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Sonja Beddow
Sonja Beddow

Breaking the Ice: Pro bono work expands during pandemic lull

Name: Sonja (Sunny) Beddow

Title: Associate, Ballard Spahr

Education: B.A., history, University of British Columbia; J.D., Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Ballard Spahr associate Sonja (Sunny) Beddow increased her existing pro bono service representing foster children and immigration clients when the pandemic slowed her commercial real estate practice.

Those expanded pro bono commitments earned Beddow a 2021 Excellence Award last month from the Hennepin County Bar Association.

When the pandemic curtailed training for new volunteer attorneys, Beddow took an additional case for the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, which provides free legal advocacy for foster care youth.

Pursuing a long-standing interest in immigration law, Beddow helped free from detention a client whose HIV diagnosis put him at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus while in custody. She also assists asylum seekers with their applications.

Now her real estate practice is “insanely booming.” Beddow enjoys seeing projects she’s worked on.

“Lawyers, we don’t create anything except paperwork and trouble most of the time, which I certainly do,” Beddow said. “I create a lot of paperwork and probably a little trouble.”

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: I’m pretty chatty, so the best way to start a conversation is just to say hi. Even if you’re shy, I’ll probably take it from there. It’s been a lonely year for an extrovert but I think we’re turning the corner.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: My dad was a family law referee for 30 years and a solo practitioner before that. He enjoyed his job, and that made an impact on me as a kid thinking, “I’ve got to work; I might as well find something I enjoy.” What he would say, and what I have found to be true, is that practicing law allows you to keep learning your entire career.

Q: Books you’re reading?

A: My favorites now are Bill Bryson and Sarah Vowell. I just read by Sarah Vowell, “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.” “At Home” was the last one that I read by Bill Bryson.

Q: Pet peeve?

A: Running in sand or trying to in the sand.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: I like my co-workers. I like my clients. I even like the lawyers on the other side. It’s a job that makes me happy.

Q: Least favorite?

A: I don’t love the administrative side of being a lawyer, entering your time, reviewing invoices and submitting expense reports and things like that.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: Hiking with my family. I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. My husband and I invested in good hiking backpacks for carrying kids. Now my almost 4-year-old is a pretty good hiker herself, so that helps.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: My hometown is St. Paul and I just moved back to the ZIP code I grew up in, which is crazy. I would probably take them down to Crosby Farm to do a little light hiking and along the [Mississippi] river. It’s so beautiful and powerful.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: The late Justice Rosalie Wahl [the first woman to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court]. For everything she did and accomplished, she just seemed to have been a humble, hardworking and loving person.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?

A: A lot of people think lawyers just go to court and forget that there is a whole different kind of lawyer that exists. And, frankly, nobody who’s not a lawyer really knows what my job is.

Q: Favorite novel, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: I bought a book when I first started law school at a garage sale for a dollar or two, a big hardcover called “Great American Trials.” It’s chronological so they have the Salem witch trials and O.J. Simpson but there’s tons of ones in between. There’s just so much information about all these things that are intertwined in the history of our country.


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