September 2023

Colleague Corner: What’s the most important thing you have on or near your desk right now?


Joe Dammel is the managing director of the Buildings department at the St. Paul-based nonpartisan energy policy organization Fresh Energy. He advocates for policy change at the Legislature and before governmental agencies. 

I have a Polaroid of the lake in Canada that I used to visit every summer growing up. My grandparents had a cabin on the lake and I have many fond memories of spending time with them and my dad. Much of that time was spent on the water. Because the water was so clear, the fish only bit at sunset. We would head out to the fishing spot after dinner and wait for the walleye to begin biting, which they usually did just as the sun dipped below the horizon (which was also when the mosquitoes decided to come out, too). 

The last time I was up there, which is going on 15 years ago now, I remember my dad was driving the boat back to shore and I turned around to watch the wake of the boat cut through the glassy water and expand outwards, toward the sunset behind us. I raised my camera and pressed the shutter. 

I started law school at the University of Minnesota a few weeks later. 

I credit the trips we took to that lake in Canada with igniting a passion for working to protect our natural world. The photograph on my desk serves as a reminder of why I pursued a career in energy and environmental law and policy. I hope that future generations can also experience nature by enjoying its wildness and beauty. 


Madeline Gustafson is a litigation attorney at Bassford Remele, PA, where her primary practice areas include commercial litigation, professional liability litigation, general liability, and employment litigation. She was recently appointed secretary
of the New Lawyers Section for the MSBA. 

Uff da. (I’m practicing my Minnesota mannerisms because as a native Iowan, I’m working on fitting in here.) Asking me about the “most important thing” on my desk right now gives me slight anxiety, as the logical answer would be my cell phone and laptop—which keep me way too plugged in to my job—but I’d like to reframe the question slightly to what I’m “most proud of” on my desk (not counting the photos of my family and husband,
that is). 

The thing I am most proud of on my desk is a traveling trophy awarded amongst the Bassford associate attorneys called “the Willems Whale.” The Willems Whale is an award you can only get from your peers at Bassford. When an associate does something “profound”—such as winning a dispositive motion, taking their first deposition, or rockin’ it at a CLE, the former trophy winner of the Willems Whale nominates another associate for the award. The first time I received the award, it was for speaking for the first time at a CLE. More recently, my friend and colleague Michael Pfau gave it to me as inspiration for this article, so I’ll have to give it back to him—he’s the real rock star and current holder of the Willems Whale.

The traveling award is a bit of a tradition around Bassford—the shareholders have their surfboard for winning trials (don’t ask me how that started) and the associates have the Willems Whale. Named after an iconic new[er] shareholder of the group, Kyle Willems, it features a picture of Kyle happily riding an Orca whale with one hand waving frantically in the air, the other clinging on to the Orca. The image is a bit reminiscent of what it’s like practicing litigation—a little crazy, a little fear-inspiring, and a little fun. It keeps things light when the job can be stressful. The traveling award also plays its part in building camaraderie amongst the associate class. As a result, it’s the trinket I’m most proud of on my desk. 



Faris Rashid is a partner at the law firm of Greene Espel, where he practices business
litigation with a focus on technology, trade secrets, and product liability disputes.

I actually have two answers. First, I clutter both my home and office desks with family photos. When I’m busy at work, or waiting for an oral argument to start by Zoom, for example, they remind me to lighten up and focus on what matters. I keep a rotating collection of my children’s artwork on my desks for the same reason—and because it makes them so proud to see it there. My second answer is a scented candle that my friend Katrina, also an attorney, sent at the very start of the pandemic, when we all suddenly started working from home. The candle’s scent is labeled “Cancelled Plans.” I generally don’t use scented candles and I’ve never burned it, but it’s stayed on my home office desk since March 2020, as a reminder of how much life—and the practice of law—has changed. And to take nothing for granted.

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