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John Degnan
John Degnan

Breaking the Ice: A ‘fortunate one,’ veteran serves veterans (pro bono)

Name: John Degnan

Title: Shareholder, Briggs

Education: B.A., psychology and speech communication, University of Minnesota; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

Long nights as an Army officer in Vietnam afforded John Degnan time to affirm his decision to apply to law school when he returned.

“I was one of the fortunate ones,” Degnan said. “That’s the reason I do a fair amount of pro bono for veterans.”

A fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Degan serves on its national committee of attorneys working to address delays in veterans’ disability claims. He also has handled cases for veterans through Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

A Briggs shareholder specializing in business litigation, Degnan has been working on e-discovery issues for more than a decade. He served on the Minnesota E-Discovery Working Group, which developed best practices, and is co-editor of the Minnesota CLE E-Discovery Deskbook.

“I see it as a benefit to my clients but also to the profession,” Degnan said of his e-discovery focus.

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

A: If I’m talking to anyone in the context of the practice, probably the best way is to say, “What are you working on?” I always like to throw out a quick couple of sentences on a case. I use it oftentimes to get the reaction to see if my theory really makes sense. … I love sports as well so if it’s anything about sports particularly locally.

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

A: I was always interested in being a lawyer. I had an uncle, John Pierro, who was a lawyer and a very nice guy. I helped him out a few times around his office and I thought that looked like a pretty good way to live your life.

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

A: The one that I enjoyed the most recently is by Tom Friedman, “Thank You for Being Late.” It gives you hope because it talks about all of the problems we have politically and in general and yet he ultimately says we’ll be OK because the community of people will help resolve the troubling issues.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: The lack of civility, not just in the law but also on the political scene.

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

A: Litigation and trial work is enjoyable because I love the human interaction, whether it’s preparing for trial or in the courtroom.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Being stuck in the office too much rather than being out in discovery or in court.

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

A: Spending time with my wife, Barb, on Marco Island in the winter. It’s such a relaxing place, one of few in Florida that’s not overcrowded. I also enjoy golf.

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

A: Early in my career I had two great mentors — Charlie Bassford and Greer Lockhart. They were great lawyers and great people. Now Sam Hanson is one of my partners and I admire him too. [U.S. District Court] Judge Ann Montgomery is a model for how a judge should treat everyone involved in the court process.

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

A: There’s so much negativity about lawyers generally. It is great when the reaction when say you’re a lawyer is, “You seem so nice, though.”

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in popular culture?

A: One is “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the film and the book. One of other my favorites is an old film, “Witness for the Prosecution,” with Charles Laughton as a barrister. His cross-examination of Marlene Dietrich is a model. He caught her in a lie and said, “Now one more question: Were you lying then, are you lying now or are you not in fact just a chronic and habitual liar?”

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