DeAnne Dulas: Success By Empowerment

DeAnne Dulas
2024 Feature Nominations

Attorney DeAnne Dulas knows what it means to work hard to accomplish her goals. She began working for the firm where she is now a partner when she was only 16 years old. From childhood, Dulas was driven by a desire to stand for others, and she had aspirations of pursuing a career in psychology or law. She found a supportive listener in her grandmother, who shared her granddaughter’s ambitions with her neighbor, a legal secretary. That neighbor invited Dulas to talk to the attorneys at the firm where she worked, giving Dulas her initial opportunity to turn her desire into a successful, lifelong career.

Dulas began as a file clerk in high school with her current firm. She was mentored by the firm’s partners, whom she says were “both helpful and inspiring” and gave her “valuable insight about how to approach the practice.” Aft er also clerking at the Duluth City Attorney’s office during college, she returned to clerk for her firm as a law student while at the University of Minnesota. Aft er then working as a judicial law clerk for one of the firm’s partners who had become a judge, Dulas was asked to return to the firm as an associate.

When Dulas joined this full-service, general practice firm as an attorney, she did so with a desire to practice family law. She became a partner in 2003 and is a widely respected practitioner in family law, whose prowess in resolving these matters incorporates the use of various strategies tailored to the unique needs of each family, including collaborative and cooperative resolutions and litigation.

Due to the multifaceted demands of her practice area, Dulas has developed proficiency in a wide range of legal disciplines. “Divorce is complicated work and involves all different kinds of legal issues. Every type of law that can impact a person’s life can be implicated in a divorce, including real estate, business transactions, intellectual property, wills and estate planning or criminal law. A good lawyer has to be adaptable as a professional and work to be educated on a variety of issues as they arise.”

Dulas is deeply committed to helping people through this challenging life event in a way that empowers them to participate in the outcome. She works to provide her clients with an understanding of a range of options throughout the process. She explained, “Oft en, people find themselves in a situation they have never been in before. Understanding the process and the pros and cons of their options as early as possible is critical. I want clients to be able to make the most of their options. I try to impress upon them that they are not just making a decision for today, but for years from now.”

Although going to trial is sometimes the only way to reach resolution, Dulas considers it a last case scenario. She is no shrinking violet in the courtroom, but she prefers to facilitate an outcome where the stakeholders are the decision makers. “I remind people that judges are only human. Even with the best testimony, you never know what the judge will hear and how they will interpret the situation. With the uncertainties of going to trial, trial should never be your first option.”

Dulas stands on her belief that “information is power.” Sometimes the dispute between parties becomes about controlling the information, with one party trying to disadvantage the other based upon the lack of disclosure. Asking a party to make an important decision without full disclosure leads to bad decisions. “While the party failing to disclose information may believe they are helping themselves, in the long run, it oft en adds to the cost and length of a proceeding, and makes it harder to reach an agreement because of the fear of the unknown.”

Dulas enjoys working with other attorneys who share the philosophy of open cooperative disclosure and problem solving. While she oft en uses mediation to reach a settlement, she also believes it is a tool that must be employed at the right time. “Walking in to mediation before everyone has a good understanding of the facts is a waste of time and resources. When everyone is informed ahead of time, we have the information we need to reach an appropriate agreement based upon understanding and individual choice, not fear.”

In addition to empowering her clients, Dulas and her partner have continued a practice culture that also empowers their staff . “We believe it is important to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and we provide as many benefits as we can with the hope our employees understand how much they are appreciated and valued.”

Dulas has felt the impact of that family atmosphere and support firsthand. “When I was still an associate, I had a long-term illness, and my firm stood behind me through two surgeries that took me away for months at a time. I never worried about losing my job. That meant the world to me.”

As a busy professional with a family, Dulas commented that she believes the idea of work-life balance is a myth. “There is never a perfect day where I have everything in balance between family, work and other obligations. Everybody works so hard these days, oft en going in multiple directions at the same time to meet a variety of commitments. The best we can hope for is that in each moment the choices we make about our priorities make sense.”

Dulas also makes it a priority to provide service and leadership to her community. She is a current board member, president and three-time past president of Legal Assistance of Dakota County. She is chair of the First District Ethics Committee, which helps the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility investigate ethical complaints against lawyers. She also volunteers with her children’s schools and extracurricular activities.

Dulas summed up by explaining that her primary goal is to provide the information and counsel that will empower her clients to “make good and lasting decisions and to take ownership over the outcome. I want my clients to be able to look back and say, ‘Here’s what happened and this is why I made these choices.’ When people decide their own fate, it makes for a more lasting peace.”

H.K. Wilson

H.K. Wilson is a contributing writer for Attorney at Law Magazine. She has been writing features for the publication for more than four years.

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