Christopher Cadem entered the University of Minnesota Law School with the aim of leveraging his legal education in the business sector. By the time he graduated, cum laude, he realized he had both an aptitude for the law and a passion for courtroom practice. He graduated with a new ambition: litigating in the federal courts.
Just a few years later, Cadem moved to rural Minnesota. He thought his stay in Fergus Falls would be temporary, but in no time, he found he loved small town practice. With the freedom to take cases across many areas of law, Cadem has become the go-to trial attorney for miles around, representing clients in a variety of matters including the most high-stakes criminal issues, civil disputes involving millions of dollars, and virtually everything in between. He serves clients from two locations: his primary office in Fergus Falls and a satellite in St. Paul.
Cadem’s courtroom experience spans more than 100 trials and numerous appeals, a record that is increasingly rare in today’s legal climate. “My goal is to try a number of cases to a jury every year and continue to improve myself. The process of trial is personally enriching, in that it solidifies my foundation of knowledge and experience.”
His training in the Maynard Pirsig Appellate Advocacy Moot Court during law school gave Cadem a good foundation in the skills necessary for winning appellate matters. He is inspired by the opportunity appellate cases give for original thinking. “It’s rare to be successful at the court of appeals because a judge didn’t follow the law. More often it’s that a judge followed bad law or the case presents a nuance to law that hasn’t been thought about before. It’s that creativity I enjoy.”
Both likable and down-to-earth, Cadem is an effective orator who makes the most complex details of a case accessible to a jury, while his background as a construction contractor makes him highly relatable. Cadem says he finds trial advocacy exhilarating. He has not lost a jury trial for the last five consecutive years. “Being in front of a judge and jury is very comfortable to me,” Cadem explained. “I think more than anything, it’s because I have a passion for helping people. That passion makes me forget about myself and focus completely on whatever person or issue I am advocating for.”
Cadem is the sharpest of practitioners, and he is also a philosopher at heart. He loves the law and considers it a special privilege to stand for justice. “I have a passion for the law itself. A lot of lawyers became lawyers because they saw it as a dignified profession and one in which they could make money, as opposed to having a hunger for the theory of it, and the reasons we have particular laws in our society.”
Cadem’s courtroom savvy has earned him many accolades. He has been recognized as a Super Lawyer, a North Star Lawyer by the Minnesota State Bar Association, and as among the Top 100 Criminal Defense Attorneys by the National Trial Lawyers Association. He also enjoys the distinction of being rated a Superb Attorney by Avvo — the company’s highest honor.
Recently, Cadem welcomed his partner in life and law, Carolyn A. Cadem to his practice. A talented attorney in her own right whose focus is family law, Burghart has further enriched the firm’s legal repertoire. The newlyweds work well together, since they share a love for the profession and enjoy talking shop even after hours. “We have two ways of thinking about and approaching the law at times. As trial attorneys, we take our work home every day, but we enjoy the discourse, coming up with theories and arguments. During my last first-degree murder trial, she was instrumental in helping me prepare, and also came up with some theories of the case that were successful at trial.”
Looking back on the successes he has achieved so far, Cadem credits strong mentors with teaching him practical lessons that have proven invaluable during his career. Retired Minnesota District Court Judge Waldemar Senyk was an early legal hero of Cadem’s, and Otter Tail County Public Defender Helen Ward McPherson was a mentor who helped him get his footing as a solo trial attorney. Cadem pays it forward by mentoring young associates who work for him and by sharing advice and strategies with colleagues and new attorneys. He has also served as secretary and treasurer of the Otter Tail County Bar Association and frequently serves as a judge for the University of Minnesota Law School Civil Rights Moot Court and Minnesota State Bar Association’s annual High School Mock Trial Tournament.
Cadem never abandoned his original passion for business, and in addition to sometimes representing clients in business matters, owning his own firm satisfies his entrepreneurial spirit. “I’ve heard it commonly said that lawyers are either good business people or good attorneys, but rarely both. I think a lot of attorneys end up at their own firms out of some necessity and don’t look forward to the business part. But I enjoy the business side of my practice, and I kind of consider it a vacation from the law. I can bounce from research, writing and going to court, to business development, and it creates a good balance for me.”
Ultimately, Cadem’s passion for trial practice is about more than just winning. “Especially in a serious criminal matter, I am holding somebody’s life in my hands. That’s what I lose sleep over – not the fact that I might lose, but what it means for my client. I take a client-centric approach to my practice and put people and their needs ahead of the economics of the situation, and far above myself.”