On Your Own: Interview with Kaarin Nelson Schaffer

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Kaarin Nelson Schaffer is one of Minnesota’s most respected plaintiff-side employment attorneys. Last year, she joined John Conard in forming, Conard Nelson Schaffer PLLC. Together, they’ve built a niche trial practice, where they are increasingly brought in to help practitioners try their cases to juries in a variety of practice areas.

JS: Is there any individual or life experience that influenced you to start your own firm?

KNS: My father ran his own business. I always valued the flexibility that gave him. In terms of how we’ve grown our business, I’m influenced by each of my prior legal jobs. I saw things I liked and didn’t like, things that I thought worked and didn’t work. I draw on those experiences when making decisions in my practice.

JS: Did you forget to mention watching your friend, Jeff Storms, do it?

KNS: Yes, watching you confirmed that anyone could do it.

JS: We’ll move on. What were your biggest hesitations?

KNS: Would the phone ring? Could I (and more did I really want to) do the job top-to-bottom after spending years delegating certain duties to associates and support staff? Most of all, I’m a collaborative person, and I feared having less opportunities to collaborate in a smaller environment.

JS: Did your fears come true?

KNS: Not at all. I’ve been fortunate to receive outstanding support and trusted referrals from our community. I was surprised how quickly I picked up on technical and administrative tasks. Any aspect that feels like a grind is outweighed by the sheer amount of fun I have practicing in a way that feels true to my goals, values, and identity.

JS: Where do you go now for collaboration and mentorship?

KNS: That really hasn’t changed all that much. I still have peers in my field whose opinions I value, and they have continued to be an excellent resource. From a business standpoint, John was running his own firm before we became partners, so he has a wealth of experience that we draw from in making business decisions. I also know several other small firm partners, who are always willing to share their experiences and advice.

JS: Where do you see your firm going?

KNS: My hope is that we continue to maintain a relatively small firm to give us continued flexibility and quality control over our product.

JS: Do you wish you started your own firm sooner?

KNS: I don’t spend too much time dwelling on regrets in any aspect of my life. I started my own practice when I was ready. Things are going better than I imagined. That means it was the right time.

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