JOSEPH LEONI, who received his JD from William Mitchell College of Law, has practiced law for 31 years—the first 15 in the Twin Cities, and the past 16 of them with the Trenti Law Firm in Virginia, Minnesota. He handles civil trial work, with a primary focus on personal injury cases, but also handles criminal and business law. He also volunteers on many community boards and maintains his paramedic license for local and state education seminars and local volunteer work.
What do you find meaningful about representing clients in personal injury cases?
The most meaningful experiences of representing people in personal injury cases is getting to know my clients and their family and helping them in their struggle to live with their permanent change in life. We all hear about car accidents and the phrase “non-life threatening injuries,” and I believe we have become hardened to recognizing that people are truly permanently injured and have life changing experiences from being hit by a ton of steel moving at 55 mph. My clients have taught me more about challenges, life and encouragement than any other job or schooling ever could.
What led you to choose a small firm practice on the Iron Range?
I enjoy practicing in a small community. I also cherish living on the Range. It is humbling to live and work with neighbors, high school friends, friends of my parents, and people of all different demographics. The courthouse is a few blocks from the office. I know all of the court personnel in Virginia and Hibbing. We communicate on a first-name basis.
What do you value in your practice? What aspects of your practice are particularly challenging?
I value the challenge of helping people. I have learned that most people injured by the fault of others don’t want compensation. They want an apology and they want to heal. Many of my clients call me because their insurance company won’t pay a $100 chiropractor bill. They were satisfied to forgive and to heal, but when they are treated with disrespect they become upset and call an attorney.
When you face a challenge, what resources are helpful to you?
The best resources are fellow trial lawyers. Minnesota Association for Justice, formerly known as Minnesota Trial Lawyers, is a valuable resource to contact fellow trial lawyers, to get information and to have a friend in the business. I am certain defense lawyers say the same of their organization. It is amazing that even though we compete for business, everyone who is a member of MNAJ would drop everything to help any lawyer with a business or personal problem. Perhaps it is because all our lives revolve around helping people.
I also appreciate our local community lawyers. They are always there to help. No matter if we are battling in court or at an arbitration, we know at the end of the day we will be shopping and dining and having a brew at the same establishments with similar friends and neighbors. It truly makes practicing in a small town enjoyable and fun.
What activities do you enjoy away from work?
In a small community, work never leaves you. With cell phones and mass media, clients and potential new clients expect instant and continued communication. I don’t mind it at all. In fact, my friends call me “the go-to guy.” I get calls on almost every subject in the book, except mechanical stuff. People ask all sorts of questions and I enjoy helping them.
I also enjoy the ability to golf without making a tee time, hunting on a Wednesday afternoon because it is 50 degrees and the sun is shining, driving 20 miles to the hunting shack or to the lake, being asked to fish by several different people each week, having numerous friends with different interests…. In addition, as an EMT paramedic, I volunteer for the local services and I am asked to lecture at EMS conferences throughout the state.
What advice would you share with a young lawyer today?
My advice to young lawyers is, Find a mentor. My career wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without my mentors: Cortlen Cloutier, John Trenti, Pat Roche, Carver Richards and many more. Find a few great mentors and you will enjoy a long and fun career.