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Amanda Cialkowski
Amanda Cialkowski was named Nilan Johnson Lewis president in January, the second female president at what last year became one of the country’s largest certified women-owned law firms. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: New NJL president gains additional honors

Amanda Cialkowski’s selection as Nilan Johnson Lewis’ new president adds to recent honors for the corporate trial lawyer and firm shareholder.

Cialkowski was named NJL president in January, the second female president at what last year became one of the country’s largest certified women-owned law firms, with 64 attorneys and 114 total employees. Her predecessor, Heidi Christianson, remains as a board member and shareholder.

In February, Cialkowski was inducted as a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Fellowship is extended by invitation only and involves a rigorous vetting process. Membership is limited to 1% of a state’s lawyer population, according to the College.

Cialkowski also this year received the Mary Massaron Award for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession from the Defense Research Institute.

Cialkowski attributed her trial success in part to storytelling skills developed while teaching at the University of Illinois law school before joining NJL in 2000.

Name: Amanda Cialkowski

Title: president, shareholder, Nilan Johnson Lewis

Education: B.A., psychology, Carleton College; J.D., University of Oregon Law School

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Family is super important to me, so asking about my family or talking about their own family is a great way to start a conversation. I am married. We have two daughters who are 13 and 16. The older one just got her driver’s license and is thinking about college. The younger one is figuring out how she can be a Division 1 Ultimate Frisbee player.

Q: Why law school?

A: I was a psychology major and really enjoyed psychology. But to go into grad school, I needed to be much more focused. I had student loans coming due and I thought, well, law school! And off I went. It’s been a really good marriage of the disciplines.

Q: What are you reading?

A: I am bingeing crime novels, alternating between John Sanford and Patricia Cornwell.

Q: Pet peeve?

A: Being late. It drives me bonkers when I’m late or when anyone’s late. I’m sort of the if you’re five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Learning about different things. Being involved in complex litigation, each new case brings something completely different. I’ve learned about home security systems, heaters and boilers and ethanol plants, you name it. It keeps me engaged and always learning.

Q: Most challenging?

A: The sacrifices that can come with it, particularly when you’re in trial. I had to wean my younger daughter to go out of state for a three-week jury trial. Overall, the job provides extraordinary flexibility. It’s worth it but there are those moments on Thanksgiving where you’re like, I’d really rather not be working right now.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: Anything outdoors. In the winter, I’m part of a curling club. Or just being out on the water or hiking in the summer.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: My best friend from high school, who was an Australian foreign exchange student, will visit this spring. I’ll definitely take her to Minnehaha Falls. I love going to the falls, going to Sea Salt to eat on the patio. It’s just such a pretty place and so close to the city.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: One is Morris Dees, with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work?

A: I’m sure this is driven by TV, but the idea that there’s going to be some quick resolution, I can file a lawsuit and get a check all quick and easy, that is not the case. Litigation tends to be a slog. When people say, should I sue, I’m a very careful counselor, because it will take up a lot of your time and energy. You need to be clear on why you would want to do that.

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

A: “My Cousin Vinny.” There are actually some really good pointers in it.

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