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William L. Roberts joined Faegre Baker Daniels in 1992 after serving as a law clerk for now Senior U.S. District Court Judge Donald D. Alsop. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Deepwater Horizon cases shape litigator’s career

Name: William L. Roberts

Title: Partner, Faegre Baker Daniels

Education: B.A., math, philosophy, University of Kansas; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

William L. Roberts, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, says leading the firm’s representation of thousands of companies in claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the best experience of his career.

“It was rewarding to represent 1,500-plus hardworking commercial fishermen and related businesses down in the Gulf,” Roberts said. “We feel like we got them good results and learned a great deal about complex litigation along the way.”

Roberts and many others from the firm spent “a large chunk” of time in the firm’s temporary Gulf office, which opened in 2010 and only closed a few months ago.

“I gained great respect for how difficult both physically and from a technical perspective commercial fishing as a business can be,” said Roberts, while the Kansas native acquired a greater taste for oysters and other seafood if not the area’s heat and humidity.

Roberts joined the firm in 1992 after serving as a law clerk for now Senior U.S. District Judge Donald D. Alsop.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Walk up to me and say hello.

Q. Why prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. I was inclined to go that direction because my father was a trial lawyer for his profession. I sort of told myself in undergrad school that I’d go to law school unless I found something that I liked a lot better along the way, and I never did.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I’m reading a book called “When Awareness Becomes Natural,” written by a Buddhist monk (Sayadaw U Tejaniya) about the positive effects of meditation. That gets back to my philosophy days, I guess. I have a general interest in that topic and I just happened to have found that book interesting.

Q. What are your most favorite and least favorite aspects of being an attorney or judge?

A. The most favorite is the chance to get to know and interact with interesting people from a variety of walks of life and to help clients solve complex problems. The negative would be the antagonism that can occur in high-stakes litigation. I try to maintain a professional and cordial demeanor as much as possible in the course of litigation. I found that most of the time opposing counsel do as well. But unfortunately things can get contentious at times.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I enjoy playing golf. I enjoy biking and spending time with my family.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. My hometown is Olathe, Kansas. It’s a suburb of Kansas City. I would probably take them to the courthouse in the middle of the town square, spend about 20 minutes in Olathe and then head into the city and take them to a Royals game or to Crown Center for some more interesting entertainment.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most—and why?

A. I have to give special mention to Judge Alsop, who was my mentor for my first two years out of law school. I’ve always had great respect for him. He would be judge I most admire. Judge Alsop is well-known to all his clerks for the Omar Bradley rule: In a nutshell the second-best decision promptly made and vigorously executed is the best decision. In other words make a decision and move forward and don’t dawdle.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney or judge?

A. Probably the biggest misconception of the complex civil litigation practice is people tend to think we’re in court in trial every single day. That’s not the reality. We spend most of our time writing, reading and analyzing issues rather than being on our feet in court. Most of us wish we could be in court more often.

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