Adina Johnson spent the first decade of her professional career in the classroom. But after more than 10 years of teaching history and English to junior high students who attended Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of St. Louis, she decided it was time for something different.
“And it seem[ed] like a good option for getting into work where you could help people would be to get a law degree,” said Johnson, who continued to work full-time while attending Saint Louis University School of Law at night.
After graduating in 1998, she did indeed put her law degree to use helping people. As a volunteer for Legal Advocates for Abused Women, she prepped clients who sought protection orders and represented them at hearings.
Professionally, however, she remained unsure about the type of law she wanted to practice. She did plaintiff’s work for a bit before shifting to domestic law. Later, she moved to the Staff Attorneys’ Office for the St. Louis Circuit Court.
While working there, Johnson said she was able to write and perform research every day. That experience led her into appellate and dispositive-motion work.
After finishing a two-year clerkship, Johnson responded to a posting for a position with Wuestling & James, now Roberts Perryman. She accepted the position, and she found that the firm handles many legal malpractice-defense cases — an area of law she said she enjoys.
And she is good at it. In 2018, Johnson was at the helm of an important appellate case regarding legal malpractice. In Juan v. Growe, a case of first impression, she argued for the expansion of a doctrine that a criminal defense attorney cannot be successfully sued for malpractice by a client who knowingly pleaded guilty to the crime. Johnson argued that an attorney who represented clients in an administrative matter could not be held liable for the client’s resulting criminal charges.
“And amazingly, it’s not unusual for people to plead guilty, [and then] to turn around and sue their lawyers,” Johnson said
Being a defender of attorneys doesn’t convey rock-star status in the legal community. Johnson said attorneys generally don’t want it widely known that they are being sued for legal malpractice — even though she said she’s found that most of them have done nothing wrong other than having clients who are dissatisfied with the results of their cases.
Most of the attorneys that Johnson represents are solo- or small-firm attorneys. She said those attorneys tend to be deeply engaged with their cases, which gives her a better opportunity to get to know the case — and the attorney. The close relationships that she forms with her clients motivate her to resolve the litigation in a positive way, she said.
“You know how hard it is to work as an attorney,” she said. “So when you’re defending someone, you know the effort and the work that goes into it, and so you have an appreciation of that going in that you might not have for other professionals.”
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