John S. Skilton is a Partner at Perkins Coie LLP in Madison, Wisconsin and a Benefactor Fellow of the ABF. He served as past co-chair of the ABF Wisconsin Fellows and has been an active leader in numerous legal organizations, including the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Wisconsin. He has received recognition for his extraordinary lifelong service to the profession from publications such as Chambers USA and The Best Lawyers in America, as well as organizations such as the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund and Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.
What does being a Fellow mean to you?
I have enjoyed my participation in the ABF Fellows. It has led to establishing a new group of friends, particularly in the Big ABA. It has also been an effective mechanism for bringing younger lawyers into the ABA because it is a relatively small, more personal and more local group of ABA lawyers. Wisconsin’s ABF Fellows is a good example of what I mean.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Washington D.C. during WWII–my father was then stationed in D.C. as a Navy lawyer. My first permanent home was Philadelphia, as my father was then teaching business law at the Wharton School. We then moved to Madison permanently in the fall of 1953, when my father took a job as a law professor at the UW Law School. So for purposes of the question, I guess I was raised in Madison, but with the caveat that my family returned to “Philadelphia” every year, vacationing in Ocean City, N.J. to visit family.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in law?
My father was a lawyer, practicing in Philadelphia for one year (1935) before taking a job at the Wharton School. Because of his interest, I became very interested in Abraham Lincoln. (In 2011, I gave a Fairchild Lecture on Lincoln the Lawyer.) And Perry Mason was everybody’s hero in the 1950s. In 8th grade (1958) I was asked by my teacher to write a paper on what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote then–and have never wavered–that I wanted to be a lawyer.
If you hadn’t pursued a career in law, what would you have done?
I am named after two ministers in my family, my grandfather and my father’s brother. My mother was a minister’s daughter. I have the ability to speak my mind. I think I would have been a minister.
What do you do in your free time?
I like to read and learn. I like to walk (alone). I like to travel. I enjoy people, although, on occasion, particularly concerning politics, they test my patience (and I, undoubtedly, theirs).
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am very lucky to have had the privilege, through good health and God’s grace–(and a little help from my friends, particularly my wife Carmen)–to have spent the last 52 years practicing law. The mix of work and commitments: legal, billable, pro bono, professional, etc., has been rewarding and fulfilling. And I have not lost my belief in the practice of law, if done right by those privileged enough to have the right to do it.
A career in law affords the platform to serve the better good: to resolve disputes, to advance the Rule of Law, to work for social progress. Lawyers have made a tangible, affirmative difference in the history of this country. That is because the Practice of Law is a calling–NOT A “BUSINESS”. We must ignore the “money-changers” in the Temple and commit to the real “business” of just being a LAWYER.