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Rachel Tierney and the Civil Division’s 15 attorneys serve as general counsel to St. Paul’s public officials. (Submitted photo)
Rachel Tierney and the Civil Division’s 15 attorneys serve as general counsel to St. Paul’s public officials. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Resolving capital city’s controversies

Name: Rachel Tierney

Title: Deputy city attorney, Civil Division, city of St. Paul

Education: B.A., political science; Minnesota State University Moorhead; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law


Rachel Tierney represents St. Paul in some of the capital city’s highest-profile issues, from coordinated trash collection to the Ford site redevelopment, as deputy city attorney supervising the Civil Division of the City Attorney’s Office.

Tierney and the division’s 15 attorneys serve as general counsel to the city’s elected officials, departments and boards and commissions.

“That’s part of the fun of it,” Tierney said of the variety. “There’s always a learning opportunity. In some ways it’s a puzzle to put together. But it’s also, ‘How should we do this better next time?’”

Tierney clerked in the office’s criminal division during her third year of law school, got hired as a prosecutor in 1999 and moved to the civil division in 2005.

“Our job is to help problem-solve, not necessarily just give legal advice but to help problem-solve with an understanding of what the legal parameters are,” Tierney said.


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

A: Ask me about my kids. I have a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old. They’re fabulous.

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

A: I’m not one of those lawyers who got a degree in political science because I was positive I was going to go to law school. I thought about being some sort of political person. Not a politician but like a chief of staff. I’m interested in the history of law, how it was created and the way the constitution was written.

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

A: I’ve been trying to read the book on Alexander Hamilton for about three years.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: One thing that drives me most crazy is when we fail to learn lessons we should have learned. When I see the same mistake happen again I get really frustrated. I just consider that a failure. We need to fix the problems that we know about.

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

A: The colleagues. We have a strong team. One of my favorite things is sitting in a room with smart people solving complicated problems.

Q: Least favorite?

A: It can get busy and stressful. It can be hard to have a day where it’s not on your mind.

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

A: My husband and I and our kids like concerts, particularly outdoor concerts. We like to go ice-skating particularly on an outdoor rink when it’s not too cold.

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

A: I’m from Fargo and haven’t been back in a long time. I’d probably head downtown. It used to be kind of a cool place to be and I hear that it’s cool again.

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

A: There were two district court judges I appeared in front of when I was a prosecutor, women whom I admired and still admire: Judge Wilhelmina Wright, who is now on the 8th Circuit bench; she’s a wonderful example of what it should be like to be in the courtroom; and (retired) Judge Paulette Flynn, a great example of the kind of a disposition I think you should have in this profession.

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

A: There’s a misconception about government lawyers in general that we don’t work as hard, that this is the easy kind of law to practice. I don’t think that’s true.

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

A: I love the movie “A Few Good Men.” It bears little resemblance to the actual practice of law but that courtroom scene with Jack Nicholson was amazing.


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