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Signe Land
Signe Land

Breaking the Ice: Memoir to revisit practicing law while autistic

Name: Signe Land

Title: Self-employed

Education: B.A., creative writing, St. Olaf College; MFA, creative writing, University of Minnesota; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

Signe Land, formerly with Stinson, is writing a memoir about the challenges of working as an attorney and undiagnosed autistic woman.

Land, diagnosed in November 2018, was unaware she was autistic when she joined the former Leonard, Street & Deinard in 2005.

A published poet and writer, Land anticipates publication of her memoir next year.

After leaving the firm in 2008 because of health issues, Land has used her legal training to run her late father’s oil and mineral businesses and manage family real estate.

Land loved the firm and her co-workers, but marketing to bring in clients was exhausting because she is autistic. More flexible work arrangements could benefit the profession, she said.

“Firms’ bottom lines could be improved by letting go of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model and moving toward a model where people’s individual skills are leveraged,” Land said. “This could benefit all employees, not just autistic employees.”

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

A: While I have learned to do “small talk,” I am also very comfortable diving into questions. I’m very direct and don’t mind getting down to business.

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

A: I taught creative writing at the University of Minnesota and then taught at St. Olaf. Teaching adjunct writing didn’t do much to pay the bills though, and I yearned to challenge myself more academically, so I decided to go to law school.

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

A: Rene Denfeld’s “The Butterfly Girl”; Carlo Rovelli, “The Order of Time”; Susan Cain, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”; Leslie Marmon Silko, “Ceremony”; Steve Silberman, “Neurotribes”; and a Spanish grammar book.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: It can be difficult when well-meaning people say: “You can’t possibly be autistic! You don’t look autistic — you look so normal!” I found this troubling but now I take the opportunity to gently dispel myths about autism. First and foremost many autistic people have perfected the art of “masking.” We can make eye contact, make small talk and generally blend into the neurotypical crowd. However, this can be incredibly exhausting.

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

A: I love solving problems and researching so if I need to form a legal argument based on statutes and precedent I go at it until I solve the problem, create several alternate arguments and eliminate all counter arguments.

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

A: I read and I’m also a published writer.

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

A: The Gangster Museum of America in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Also, the Wednesday Night Poetry Readings there.

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

A: Eileen Roberts, a professor at William Mitchell while I was there, was one of the best teachers I ever had.

Hugh Maynard at Leonard Street & Deinard taught me so much about practicing commercial real estate law.

Joseph Finley, managing partner at LS&D while I was there, took time out to mentor me.

Chuck Hoyum, executive vice-president, chief underwriting counsel at Old Republic National Title Insurance Company, was kind enough to mentor me.

John Ophaug, in Northfield, the first attorney I worked for, taught me patience and precision.

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

A: That, based on TV, the work is glamorous and dramatic. I love my work because it is the opposite of that.

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

A: I love the episode of “Star Trek: Next Generation” titled, “Measure of a Man.” Captain Picard, acting as legal representative of the android known as Data, makes a case based on legal precedent that Data, as a sentient and arguably a “living” being, should have the same legal rights as humans do.

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