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Jean Brandl
Jean Brandl practices in state and federal courts and is appointed when a conflict precludes federal defender representation. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Defense attorney finds English degree pays off

Name: Jean Brandl

Title: Principal owner, Brandl Law

Education: B.A., English, Mount Holyoke College; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Attorney Jean Brandl loves her criminal law practice. Working to solve clients’ problems and continuing to learn keeps it “fresh and exciting.”

She’s also glad she got her English degree.

“Law is about taking disparate pieces of information and putting them together to create a story,” Brandl said. “I use my English major far more often than I use my law degree.”

Brandl opened her Minneapolis firm six years ago. She previously worked in private practice after moving to the Twin Cities from California, where was a public defender and a deputy district attorney in San Diego

Brandl, a certified criminal law specialist, practices in state and federal courts and is appointed when a conflict precludes federal defender representation.

In the case of her career, Brandl won an acquittal in a California murder case and positive feedback from women jurors annoyed with the judge for his interruptions and criticism of Brandl during the trial.

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

A: Right now I’d have to say talking about politics. Ask me what I think about the political situation and I’ll go on forever.

Q: Why did you study law and pursue it as a career?

A: I had been told jokingly from so many people that I would be a good lawyer. I must like to argue. After I had my English degree I was like, do I want to become an English professor or a lawyer? I decided to go to law school. It seemed a little more practical. Since becoming a lawyer I really have loved being a lawyer.

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

A: I read a lot. That’s my escape. I just finished “Leave the World Behind.” Now I’m reading “Ten Lessons Post-pandemic World.” Next up is “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.”

Q: What’s a pet peeve of yours?

A: People who aren’t what they seem to be. It drives me nuts when people are dishonest.

Q: What do you like best about your work?

A: I love solving problems for people. It’s fun, it’s like solving a puzzle and then feeling like you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life and always learning.

Q: What do you least like about it?

A: Having to convince somebody to hire me. The work itself I really like. But the administrative stuff gets tedious.

Q: What do you like doing away from work?

A: Last year for the first time I started playing as a hockey goalie. There are so many women’s hockey teams in Minnesota. A friend invited me to play and I thought why not? And I have loved it.

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

A: I don’t really have a hometown. I moved around so much. I live in southwest Minneapolis. The creek is right here, the lakes are right here. There’s so much to do whether you walk or bike or swim.

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

A:  [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Sonia Sotomayor. Her story is incredible. She came from poverty and is so brilliant. I am constantly in awe of her intellect and she’s so compassionate too.

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

A:  That we’ll lie to win, that we’ll do anything to win including lying. We’re bound by our oath to not lie or put on lying witnesses. We will fight hard but only within the strictures of the law.

Q: What’s your favorite depiction of the law or the legal profession in popular culture?

A:  For the most part I don’t watch legal shows. It just feels like work. My favorite movie about the law is “My Cousin Vinny.” I think it’s the mockery of the law because it’s funny to make fun of the law.

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