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Ryan Osterholm, attorney at Pritzker Hageman, with a handful of pumpkin seeds. (File photo: Bill Klotz)
Ryan Osterholm, attorney at Pritzker Hageman, with a handful of pumpkin seeds. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Science, law merge in food-borne illness practice

Name: Ryan Osterholm

Title: Partner, Pritzker Hageman

Education: B.A., political science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Ryan Osterholm’s food-borne illness litigation practice combines his “medical family background” and long-time interest in the law.

Majoring in political science fueled an interest in legal issues dating to Osterholm’s youth. His father, Michael, is the noted epidemiologist while his mother is a nurse practitioner and his sister a physician.

“The intersection of these two is like a match made in heaven for me,” Osterholm said. “It’s like [being] a kind of science detective but also getting to do it in court.”

Osterholm, a partner at Pritzker Hageman in Minneapolis, is one of few attorneys in the country who has built a national practice in food-borne illnesses.

“There’s so much you need to learn about the science,” Osterholm said. “Not that many people have gone down that rabbit hole, and I happen to be one of them.”

That also might be true of his primary hobby: growing giant pumpkins.

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

A. A lot of my conversations tend to gravitate toward food-borne illness and growing giant pumpkins.

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

A. I’ve always been very interested in the law and advocacy and the process. As a political science major at the University of Wisconsin, I got exposed to the law. I had an interest in this ever since I was a child and took a leap of faith and decided to give it a go.

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

A. “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker. It was on Bill Gates’ reading list. I’m a big fan of Bill Gates. I don’t think people realize what the Gates Foundation has done for worldwide public health. This is a book about optimism. You watch the news and everything is so negative. People have some valid concerns. But if you look at it on a broad sense, what this book is about is that humans have made tremendous progress whether it’s health or wars or environment, happiness or rights. Progress from 100 years ago is absolutely immense. I like it because I would consider myself an optimistic person. Things are getting better. You don’t take it for granted but you have to keep that in mind.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Not following through with what you said you’re going to do. You need to count on people in all aspects of your life.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. Problem solving. The evolution of a case, cracking the case and in the end helping people. Some of these people have gone through terrible things and they have a ton of medical bills.

Q. Least favorite?

A. The stress of the job. There’s a lot of people counting on you. Most attorneys especially litigators wake up at night sometimes thinking of stuff.

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

A. My giant pumpkin growing. I don’t have a lot of free time with my job and my kids, but I’ve got another pumpkin going this year. Probably about 700 or 800 pounds right now.

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

A. My partners and the founder of our firm Fred Pritzker. He’s a pioneer in this area of law. David Ernst at Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland, Oregon. When he defends cases we’re adversaries, but he taught me that just because we’re legal adversaries doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be nasty or unnecessarily litigate things.

Q. What if any is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in popular culture (books, films, TV)?

A. I’ve read a few Grisham books. I did just watch “Goliath,” which I highly recommend. It resonated with me. It’s Billy Bob Thornton. It’s a little like “Erin Brockovich.” He’s one-man show going up against this big corporation that has all the money and tactics in the world and gets justice.

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