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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Meet Thomas Winters: ‘I fell in love with the community’

THOMAS P. WINTERS is a general practitioner at Ramstad, Skoyles & Winters in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where his practice is focused mostly on estate planning and probate. A 2009 graduate of William Mitchell College of Law, he and his wife, Erin Winters, have a one-year-old son and another child on the way. 

Tell us about your career path after you graduated from law school in 2009.

After I graduated law school, I began working doing document review in the metro area. I grew up in a smaller community and ultimately wanted to end up back there. I began to meet with and interview solo practitioners in rural areas of the state. The overwhelming advice I received from rural attorneys was to try to find an attorney that was approaching retirement age, learn under them for a period of time, and ultimately have a plan to take over their business. I met with Dennis Schurman in Detroit Lakes, who had been practicing for over 30 years in the community. I had never been to Detroit Lakes, so I visited multiple times to get a feel for the community. I fell in love with it and decided to make the move. I took over his firm in 2011. In July of 2016, I merged with Charlie Ramstad and Karen Skoyles in town to form my current firm of Ramstad, Skoyles & Winters. This firm has been a staple in the community since 1908.

What resources have helped you meet challenges as you build your professional life and practice?

The greatest thing about being in a smaller, rural community is the amount of help that is readily accessible to a young attorney. When I arrived in the community, a lot of the area attorneys reached out and let me know they were available to answer questions I had. They were always very helpful.

The other resource I used a lot to build my practice was to volunteer in the community. I am very active in the community and it has been instrumental in helping to get my face out there and meet people. It has done a lot more for my practice than any amount of advertising could have done.

What aspects of your practice do you find the most meaningful?

The aspect I find most meaningful is the fact of helping people through their problems and issues. In the estate planning field, it is rewarding to work with families and help them protect the assets that they’ve worked their entire life for so the items can be passed down to their heirs. Second,
it’s a great feeling to reach a conclusion or to get an answer to a problem. Oftentimes a legal problem feels like a puzzle that needs solving. It is satisfying to help your clients solve the puzzle—and selfishly gratifying to know you are the one that solved it.

What is the best advice you have received as an attorney?

“Sometimes the best cases you have are the ones you decline.” As a young attorney trying to build my practice, I would often feel the need to represent any client who walked in the door. Many times, I would find myself then stuck with a case in which it was impossible to reach a conclusion or with an unhappy client who started with unreasonable expectations. An experienced attorney once told me the above quote and it is probably the most truthful advice I’ve heard in my career. To new attorneys, I’d say, do not feel like you have to take every case. If your gut is telling you that you maybe shouldn’t touch it, don’t. Most times, you will be very happy with the decision you’ve made.

You have been an active volunteer since your youth. How have your volunteer activities influenced your work as an attorney?

My volunteer work has done wonders for growing my business. It gets me in front of people and the community and has been instrumental in introducing me to many business owners, politicians, and influential people in the community. Additionally, it has shown the community that I’m serious about the area and willing to stick around. Finally, it has made me appreciate the community I live in a lot more. It allows me to know the people and have a personal attachment to a lot of my cases. It has made me a lot more passionate about the work I’m doing, because I personally know the people involved.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Aside from being an attorney, I am also on the Detroit Lakes Volunteer Fire Department.

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