Student Stories: William Cottrell

The College in the Community

Bill Cottrell, Paralegal Student

When Bill Cottrell decided to begin his own legal practice, after years in a larger Minneapolis firm, he knew he would have to start small, manage his budget, and invest in resources.

“I knew I needed assistance and I went immediately to Inver Hills,” says Cottrell. He called Sally Dahlquist, the paralegal director at the college, whom he knew from law school at William Mitchell. “She was very helpful and gave me many ideas, including the use of interns, which proved to have so many benefits.”

Over four years, he has had four interns from Inver Hills and three stayed on as employees, two as paralegals and one as a legal secretary. “The interns get experience and they also get an idea if they like working in a small law firm,” says Cottrell. “They learn duties and skills that they will take with them wherever they go, while contributing valuable assistance to me. The employer has a potential employee with experience in the organization; they both get to see if it’s a good match.”

His Inver Hills employees have delivered for him. “I need staff who are focused on their jobs, dedicated, and willing to learn. Attitude is everything. But since we’re a small firm, it’s important we get along, too.” On the practical side, his employees bring the skills he needs:  basic knowledge of the law, strong organizational and writing skills, computer experience, and the ability to handle multiple projects. “We do a larger volume of smaller cases but we also have some important and complicated commercial litigation cases,” says Cottrell, who has a general practice and clients that include consumers, businesses, victims of sexual abuse, and others. He also is a licensed mediator and arbitrator.

Cottrell’s Eagan-based practice has grown steadily, and he is also busy as an adjunct faculty member at William Mitchell College of Law where he teaches in the areas of creditor/debtor and bankruptcy law. He says he enjoys working in Dakota County, where he also lives with his wife and two sons, and that he doesn’t miss the commute to Minneapolis.