When Aaron Thom claimed victory in a gripping high school mock trial on a team coached by Anoka County Judge James Morrow, he had no idea that one of the judges presiding over the mock trial that day would be his future boss. Thom went on to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2011, and his path again crossed with that of Christopher Madel, mock trial judge, prominent trial attorney, and founding partner of Madel PA. Madel remembered the young firebrand and soon made a place for him on his legal team. Thom has since distinguished himself as a firm partner and relentless advocate in civil and criminal matters, one whose passion for justice is making a lasting difference for the individuals and corporations he represents.
In a profession so deeply rooted in tradition, Thom says next-generation attorneys are contributing a fresh, creative approach to problem solving.
“I think younger attorneys have new ways of looking at problems that may not have occurred to lawyers 30 years ago, especially with so many technological advancements leaking into the law. In discovery, for instance, there are so many new ways to play hide the ball and make it difficult for someone who is trying to get information. Necessity breeds invention, and it’s forcing us to think more outside the box. If you don’t get ahead of the games, you don’t get things done.”
As senior attorney and mentor to several remarkable young lawyers, Madel clearly sees the value next-generation professionals are adding to the practice of law, and, according to Thom, Madel is great about creating the space for them to grow and thrive.
“Chris is very good at letting younger associates take on a lot of responsibility, and excellent at identifying a lawyer’s strengths and capitalizing on them. He’s been instrumental in finding the right fits for me, even when I didn’t know myself because I didn’t yet have enough experience. From my first year with him, he gave me responsibility and the opportunity to go into court and argue. He even had me taking witnesses at trial. When you’re coming into the profession, it can be pretty scary. Nobody knows if they’re going to cut it. Having someone with you every day saying, ‘You have what it takes,’ means a lot.”
Madel recalls, “Thom’s first argument in federal court resulted in the dismissal of two federal charges against his client – something that is extremely rare anytime, anywhere.”
The unconventional office environment at Madel PA is designed to optimize innovation. Far from the stodgy domain of the old school, Madel PA offers a collaborative work environment where individual expression is encouraged.
“We have a lot of open space with sunlight, and everyone got to put their own twist on their office design, with the colors and decor we wanted. It’s a creative space, and it reflects the way we practice law.” Thom’s office features an old-fashioned mimeograph machine and his personal baseball card collection.
Thom represents clients in a range of civil and criminal matters, and he has been instrumental in bringing about some stunning triumphs. “We take on new and interesting cases all the time. In a recent civil case, we represented a Nissan dealership against Nissan Corporation. We took that case all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which reversed the court of appeals, giving us a great result for the client. I’d do another case like that in a heartbeat. We have an exciting practice here, and we do both trial and appellate work. We take all kinds of cases, and whoever has the capacity and interest will take on the next new case.”
Thom has special passion for criminal matters, from juvenile assault to whitecollar criminal cases.
“Even in my mock trial days, I looked forward to criminal cases most. The stakes are high, and there’s a lot to fight for. In civil cases, the bulk of the fight is in discovery; but in criminal, you just hand it over and go to court and fight it out. I like to get to the merits of the issues instead of fighting around the edges. I’ve worked on a lot of criminal cases in both federal and state court. We had a client who was a vice president of a bank, and when the bank failed, he was brought up on fraud charges. Fortunately, we got him completely acquitted. We still get cards from him every year, and it’s beyond gratifying to see that he is enjoying life with his family, and to see how they’re growing every year. There’s nothing like the feeling of preserving someone’s liberty to continue life with the family they love and that needs them.”
Defending criminal cases has not dampened Thom’s faith in humanity. He remains a single-minded advocate, inspired by not just the constitutional guarantee of a right to a defense, but by his abiding belief in justice.
“I believe in the good of people,” Thom says, “and I think everybody deserves the opportunity to be represented, and to make a mistake and recover from it. I’ve had the good fortune of working on cases where the client either didn’t do it, or the charges didn’t fit the act. I’m an advocate, and I believe in my clients.
“My passion is finding a way to use the law to serve the ends of justice,” he continues. “When I’m representing someone I believe in, I love to win for them and see their life improved. Even if I’m representing a corporation, I get very involved in my cause when I believe in it. Being able to take my profession and apply it to someone’s life – to change their personal circumstances – is an amazing privilege.”