Practicing Law in a way that Serves Others
Profile on: Ed and Dorothy Sisam, Partners in their own law firm specializing in employment law. Their goal is to practice law in a way that is ethical, a way that serves others rather than perpetrating the vindictiveness that is often typical of the legal process.
Not many people would consider becoming a lawyer in order to fight one. At the time, though, Ed Sisam, Senior Attorney, Sisam and Watje, PA, didn’t feel like he had a lot of options.
After his partnership interest in a number of insurance agencies was wrongfully terminated and later being sued after he started a new company, Ed and his wife Dorothy were virtually broke. Unable to pay for their defense, the Sisams threw themselves into the case, serving as paralegals for their lawyer who had agreed to forego payment unless he won.
Eventually, Ed decided to take things to the next level.
“I felt like a doctor who had contracted a disease and went to medical school to find a cure. In my situation, we had a legal problem, and I wanted to go to a law school to figure out what the solution would be.”
Turns out it was the best decision he could have made.
A promising future in sales
As a young man, becoming a lawyer never even occurred to Ed as a potential career option. Starting out in sales, Ed quickly showed promise, first in a housewares company and then in the insurance business. Recognizing Ed’s potential, the chairman of the insurance company asked Ed to consider partnering with them to start up some new agencies. The company would invest the money and Ed would invest his knowledge and labor. In return, he would get partial ownership in the agencies and a healthy share of the profits. Ed decided to go for it and within five years he had established offices in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin and was employing over 100 agents.
“We were very, very fortunate,” Ed says. “We had a wonderful home, we owned an airplane and we drove fancy cars.”
But Ed’s success proved short-lived. After the agencies had become extremely successful, a dispute arose regarding Ed’s ownership of the agencies he had started. The insurance company refused to honor their agreement. Ed protested, but there was no negotiation. He was out.
“He told me he’d been terminated,” says Dorothy, “and I couldn’t grasp that concept. How can you be terminated when you own the agency?”
After consulting an attorney – who advised Ed not to immediately pursue litigation because it would be too costly and might take a long time to resolve – Ed started another insurance agency. Within months he had over thirty agents working for him. But just as it looked like the Sisams story might end happily after all, Ed’s former insurance company launched a lawsuit to prevent Ed’s company from competing against it. Although the court ruled Ed could legally compete, that phase of the litigation had destroyed his new agency and once again, Ed’s income dried up completely, just as the major legal battle of his life was to begin.
A major ally
The Sisams gained a key ally early on in the person of Galen Watje, a lawyer who agreed to take on their case even though they didn’t have any money. However, as the case grew more involved and Galen had to turn down other work, his own financial security came under threat.
“I went from making ten to fifteen thousand dollars a month to virtually breaking even and spending some money on top of that,” Galen says.
At this point, Ed and Dorothy began working as paralegals for Galen, allowing them plenty of opportunity to talk about the case and the effect it was having on their lives. Galen, who was quite anxious about the outcome, was impressed by what he saw in Ed and Dorothy. No matter what happened, Ed was rock solid in his belief that God would get them through this situation. Even when baited by the opposing lawyers, Ed refused to respond in kind. Having become a Christian during his youth, Ed was confident that God would work something good out of this situation just as He had in the past. Galen was so impressed with the Sisam’s faith that he decided to put his faith in God as well.
A silent partner
The Sisams finally received a break when new allegations surfaced against the insurance company. But proving these charges would be costly, and the insurance company was doing everything in its power to drag out the investigation in the hope of bankrupting Galen and his team.
Just when it looked like they would have to give up, Galen received a phone call from a corporate client who wanted to invest in the Sisam’s defense, to the tune of several million dollars. He even agreed to finance Ed’s law school education, which was already underway. Needless to say, Galen and the Sisams eagerly accepted the offer.
“That’s something I had never heard of before and I’ve never heard of it since. I look at it as the Lord’s provision,” says Ed.
Realizing they were beat, the insurance company finally settled out of court. As a result, the Sisams regained virtually all the money they had lost during the five-year process. Ed also got a law degree out of the deal and now Dorothy was following in his footsteps.
A new life in the law
After working with *Galen for a year, *Ed opened up his own firm specializing in employment law. Dorothy joined him as a partner after she passed the bar. Their firm grew quickly and ten years later they invited Galen to join them.
Today, their goal is to practice law in a way that is ethical, a way that serves others rather than perpetrating the vindictiveness that is often typical of the legal process. They believe being a lawyer means being an instrument of God, not just doing things for their own gain.
“I know that I’ve really helped some people sort out their lives and their pain and to me that is a success,” says Dorothy. “Whether they win or not in litigation, helping them to accept adversity and move on and explore legal remedies can be as important as winning.”
“I think our faith has impacted how we practice law. From that standpoint, we desire to practice it in an ethical manner where truth and honesty and respect for opposing counsel and respect for our clients and the other party is strictly adhered to.”
Their faith in God is crucial to maintaining this position of integrity:
“I think all of our success is attributed – first of all – to the Lord,” says Ed. “We don’t choose the clients who walk in the door. We don’t know who’s going to represent the other side. We don’t know which judge we’ll be get assigned to. We don’t know who will be in the jury pool. So in many respects, there are not a lot of things we’re ultimately in charge of. We’re in charge of our own efforts, we’re in charge of our workloads, of our ethical standards. But everything else, we just have to have faith and trust that God will provide.”
* Since this story was written the Sisam’s have retired and Galen Watje is now part of the law firm Watje & Moore, Ltd
Have you ever been the victim of injustice? Do you believe Jesus can help make things right? If you don’t know Jesus, we encourage you to pray the following:
Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me be the person You want me to be. Amen.