays.

“There are a wide variety of legal questions that businesses have to deal with,” he said. “I really like the variety. It definitely keeps me on my toes.”

Although he works on a variety of case types, McClean has perhaps the most experience in construction litigation, helping clients deal with everything from breaches of contract to negligence. He has found that no matter the industry, the same questions tend to come up.

“In business litigation, you deal with contract issues, employment and succession issues, whether it is a big business or small business or the industry,” he said.

When possible, McClean tries to negotiate a solution before either side begins discovery, a process that can be costly for all parties involved.

“People who aren’t regularly involved with litigation assume lawyers want to go to trial. And while trials are exciting and a lot of hard work, they are expensive for the client,” he said. “When you have clients who have been involved in litigation before, they know it’s going to be a long slog.”

Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Matthew McClean: Because it is important to the client. There is a real issue that needs to be addressed and the client has come to the lawyer to help solve a problem. Someone has put trust and confidence into me, and I don’t want to let that person down. What makes it fun is the variety of topics I get to learn about and need for different strategies to create the solution.

WLJ: Who is your hero in the legal field?
McClean: My father was a circuit judge in Illinois for almost 25 years and my interest in the profession comes from him. As a judge, (now retired) he is always interested in the cases I’m working on and provides a terrific sounding board on how a court might perceive facts or interpret a legal issue.

WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
McClean: I deal with the stress at home! I have four kids between ages 10 and 6, so there is always plenty of action when I leave the office. At our house, we love sports and movies and s’mores.

WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
McClean: Most people assume a “litigator” or “trial attorney” is in court all the time. Of course, most of the work in litigation is made up of reading and writing in the office. The time to build and prepare a case far exceeds the time to present it. People are surprised by how rarely trials happen these days.

WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
McClean: Balancing the classroom activities with the social demands of St. Patrick’s Day as a 1L. Let’s just say it was a full and fun day.

WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
McClean: I’m not sure this is what the question has in mind, but the O.J. trial. I followed it some while it was happening, and watched the verdict on a 13-inch TV as a college freshman. With the benefit of documentaries on the case and my years of experience now as a lawyer, it is such a remarkable exhibition of case strategy and trial tactics – some very good and some very horrible – and a case that epitomizes the notion of the courtroom as theater. It provides many great lessons for anyone doing trial work.

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