Susan Rhode didn’t start out thinking she’d be a lawyer.The stage was her original destiny. But after graduating from the University of North Dakota with master’s degrees in speech and theater, and heading to Winnipeg to audition for plays, she “got hungry real fast” and set her sights elsewhere.
She found a steady paycheck as a junior high and high school teacher.When she moved to Minneapolis a few years later, she wasn’t licensed to teach in the U.S., so she took a job as an administrative assistant for Radisson Hotels. At night, she typed legal papers for her lawyer brother, who suggested she go to law school. Rhode liked the idea and passed with flying colors: she’s now a shareholder at Moss & Barnett and the third top vote-getting Minnesota Super Lawyer.
Why did her peers vote her in at number three? “Probably in part because I’m able to give people bad news and still make them laugh,” says Rhode, who practices family law. “I don’t take myself too seriously.”
After graduating from Hamline University School of Law in 1985, she planned to practice mergers and acquisitions and mass tort litigation. But she needed a job, so family law was her short-term solution. She was pleasantly surprised to find that business negotiations were a large part of her caseload. “Plus there is this fascinating human element,” she says.
The risk of emotional involvement in family law cases scares some lawyers away, but not Rhode. “There are certainly cases that are compelling and tug at your heart, especially when children are involved,” she says. “But I remind myself that I didn’t make any of the choices leading up to the problem.”
Though it’s painful for Rhode to witness some of the disastrous choices clients make, watching them sort through legal and emotional turmoil can also be rewarding. “People do come through divorce and grow,” she says. “They develop insight.”
Before Rhode practiced family law, she believed there were always right and wrong answers, but her experience has taught her otherwise. “I’m a lot less judgmental now,” she says. “Most days, people do the best they can. It may not be wise, but most people in life don’t act out of the desire to hurt or create harm.”