Hugh Mulligan served as a law clerk at Minnesota Construction Law Services while in his third year at William Mitchell College of Law. After receiving his JD degree last year, he passed the Minnesota Bar exam on his first attempt and was sworn in on October 30. We talked with the young Minneapolis resident about how he got interested in business law and why he chose to develop his promising career at Minnesota Construction Law Services.
What were your career goals when you pursued your undergraduate degree in Communications at Marquette?
Growing up in Massachusetts, I was obsessed with professional sports. Baseball cards, starting lineup action figures, the whole deal. Part of what fueled my interest was how sports were covered, which meant many days reading the sports page and watching ESPN. I wanted to turn my passion into a profession so I went to Marquette with the intention of being at ESPN someday.
While in college I worked as the sports director for the college television station and turned an internship into a part-time sports producing job at the local ABC affiliate in Milwaukee. Those experiences actually soured me on the profession, even though the people I worked for and with were awesome. At the end of the day, I was too much of a fan to cover sports with no passion, which is what I noticed happened to many of the professionals I met.
How did you end up working in the Marquette admissions office after you got your undergrad degree?
While attending Marquette, I worked as a campus tour guide and really enjoyed it. I had a great experience there, so showing people around campus was a natural fit. The admissions office was in charge of tours. The staff was small so I interacted with everybody when I wasn’t giving tours. As my interest in sports broadcasting waned, an admissions counselor position became a more attractive option because I would be able to continue to promote Marquette on a much wider scale. Upon graduation, a couple of counselor positions opened up and I was lucky to land one of them.
When and why did you decide to pursue a law degree?
I always had an interest in law as it really is everywhere in pop culture. TV shows like “Law and Order” and movies like “A Few Good Men” are prime examples. I also paid attention to larger trials in the national news. Once things started getting serious with my girlfriend (now wife), she encouraged me to apply to law school. I took the LSAT the summer of 2011 and sent out applications for the fall 2012 enrollment cycle.
How did you think you would use your law degree when you enrolled in law school?
I knew going in that I wanted to actively practice law. I am comfortable with public speaking and enjoy the back and forth of a court setting. Outside of that I was pretty wide open to most areas of practice.
While in law school, I clerked at a personal injury firm in the summer of 2013 and was an extern for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for the spring of 2014. I learned a lot from my clerkship at the PI firm but realized it was not for me. While externing, I had the chance to observe court appearances and read motions, which I enjoyed much more. I took the Business Organizations course in the summer of 2014 and that really helped narrow my focus to actively pursue business law.
What attracted you to business law as you began to take classes? How did you demonstrate your interest in business law during law school?
It was really taking business law classes that attracted me to business law. After their first year at Mitchell, students have a good deal of independence creating their course schedules. Part of my plan was to take as many courses as possible on potential bar exam subjects. That included Corporations. Mitchell’s Business Organizations class covers partnerships, LLCs, and corporations.
I really enjoyed the Business Organizations class taught by Professor Leanne Fuith, the director of Mitchell’s Center for Law and Business. I also took Professor Fuith’s Transactions and Settlements class the very next semester. Over time, via some assignment reviews and general after class discussions, Professor Fuith learned that my wife and I were expecting a daughter in October of 2014. With this constant talking point, we kept in touch. By the end of the Transactions and Settlements course I had taken a serious interest in business law and applied to be part of the Law and Business externship that Professor Fuith oversees. Professor Fuith and Bill Gschwind had been classmates at Mitchell. My application for the externship ended up in Bill’s hands. The rest is history.
How has William Mitchell prepared you to get right to work for your MNCLS clients?
Mitchell’s slogan is “A degree in practical wisdom.” The college offers many opportunities to get a feel for what its like to be in front of a judge or jury and what to expect when working with clients. The WRAP and Advocacy classes teach students how to hone their writing and get comfortable defending their work. I also took a practicum course my final semester that has exercises in settlement conferences, plea deals, motion practice, and a full jury trial with community volunteers as jurors.
I can’t speak to how other law schools prepare their students, but I can say I feel ready for just about anything as I begin practice. Plus, Mitchell did a nice job teaching me what resources to consult if I don’t know or can’t find an answer right away.
You are working for a small law firm that caters to small businesses. How does this suit you?
Working for a small firm that caters to small businesses is exactly what I am looking for as I begin practice. My previous professional career in admissions was driven by personal attention and catering to individuals' needs. Minnesota Construction Law clients will have different challenges and needs as their businesses grow.
One thing I have noticed as I have worked here is that we do a great job making sure each client’s needs are met. I look forward to helping MNCLS meet clients’ needs as they come up and helping the firm be proactive in driving clients’ business growth.
How did your Communication degree help you in law school and how will it serve you and your clients at MNCLS?
My communication degree gives me a nice base when it comes to writing. Legal writing is different than journalism. But having written thousands and thousands of words on a variety of topics, I feel comfortable in front of a keyboard.
Interpersonal skills also are a big part of a communications degree. Journalism is largely about how to communicate to the masses, but you can’t get a message across without first speaking to those with the story. I have always been social and outgoing and I believe my interpersonal skills will be helpful in working with our current clients, finding new clients, and advocating for all of our clients in any forum.
You’re fresh out of law school. How will you make this work for your clients? What does a newly minted attorney bring to the table?
A newly minted attorney brings an understanding of where the profession is heading. I spent a good deal of the last three years reading about how admissions are waning and how bar exam pass rates continue to fall across the country. Reading all of these stories and statistics helped me realize that the profession itself is changing. New attorneys have a chance to reshape the role of lawyer and figure out how we are going to fit in the digital age.
At one time only those in the legal profession were privy to court decisions and statutes. Now, the Supreme Court issues an opinion and anyone with an Internet connection can read it on SCOTUSBlog. I love that, but it creates a challenge for lawyers. How do we make sure we continue to provide value to our clients? This is the mindset I have fresh out of law school.
Bill has owned and operated a small business, has an MBA and has a special focus in construction law. What are your mentoring expectations?
My main expectation is to learn. I already know more construction language than ever, but I have a long way to go. Sometimes Bill can talk about a roofing job or a window install and I feel like I am at a contractors’ convention hearing the keynote speaker!
Bill’s knowledge of small businesses, both personally and academically, is vast. My hope is to continue to pick up insights from him. The more I understand about what it means to be a small business owner, the better it will be for our clients.