By JIMMY NESBITT
Wisconsin Law Journal
Crystal Banse is a former captain in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, where she served for six years as a judge advocate. She spent time at the state level as well, working as a prosecutor and later assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin.
Though those experiences working in government were satisfying, Banse said deciding to strike on her own and start a private practice has been even more rewarding.
She founded Banse Law in 2017 at her kitchen table, starting with a handful of clients and building up from there.
Banse, who also provides freelance legal support, recently spoke to The Law Journal about her favorite part of being a lawyer and some of the highs and lows that come with the job. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: Why did you become a lawyer?
A: I decided to go to law school when I was in my last year at business school at UW Milwaukee. I had a business law class taught by an actual lawyer. It was in the evening, and he was really interesting, and I knew I wanted to get an advanced degree, but I wasn’t really sure what to do. I really thought business and law would be a good mix so that was my initial reason for going to law school. Then throughout law school was when the economy kind of tanked and so the job opportunities for business lawyers and things like that were few and far between. In law school I had the opportunity to do work with the Wisconsin Innocence Project which, really planted a seed for public service in my head, so once I did that, I really focused on doing a lot toward public service.
Q: What was it like stepping out and starting your own practice?
A: I’ve had the pleasure of working in small, medium and large environments. The military — while not a law firm in a traditional sense — is the largest law firm in terms of lawyers in the country so I’ve definitely had to deal with multiple personalities and things like that. But I would say that those experiences gave me the confidence to be able to strike out on my own. I love to be able to control the direction the firm is going, the types of clients I serve, the types of hours I work, the cases I take. It really gives me the freedom to continually evolve.
Q: What are some of the highs and lows you’ve experienced with private practice?
A: There are definitely times during the first year where I was like, ‘Oh my God. I have no idea what I’m doing.’When I started this firm, it wasn’t like I was planning to leave my firm and had this plan in place or something like that. It just kind of happened after the military. I was trying to decide what to do and that just really fell into place, and it worked out really well.
I think the overall high is building my reputation and seeing the results of that. My business has been built almost exclusively on referrals. I don’t do advertising online. I do have a social media presence, but we post things that are relevant to the firm — it’s not like ads or anything like that. I think a lot of people get into this profession to help people, and I I like doing that. Even if it’s a minor issue, it’s very rewarding.
Q: What’s your favorite part of being a lawyer?
A: My favorite part about being a lawyer is being able to problem solve or help people get on the right direction. Shortly after I left the military, I was working directly with a client who was trying to get inpatient mental health treatment for the PTSD that they were suffering from because of a very violent crime that happened to them. This person was really struggling, and we were able to somehow get that person into the treatment facility. It wasn’t in the same state, but we were able to coordinate. That person reached out to me after I had left the military and said that if that had not happened, they wouldn’t be here anymore. It was very touching. Any time I can help somebody get the help they need it truly feeds my soul.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to someone who was thinking about starting their own practice?
A: Definitely listen to your gut. There are so many resources out there — free online resources — to take advantage of. I’m in a couple Facebook groups that are totally free where people just offer tons of advice. I didn’t see those when I first started. Reach out to small solo attorneys in your area or practice area or maybe somebody you went to school with and talk to them, and see what it’s like owning your own firm and being a solo practitioner.