In the town of Litchfield, Stephen Gabrielson grew up in a multi-generational home that included his three siblings, his parents and grandparents who occupied an apartment on the second floor. Everyone in the family had diff erent ideas about what the ambitious young Gabrielson would grow up to be. His father thought he would join him in the construction field. His grandfather thought he would follow his path into the ministry. His mother, a registered nurse, thought he should go into medicine.
Gabrielson exhibited a Thair for the sciences, earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from Concordia College, magna cum laude. He also spent two years as an anatomy and physiology lab instructor under the tutelage of a research scientist who pioneered early inquiry into the link between exercise and blood lipoprotein levels. But along the way, Gabrielson decided medicine wasn’t quite the right fit, and he turned his talents to the law instead. He was admitted to Duke, Columbia and the University of Minnesota. He elected to stay close to home to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, where he was one of very few biology majors. Although he didn’t know it at the time, his background in anatomy and physiology would serve him well in his practice.
Gabrielson took several labor law courses, and earned high honors in the Wagner Labor Law Moot Court Competition. He planned a labor law career. However, one of Gabrielson’s law school mentors, a professor with an active private practice, declared that he was going to be a trial lawyer. Gabrielson was at the time clerking for a labor law firm in Minneapolis, and considering an offer from a labor law firm in Duluth.
Inspired by that professor’s confidence, and his recommendation that Gabrielson consider a position with a law practice in the town where the professor grew up, Gabrielson took a post at a firm in Fairmont. Gabrielson recalls that he cut his legal teeth on a mixed criminal and civil practice, trying over 30 cases to a jury in five years. But this aspiring litigator soon sought a more specialized practice, and with the support of his beloved wife, Patti, he moved his growing family from their historic lakefront home in Fairmont to St. Cloud, where Gabrielson joined a personal injury firm, trying the cases that could not be settled by other firm members.
Gabrielson fondly recalls his years practicing with Vietnam War hero-turned-attorney Bob Holmen, who was first his mentor and later his partner.
“We had a lot of interesting cases, and a challenging and fun practice,” he said. “Bob was always very good about giving me lots of leeway. I remember when he gave me my first review as an employee, he started by telling me how well organized my files were and well taken care of my clients were. But he said, ‘You never ask for permission to do anything. You never tell me what you’re doing, and you spend more money on your cases than the other four attorneys combined. But I’ll accept that you’re a cowboy, because you have the cases in suit, and you’re getting results. Keep it up.’”
Gabrielson cultivated that cowboy spirit and brought it along with him when he began his solo practice in 1997. Twenty years later, he is well-known as a dedicated and passionate advocate for injured people. As his law school professor predicted, he is a preeminent trial lawyer, who is both state and nationally certified as a civil trial specialist, an honor held by approximately 1 percent of Minnesota attorneys. In 2014, Gabrielson was recognized by the National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys as a Top 10 Attorney in Minnesota, and every year since he has been named among The National Trial Lawyers Top 100.
In a practice that includes motor vehicle accidents, farm accidents, product liability, worksite accidents, and catastrophic injuries and death, Gabrielson’s extraordinary compassion and character come to the fore. Far from dwelling in an ivory tower, Gabrielson is accessible and hands-on with clients.
“I don’t have voicemail,” he said. “When people are suffering, they need to know somebody is taking care of them. If I’m not available, my staff will talk with them, and if the client needs to talk with me, they will. Most of our clients come to us as referrals. When someone has a severe, life-changing injury, they don’t want to just go on the computer to find a lawyer. They want to know they’re dealing with someone they can count on. We think our clients are pretty happy with the way they’re treated here.”
Gabrielson applauds his staff for their responsiveness and outstanding efficiency in managing the myriad insurance filings, medical records, bill pay and deadlines that go along with an injury claim, as well as for their kindness to clients.
“The thanks we get from our clients is directed to my staff just as much as it is to me. I have really smart young people working for me, and I give them a lot of hats to wear. They all do such a tremendous job, and the clients love them.”
Gabrielson has four children. Two sons, John and Jim, have both worked at the firm during their college careers. John is now a pastor, and Jim is completing his law degree and will soon join the firm full time. But these young professionals have made lasting contributions by helping to incorporate new technologies that have improved both internal efficiencies and the way cases are presented in the courtroom. Among these innovations are the use of interactive presentations and 3-D volume renderings to demonstrate the true impact of a client’s injuries to a jury. These technologies have been instrumental in winning sizable awards in some challenging cases.
While Gabrielson has a prodigious win record and a talent for obtaining large awards for his clients, he said that his success as a trial attorney is more about the way he treats people.
“You don’t always have to have heroic results to have a happy client. Clients need to ride your shoulders. They need someone to believe in them.”