Barry Vermeer: Representing the Causes He Believes In

Barry Vermeer

Gislason & Hunter LLP has a more than 75-year tradition of excellence as a leading civil litigation and corporate transaction firm in the Upper Midwest. Representing clients in disciplines spanning medical negligence defense; agricultural law; business and commercial law; insurance law; banking law; litigation; estate planning and succession; and divorce and family law, the 40-some attorneys and numerous staff who make up this outstanding legal team are committed to giving clients big firm representation complemented by small town values. Barry Vermeer is among the firm’s most distinguished litigators and has been a respected colleague at Gislason & Hunter for nearly 35 years. Born in neighboring Iowa, Vermeer aspired to a legal career at an early age and earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. There, he discovered an unexpected passion for trial practice, and he extended his legal training by clerking for a Minnesota district court judge. After observing the styles of various litigators and acquiring a practical understanding of the inner workings of the courtroom, Vermeer was invited to join Gislason & Hunter, where he has spent the entirety of his career.

From his early days, Vermeer eagerly embraced opportunities to get in front of juries and hone his litigation skills, and he credits his mentor, Don Hunter, with setting the example for professionalism and integrity that characterize his own representation and that of the firm at large. “He had a significant trial practice, particularly in medical malpractice defense. Don just passed away this year, and it has given us a chance to pause and remember the things he taught us. He was generous in the opportunities he gave. Without hesitation he was willing to take time to teach a young, dumb lawyer like me the right and wrong way to do things. Not just about the technical aspects of the law, but how to approach the court and your adversary, as well. Don always stressed taking the high road. I can still hear him saying that. He taught us all to take joy in the camaraderie of our profession and treat everybody with respect. At the end of the day, what we have is our credibility and our reputation. If we jeopardize that, we’re in deep trouble.”

“I believe that having represented both sides, I have empathy and understanding that helps me consider a matter from both perspectives.”

Vermeer’s civil litigation practice centers on professional liability defense, and he is widely respected for his expertise in complex medical malpractice claims. “I find it interesting to represent doctors and other healthcare professionals. They are good to work with and are dedicated to their professions, as well. Every case is challenging and new. I have no formal medical education, per se, but every time I handle a new case, I am forced to learn in depth a particular area of anatomy, medical science or drug interaction. In the last 25 years, this has been the majority of my practice, and I’ve been doing it long enough that I find I have a respectable knowledge base to draw on for future cases, and I am more and more confident in my ability to translate medical information from healthcare providers to members of a jury.”

While Vermeer is known for his defense work, he has also represented a number of plaintiffs during his career. One of his most memorable cases was on behalf of a young rodeo champion who was rendered a paraplegic when a piece of farm equipment fell on her. “The product originated in Minnesota, and our team and I worked that case really hard for a long time. We were finally able to get it settled with an annuity to provide a means of financial support throughout her life. I don’t think of myself as a defense lawyer. I think of myself as a trial lawyer, serving all types of clients. Representing different kinds of clients helps me to understand both sides. I have a strong appreciation for what an injured person goes through, and that the more severe the injury, the more severe the challenges. I believe that having represented both sides, I have empathy and understanding that helps me consider a matter from both perspectives. I always enjoy the opportunity to represent people and causes I believe in and the feeling that I am making a difference in a positive way.”

Vermeer is certified as a civil trial specialist by the Minnesota State Bar Association and has the distinction of being invited by his peers to join the American College of Trial Lawyers,the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the American Board of Trial Advocates. He is committed to promoting and preserving the art of litigation, and he works deliberately with his colleagues to create opportunities for young lawyers to refine their courtroom skills. “The fact that there are far fewer trials, particularly jury trials, than there were in years past is a concern for all of us. It means that young lawyers have fewer opportunities to gain meaningful trial experience. There are two things we do here: First, we look for every opportunity to find trials that are suitable learning tools for younger lawyers, cases that are appropriate for less experienced lawyers to try; and we also bring these lawyers into the courtroom as second chair. They provide tremendous help and horsepower during a trial, and they also have the opportunity to sit through the trial and examine and cross a few witnesses.”

With a total of four offices in the region, including one in Des Moines, Iowa, that was pioneered by Vermeer, Gislason & Hunter has become part of the fabric of the communities it serves. “We have a flavor and feel for the values of being a good neighbor and good citizen. Our attorneys and staff find opportunities to use their skills, sometimes legal and sometimes others, to make the world a better place for everybody. We are also aggressive in hiring diverse people, because we believe it makes for a better, stronger firm with a greater connection to the people and community we represent.”

At the same time, technology is rapidly opening up more opportunities for established Midwest firms like this one to engage in national and international cases. In response to the changing needs of local clients and their interconnectivity with the global marketplace, Gislason & Hunter has grown over the years to include a vigorous agricultural law practice. “We have seen a lot of growth in the agricultural area, and while we have a strong trial and litigation practice in various types of law, we will continue to grow in all ways necessary in order to provide the best quality service we can to our clients.”

Vermeer finds balance away from the courtroom by spending time with his family and engaging in a few favorite hobbies. “I am blessed with a wonderful wife and two children. One is married and has given us two fantastic grandchildren. They also live in Minnesota, so we see a lot of them. When I’ve had a stressful day, the prescription is my 3-year-old granddaughter or 1-year-old grandson. All the stress simply melts away when I am holding them.” Vermeer also enjoys playing golf “badly,” and traveling to exotic destinations, especially the Caribbean, and “exploring different cultures and languages in a melting pot part of the world.” He says if he could do something other than the practice of law, he would “like to be the guy who drives the airport carts around to the gates. It’s another way to be of service and meet people from all over the world.”

According to Vermeer, the most powerful trial representation comes from seeing clients as people with individual needs and problems, and then empathetically tailoring service around that knowledge. “We are a group of people who want to bring high quality legal services to clients in a way that is personal to them. By appreciating the differences between individual people and situations, we are able to achieve the best possible results.”

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