Protecting the Future
Thirty-two moments, cases and people that have defined Kathleen Flynn Peterson’s career
Published in 2022 Minnesota Super Lawyers magazine on July 18, 2022
After working for a few years as a nurse, Kathleen Flynn Peterson transitioned to the law in 1981. In the years since, she’s become one of the most celebrated medical malpractice attorneys in the state. We asked Peterson to share some of the most important elements of her life and career—so far.
1. Graduating with a bachelor of arts in nursing from St. Catherine University in 1976.
2. Her nursing experience—an asset in every case she’s handled. “The ability to understand the situation because I had been in it and to have the credibility with healthcare providers who I work with as experts and even people who are defendants, who understand that you know that, you’ve been there and done that too.”
3. Jury duty during a Hennepin County murder trial. “I became very intrigued with trial practice.”
4. Her parents. “They’re turning 90 this year and have always been very supportive.”
5. Law school at William Mitchell. “I made the decision to blend my advocacy as a patient advocate with the legal advocacy.”
6. Trial advocacy class with Professor John Sonsteng. ”John has been a lifelong friend and mentor.”
7. Joining Robins Kaplan in 1979. While still in law school and working as a public health nurse, Peterson worked in a newly created nurse paralegal position, providing medical background on medical malpractice cases. She went on to work with the firm for the next 40 years.
8. Solly Robins for his work in pioneering medical malpractice cases in Minnesota.
9. John Eisberg. “I had the privilege of being able to work right with him all along as we took that work that [he and Robins] had done and brought it to the next level within the firm.”
10. A $4.6 million birth trauma case in the mid-‘80s alongside colleague Terry Wade. “It was on the news, front page of the paper, because it was the largest verdict at that time in a medical negligence case.”
11. Learning to face challenges head on. “When you take on the burden of another person, it’s a very personal one. The success rate in trials across the country for this type of work is very low.”
12. Building lasting relationships with clients. Peterson keeps in touch with her clients through Christmas cards, ball games and picnics. “When you take a journey with somebody in that way, it brings you together in a way that you didn’t expect,” she says.
13. Roxanne Conlin, a fellow lawyer in Iowa and close friend who worked with Peterson in the early part of her career. “I watched and learned from her.”
14. A $5 million judgment for a woman’s death during childbirth. “That’s one example of the types of cases that I’ve handled many times. In doing so, I’ve been able to protect the future for many families.”
15. Her five Flynn siblings. “We’re all friends and when we need to be someone’s champion, supporter or biggest fan, we are.”
16. Developing resilience. “You can be resilient enough to recover and to move forward to the next fight. But at the same time, your client, they have one chance, and when that’s not successful it can be devastating.”
17. Becoming president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers; as well as the International Society of Barristers.
18. A $18 million settlement in a case involving a woman who lost portions of her four limbs.
19. Appreciating what she has. “Every day I talk to somebody whose life has been turned totally upside down and there’s something that has happened through no fault of their own. You know that any day it can be you.”
20. Focusing on wellness in the profession. Peterson found the data from the ABA’s report on lawyer wellbeing terrifying. “Focusing on wellness both for myself and others has been important for me. I’ve spoken both nationally and locally on the topic, as well as written on it.”
21. Serving as regent for the American College of Trial Lawyers.
22. Mike Ciresi. “He was already an experienced associate when I started, and he’s such an extraordinary lawyer and human being.”
23. Connections made in professional organizations. “That fellowship was so important to both advancing your professional skills and having mentors, having friends, having people who are walking a life path that could support you.”
24. Her husband, Steve Peterson. “He has really been a strong supporter always, which has allowed me to do the work that I do at the level that I do.”
25. Ciresi Conlin. She joined her current firm in 2019.
26. Serving as past president for the American Association for Justice.
27. Mentoring the next generation. The lack of female mentors during her early years in law has inspired her to be a mentor for others. “I hope that I can impart to the younger people in my practice the lessons that I have learned to help them become better advocates.”
28. Professional recognition. “I was shocked and very humbled when I made the Super Lawyers top 10 list.”
29. Delivering the International Academy of Trial Lawyers Dean’s address in 2021 on wellness in the profession.
30. Her children. Chris and Colin have now made her a grandmother of four. Colin is now also a partner at Ciresi Conlin. Working with him is a privilege and source of pride, Peterson says.
31. Lasting impact. “If you protect the future by helping clients so that their future will be better, then that is shared with all those people that are part of their lives so that their lives can be better.”
32. Putting off retirement. Her plan was to retire years ago and just do pro bono work in Arizona, but that hasn’t happened. “Every time I think I’m ready to retire and generally should be thinking about it, I get a call and I’m thinking, ‘Well, I have to help. It’s just not time to quit yet.’”