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Daniel Oberdorfer says his experience as a newspaper reporter was “pretty much perfect” preparation for his legal career. (Submitted photo)
Daniel Oberdorfer says his experience as a newspaper reporter was “pretty much perfect” preparation for his legal career. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Courts beat led former reporter to legal career

Name: Daniel Oberdorfer

Title: Partner, Stinson

Education: B.A., history, University of Michigan, J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Daniel Oberdorfer went from covering attorneys as a newspaper reporter on the courts beat to practicing law as a partner at Stinson.

A history major, Oberdorfer never took a journalism class but joined friends working on the school paper.

That led to a summer job at the Star Tribune and then full-time work at the paper. Reporting was “pretty much perfect” preparation for his legal career.

“The two jobs are comparable in a lot of ways because in both you’re gathering information, synthesizing it and communicating it back out in a digestible form,” Oberdorfer said.

Attorneys, of course, represent their client’s viewpoint but even then “you can’t be all spin because you’ll get found out,” Oberdorfer said.

“You have to tell it straight, but you’re going to emphasize the facts that support your point of view,” he continued.

Early on at Stinson, Oberdorfer used his reporting skills to interview dozens of witnesses for an employment case that was heading toward trial, leading to his specialization in employment law.

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

A: Smile and say hello. It’s pretty simple.

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

A: I inched into it. I was covering the courts at the Star Tribune and seeing what some of the really fabulous lawyers in town were accomplishing for their clients and thinking that I might like to do that.

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

A: I just finished “The Time in Between,” a novel by a Spanish writer, Maria Duenas, about the time just before World War II in Spain and Morocco.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: If you ask my legal assistant, I like all my letters to be right justified.

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

A: Working collaboratively with your clients to solve a problem. Oftentimes there will be several of us working together. It’s all that collaboration with the clients and with colleagues that is the real reward.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Particularly when you’re working with an opposing counsel, there are times when things just become bogged down. I much prefer and will often tell my opposing counsel at the beginning of a case I don’t want to have needless disputes.

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

A: I’m kind of a cook. I’ve started for the second or third time to try to learn how to bake bread. I have a long way to go.

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

A: I grew up mostly in Washington, D.C. When I was in high school we lived in Tokyo. I think I would take people would be to a late night ramen stand on the side of the street in Tokyo.

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

A: I clerked for [the late] Judge Donald Lay, on the 8th Circuit. It was a spectacular experience sitting in his chambers and seeing how he thought about cases. He was a big-picture thinker in analyzing the problem from all perspectives and then figuring out what is the right solution keeping in mind the statute, the legal precedent that was to guide.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A: People judge what lawyers do on TV. That’s not at all what we actually do. What we do is detail-oriented. It’s time consuming and is oftentimes about as exciting as watching paint dry. I had a niece come watch me for a day or a half a day because she was thinking of going to law school. In my mind it was kind of an exciting day because I resolved a couple matters that day. At the end of the day I said to her, “So what do you think?” She said, “I think I want to be a veterinarian.”

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