ANDREW SHAW was born and raised in northern Minnesota and then lived in various places until settling in Alaska. After working as an insurance adjuster in remote places, he followed a lifelong desire to attend law school and return to northern Minnesota. He graduated from William Mitchell in 1989 and has practiced law throughout northern Minnesota for the past 27 years.
Tell us about your practice, particularly in the areas of real estate and municipality and township law.
I have what I suspect is a traditional rural practice. You wear many hats and know many, many people in the area. Over the years I have gotten them out of jail, divorced, helped them buy and sell property, probated their parent’s estates, and handled most other situations you can think of. The practice is never boring, and you rarely know where the day will take you.
Over the years my practice has become more specialized by phasing out those areas I never liked in the first place, which I suspect most attorneys do. I have always enjoyed all aspects of real property law, and city, township, and business representation. The work is generally proactive and you are dealing with bright, motivated people working toward specific goals. On the flip side of the coin is the absolutely necessary pro bono work that is the daily fare for most rural attorneys, helping out people who really need it, which in the end is perhaps the most satisfying thing I do.
After graduating from law school in the Twin Cities, you started practicing law with your father in the office he established in Deer River in 1950. Did you ever doubt that that was the path you would take?
From my earliest recollection I always had a desire to be an attorney and practice with my father, who used to take me to court when I was young to pass the windshield time driving to various county seats in northern Minnesota. I saw his interaction with other attorneys and judges and realized how much he enjoyed his work and the respect he had in the community. Becoming an attorney was the most natural thing in the world for me and remains so to this day.
What was it like practicing with your father?
It was one of the best experiences of my life. To work with a parent as a professional reveals a person you do not otherwise know growing up in the home. It was also a fantastic learning experience, as he had been actively practicing for 40 years at the time I returned and had much to teach me of the practical side of being a rural lawyer. Not many days go by when I do not wish he was still in the next room, ready to discuss some new matter that walked in that day.
When you face a challenge in your practice, what resources are important to you?
Besides everything you can find online, the most valuable resource is my fellow attorneys. When I began my practice and had questions, I would contact local attorneys versed with the issues and received openhanded, eager assistance at every turn. They would send copies of pleadings, detailed letters of instruction, and warnings of trouble I was about to encounter. The collegiality of attorneys in northern Minnesota has always been outstanding and is a wonderful resource for young attorneys needing a little guidance, or older attorneys facing something new.
You’ve served for a number of years as a district representative on the Council for the MSBA Real Property Law Section and a couple years ago you served on the Legislative Committee. Has involvement with the MSBA been worthwhile?
Serving on the Real Property Section council and participating to a minor degree with the Legislative Committee has given me the opportunity to become acquainted with the most outstanding real property attorneys in Minnesota. They are keenly interested in the issues of the day affecting real property practice, legislation, and that day-to-day minutia that makes our lives interesting. They are also a wonderful resource for guidance and referrals, with comfort in knowing that the referral is being sent to the best possible hands.
Do you have any advice for an attorney considering a law practice in northern Minnesota?
If you can find an older attorney with an established practice or a small firm who will take you in, that is obviously the best course. As I believe there is a diminishing number of private practice attorneys in outstate Minnesota, however, it may also be possible to strike out on your own with guidance from other attorneys in the area and sensible planning. I have seen attorneys hang out a shingle and be very successful. It can be done.