Karen Loebel’s first taste of practicing law helped her discover her life’s calling.
Loebel found law school dry until she was placed in Eagle River for eight to 10 weeks as part of the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Prosecution Project.
“I never looked back,” said Loebel. “It was the most fantastic experience in my life. So from that point on all I wanted to do was prosecution.”
And that’s exactly what she’s done for more than two decades.
Loebel kicked off her career as a prosecutor in Eau Claire County. She taught for a year and a half at the UW Law School’s criminal defense project before moving to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. There, she prosecuted misdemeanors, spent time in the felony drug unit, then took on homicide cases before moving into more administrative roles.
“What I love about prosecution is the public service aspect,” she said. “We have the opportunity to really affect the lives in the community.”
But the work also has some difficulties.
“I have prosecuted people who will never leave prison,” Loebel said. “That’s a moment you can celebrate because you know the community is safe. But it’s also a moment you have to mourn because it’s the ultimate failure because we as a community let that happen.”
Her duties as a deputy district attorney include managing lawyers in the Violent Crimes and High Intensity Drug Trafficking units for the Milwaukee County DA’s Office and overseeing the office’s internship program.
Loebel noted that she’s been fortunate that in the DA offices where she’s worked, one goal has been to make sure defendants are treated fairly even as she and her colleagues fight for the interests of society at large. She said she makes it a point to instill a sense of justice in the young prosecutors she coaches.
“I believe that so strongly,” she said. “I hope when I’m done with my career that I’ve been able to give that sense of right to other people.”
One of the biggest influences on her career has been Dane County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Berz, who was Loebel’s mentor and role model in her first job out of law school. Berz was then an assistant prosecutor in Eau Claire County.
“Ellen really took me under her wing and taught me prosecution the way she did prosecution, and that probably had a significant impact on my life,” Loebel said. “The outlook I developed on humanity and the criminal justice system, I credit to Ellen.”
Beyond the everyday struggles that come with being a prosecutor, Loebel has survived two bouts of cancer, one of which happened when she was still a teenager and the other in 2016.
“I had a lot of support and love and attention that a lot of 14 year olds don’t have,” Loebel said. “When I was diagnosed in 2016, it was a total surprise. … It’s made me so, so grateful for my family, my friends, my job.”
Not many people can find their life’s calling at a young age. But that’s exactly what Karen Loebel found while still in college at the UW Law School.
Since the moment she decided the prosecution side of the table was for her, she has worked tirelessly to serve the public. She continues to affect lives in the community every day during her more than two decades as a prosecutor.
Due to her outstanding service in the Milwaukee County DA’s Office and her personal struggles in the form of two bouts with cancer, the Association for Women Lawyers Board of Directors has selected Loebel as the 2018 Woman of the Year.
AWL is the Wisconsin Law Journal’s event partner in these annual Women in the Law awards. Loebel was selected as the Wisconsin Law Journal’s Woman of the Year out of 23 very deserving and qualified candidates.
In selecting this year’s recipient of the prestigious award, the criteria considered were:
Excellence shown in a legal career and the ways in which a particular candidate has set an example that inspires other women to take up the law as a profession;
Ways in which a candidate opened up doors for women lawyers in fields that were historically closed to women; and
Ways in which a candidate served her profession or community in a manner that has benefited the legal profession as a whole.
AWL judges felt that Loebel fit all the criteria, along with standing out in various other ways. According to the judges:
“Karen A. Loebel has not only consistently achieved excellence in her career, but she has overcome significant obstacles to do so. A two-time cancer survivor, Karen successfully beat cancer while continuing her work to protect our community. Even while dealing with her diagnosis, Karen continued to work, mentor and teach others.”
Loebel is a deputy district attorney in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. In addition to her present assignment as a deputy, she has also been a Drug Unit Team captain, has been cross designated as a Special Assistant United States Attorney and was also assigned to the Homicide Unit, where she successfully prosecuted many complex homicide cases. She was one of the first women to hold many of these prestigious roles.
In addition to her work as a prosecutor, she also has taught at both the University of Wisconsin Law School and the Marquette Law School.
“Through this, as well as her work mentoring and working with interns and new prosecutors in the DA’s office, Karen has impacted an almost incalculable number of young attorneys,” the AWL judges wrote.
Congratulations to Karen Loebel and all of this year’s Women in the Law award-winners.