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Diverse Experiences Make A Difference

Erin Deeley with Gov. Evers

You never know when you might need a little drama or music in your life.

Take Erin Deeley, for example. As a Sheboygan Falls Middle School student, she had no idea that the theater productions and band concerts she enjoyed participating in would teach her skills she would use later in her adult career.

“I started my career as a trial attorney. It required comfort in front of an audience,” recalls Deeley, who is now Assistant Legal Counsel in the office of Wisconsin Governor Tony Ever. “I enjoyed participating in the plays and band in middle school- they helped me work out any
tendency towards stage fright.”

Deeley, a 2004 graduate of Sheboygan Falls High School, credits her experiences in the district for helping prepare her for her current career. Several high school teachers in particular challenged her and made learning fun.

“They also must have planted seeds that developed into a long-standing interest in history, civil service, critical thinking, and writing, the likes of which translated well into law school, and ultimately the public interest legal sector,” Deeley said.

After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After passing the bar exam, she became a public defender, an attorney who is appointed to represent people charged with criminal offenses who cannot afford a lawyer. She believes it was a great way to start her career.

“The constitution guarantees us all the right to a defense, and I took great pride in carrying out that function for people who did not have the resources to hire private counsel,” Deeley said. “I was also in court nearly every single day, so I was able to gain courtroom experience that I
might not have been able to get had I pursued another practice area.”

She then took a job in the Milwaukee Office of the Public Defender’s Appellate Division. In this position, she worked with criminal defendants after they have been convicted of a crime. Instead of daily court appearances, the job focused on reading, writing and research as she
read trial documents, researched the law and drafted persuasive motions and briefs to be presented to the court.

She took her current job in January, 2019. She is one of three attorneys representing the Office of and Governor Tony Evers, serving along with the Chief Legal Counsel and Deputy Chief Legal Counsel. The division manages legal issues for the Governor and his staff, which can include reviewing contracts and actions from the different executive agencies that require the Governor’s approval and signature, helping manage the executive pardon process, providing support on gubernatorial appointments, processing public records requests, working with the Wisconsin Department of Justice on legal issues, and many other tasks.

Looking back on her student experience in Sheboygan Falls, Deeley is appreciative of the diverse curricular and extracurricular activities.

“I think that having a dynamic day was more of a benefit than any single class because it was continually exposing me to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new people,” Deeley said. “It’s the adage: ‘the more you learn, the less you know.’ If a person recognizes that fact, it makes them less likely to underestimate a problem and provide a shortsighted solution, which is an essential skill as a lawyer.”

Zach Madden & Erin Deeley
Erin Deeley with Zach Madden,
a 2011 graduate who also works with Gov. Evers

She also has fond memories of participating in athletics. She remembers riding the bus to matches, eating pizza by the slice at middle school basketball games, freezing in the cold during softball games and watching the football team win the state championship.

“When I was a student at Sheboygan Falls, you did not have to be a stellar athlete to be on a team, and I’ll always be grateful for the friendships and memories I left with. I hope that inclusiveness is still there,” Deeley said.

Having her mother, Donna Deeley, work at the high school while Deeley was a student there was an advantage that she realizes more now than she did at the time.

“She is strong and smart, with a huge heart and great sense of humor, and I could always count on her for anything (and still do),” she said . “Bonus: having a parent at school serves as a perpetual deterrent to bad behavior, which can’t be a bad thing.”

She has some advice for students who are still in school, starting with a warning about social media.

“No one will dig up your old posts or photographs because they are looking to find something positive,” she said. “Be present and forge relationships with people in real-time. You will be happier, and your future self will thank you.”

Then she encourages them to try “as many things as possible” while they can.

“Your responsibilities only get more consuming as you get older,” she warned. “With all the blessings that come with growing older, you’ll also find you have less time and fewer opportunities to pursue things that you want to pursue for the pure sake of experience. Think you might like tennis? Give it a shot and join the team. Wish you were better with your hands? Take a woodworking class.”

Because you never know when you might use those skills.