Retired judge’s daughter takes job at DL law firm
Though she was working as a litigator for a prestigious Minneapolis law firm, when Elizabeth Walker heard that there was an opening for an associate attorney at Thorwaldsen & Malmstrom in Detroit Lakes, she didn’t hesitate to apply.
“Working in a big law firm, you get pigeonholed into a very small niche,” said the daughter of retired Becker County District Court Judge William Walker.
As an associate at a firm that employs just four attorneys, however, Beth has the opportunity to experience a broader range of legal work, covering all aspects of family law as well as civil litigations, and even the occasional criminal court case.
“I love the variety,” added Beth, who started work with the Detroit Lakes firm on Oct. 1. “Here I have the opportunity to expand into new areas and be creative.”
But that’s not the only reason why Beth chose to make the move up to Detroit Lakes with her husband, Mike Berre, from the home they shared in Maple Grove.
“My husband and I dreamed of having a place of our own in northern Minnesota,” she said. “We wanted room to spread our wings — and we enjoy living in a smaller community.”
In addition, her father Bill and stepmother Jackie still live in the lakes area, along with her brother and two of her four stepbrothers.
The couple’s desire to pursue their dreams of relocating outside the Cities was heightened when Beth’s mother, Karen Johnson, passed away this past year.
“She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died five weeks later,” Beth said. “Just a few months before that, she had moved into her dream home and they started remodeling, but she never got to see it finished. So my husband and I decided to start tackling our dreams before we were no longer able to see them finished.”
The move was also made easier by the fact that Beth’s children, son Graham, 18, and daughter Natalya, 20 (both from an earlier marriage) had graduated high school and were now in college.
“It was an opportune time to make a lifestyle change,” she said. Mike was able to shift his work for U.S. Bank from their offices in the Twin Cities to Fargo, so they found a house to rent in the area until their old home in Maple Grove was sold.
“We’re still deciding where we want to live,” she added.
Pulling up stakes and moving back to northern Minnesota isn’t the first time that Beth has made such a major lifestyle change, however.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in history, she started work in the corporate trust department of Norwest Bank, which would later become part of Wells Fargo.
But marriage and children would temporarily derail her banking career, and “I ran a home daycare for a number of years,” she said.
But eventually, Beth decided that she needed more adult interaction in her day-to-day working life.
“After my son was in third or fourth grade, I decided I was done (with daycare),” she said. “I’m a people person, and I needed those adult connections in my life. With that said, children are still my favorite people.”
So she went back into the banking world and resumed her career at Wells Fargo.
In 2008, she and Mike got married, and one day, she told him that her dream was to follow in the footsteps of her parents, who had both been attorneys.
“I told him that being a lawyer was always a dream of mine, so he said, “Let’s do this,” Beth added.
So in 2009, while still working at Wells Fargo, she started pursuing a law degree at Hamline University, graduating in 2012.
“My mom and dad both graduated from Hamline School of Law,” Beth said, so she decided to continue the family tradition.
“I wanted to be a lawyer my entire life,” she added. “I grew up talking about the law and politics and current events at the family table.”
In fact, she added, her family didn’t own a television set from her seventh grade year until she graduated from high school, when her grandmother, who lived with them at the time, decided she’d had enough and bought one for herself.
“So we had a lot of family time… there weren’t a lot of computers or electronics around at that time.”
So discussions around the family table stimulated Beth’s passion for the law — a passion that was further fueled by her mother’s decision to go back to law school after giving birth to both her and her brother Bill.
“We would tag along and go with her,” Beth recalled.
So it was almost like coming full circle when she found herself studying for her legal degree alongside her own children.
“My husband took over the cooking and cleaning and laundry and dusting,” she said. “I had my hands full with law school, working (at Wells Fargo, where she continued to be employed until a few months after graduating) and being a wife and mom.”
She doesn’t think she could have realized her dreams without the support of her family and colleagues at Wells Fargo.
“We figured out how to make it work,” she said of the experience.
In September 2012, Beth left Wells Fargo for a position with Faegre Baker Daniels, a business litigation firm based in Minneapolis.
“It was a great opportunity,” she said, “but I noticed that the partners I’d been working for had been there 20 years, yet they were working the same hours I was.”
Ultimately, Beth decided that 60-hour work weeks were not how she wanted to spend the next 20 years or so. “I also wanted to enjoy life,” she added.
That enjoyment will hopefully include becoming more involved with the community in which she now lives and works.
“My husband and I are both working to get more involved in the community — that’s our goal,” she said. “What’s nice about Detroit Lakes is that there is a really strong community, and lots of different opportunities to be involved here.”
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.