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Before law school, Bradford Colbert worked at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. (File photo)
Before law school, Bradford Colbert worked at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. (File photo)

Breaking the Ice: Inspired ‘to work with people who needed help’

Name: Bradford Colbert

Title: Director of the Clinical Program, director of the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners (LAMP) clinic, Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Education: B.S., political science and economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

Brad Colbert’s experience before he went to law school — working in an emergency shelter for children — has helped shape his public defense focus of more than three decades.

Colbert held dual roles as an assistant state public defender and director of the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners (LAMP) clinic at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Last summer he went full time at Mitchell Hamline, where he teaches courses including criminal law and continues running the LAMP clinic, in which students represent incarcerated people in civil legal matters.

Before law school, Colbert worked at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. The home, which Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis operates, is for children removed from a crisis, abuse or neglect.

“It inspired me to work with people who needed help,” Colbert said. “It was a sense of working with the kind of people that no one else wants to work with. I always liked that idea.”

That notion, once he got to law school, led Colbert to decide he wanted to work with people who had been incarcerated.

Colbert also works with Mitchell Hamline’s Re-Entry Clinic, in which students under supervision provide legal representation to incarcerated people transition from prison back into society. The clinic expanded in September with a $145,000 grant from the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundations, according to the school.

Jon Geffen, who had been running that clinic, is now its full-time director, Colbert said.

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

A: Ask me about my daughters. I can talk about them forever and a day. Or you could complain about the criminal justice system, and I would happily join right in.

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

A: “Daisy Jones and the Six,” a delightfully fun read; “Shotgun Lovesongs,” if you love Bon Iver); and “These Truths,” a history of the United States that has been on my bedside table for a long time.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: When the Department of Corrections insists upon referring to my clients as “offender” as in “Offender Johnson would like to schedule a phone call with you.” It’s completely unnecessary and gratuitously mean-spirited.

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

A: My clients, my students, and my colleagues at the public defender’s office and the law school.

Q: Least favorite?

A: That the problems that were problems when I first started practicing are still problems, and may in fact be getting worse.

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

A: Live music. I like going to the clubs, to the smaller venues. Mostly rock ’n’ roll if you were to ask me a genre but I’m fairly catholic with a small “c” in my case. People of my generation love Bruce Springsteen. Molly Maher that is my local hero.

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

A: During the day, the obvious ones — the Walker Sculpture Garden, the Stone Arch Bridge and the Guthrie. At night, the equally obvious ones — First Avenue, the Turf Club and Palmer’s.

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

A: The late great Larry Hammerling, who was the chief appellate public defender for a long time. He was just an amazing person — so smart, so kind, and so much integrity.

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

A: That attorneys are in court all the time.

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

A: “Hill Street Blues.” That seemed like the first realistic depiction, although I didn’t understand anything at that time because I watched it before I got involved in the law. I haven’t watched it again and no idea if it holds up.

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