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Stowman on 'Top 100' lawyer list

David Stowman of Detroit Lakes is one of just three outstate attorneys to be on the Top 100 list of "Super Lawyers" selected this year by Minnesota Law & Politics magazine.

Stowman and his son, Jeff, operate Stowman Law Office in Detroit Lakes, specializing in personal injury accidents and wrongful death cases.

Stowman said he is honored to be in the Top 100 group, since there are about 25,000 attorneys in the state, and 1,200 to 1,400 of them are designated Super Lawyers.

"That's pretty good company to be in," Stowman said, "I feel good about that."

Super Lawyers are chosen by ballots mailed out to 16,000 active attorneys asked to nominate the best attorneys they've seen in action. Attorneys may not vote for themselves, and numerous safeguards prevent ballot manipulation.

Law and Politics also searches in a variety of ways for candidates, to help identify those in low visibility or highly specialized practices.

The magazine then researches each candidate, looking at 12 criteria based on peer recognition and professional achievement, including verdicts and settlements, honors and awards, pro bono and community service and other outstanding achievements.

Candidates are next divided into 55 practice areas and evaluated by a blue ribbon panel of preeminent peers in their practice area.

For the final selection, candidates are divided by firm size -- large, medium and small. Each candidate is checked with the Minnesota Lawyers Professional responsibility Board and Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. No one paid to be included on the list of Super Lawyers.

The Top 100 are those that received the highest point total in the balloting, research and blue ribbon review process.

Besides Stowman, only two other outstate attorneys made the Top 100 list: John D. Kelly of Duluth and Richard Pemberton of Fergus Falls.

"One of the perceptions I've had to battle my whole career," Stowman said, "is that to get good representation you have to go to the big city -- that list goes some way, at least, to disprove that."

Stowman was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court about a year ago, which means he can argue before the justices there, if they accept one of his cases. He is also a certified civil trial specialist, the only one in Detroit Lakes.

"We limit our practice to civil cases that either go to trial or potentially could end up in trial," Stowman said. "But we settle a lot of our cases (without going to trial). I'm guessing we settle 90 percent of them."

Once a skeptic, Stowman has become a great believer in mediation and arbitration.

"It's been effective in getting it done," he said.

Both a trial and the mediation process are emotional outlets for those who feel they've been wronged, Stowman said. Often people need a place to tell their story and know they've been heard. Mediation works well for that, and costs a lot less than going to trial.

Mediation fails, occasionally, too, but Stowman said it's usually worth the effort. It gives both parties and their attorneys -- along with a neutral mediator -- the chance to sit down and talk outside of a courtroom setting.

"I use mediation as frequently as I can, it keeps a lot of cases out of court," he said. "There's no downside to it -- if you don't like it, you can walk away."

Stowman is past-president of the Minnesota State Bar Association and a current member of the House of Delegates to the American Bar Association. He sits on the seven-member board that oversees the state's public defender system.

Stowman has handled thousands of cases over the years, from fires to auto accidents to dog bites to prescription drug cases.

Some cases, in particular, stay with him -- such as the immigrant family that lost two youngsters to a mobile home fire in southern Minnesota. The Latino worker was not able to save her two youngest children when the $2,000 company-owned mobile home went up quickly in flames.

Another case involved a family that suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from furnace ductwork that wasn't venting properly -- all three were hospitalized and one ended up with serious brain damage.

Stowman set up shop in Detroit Lakes in 1972.

"Next year will be 35 years of practicing law," he said.