Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota — Women In Law 2015
Change Language:
Deborah Eckland Courage to Tell the Truth
Haley Freeman

“My advice to others is to do what feels comfortable for you, but don’t be afraid to share ...”

For Deborah Eckland, 26-year civil litigator and co-founder of Goetz & Eckland P.A., her courtroom credo is to “always tell the truth.” According to Eckland, “If you ever lose credibility with the jury, you’re done.”

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of this year, Eckland had to consider how this diagnosis would affect her credibility as a professional. A wife and mother of three, she grappled with the questions asked by many who had gone before: Will people think I’m too fragile to do my job? How will I balance my professional and personal responsibilities with future treatment? Is my health the only thing I should be focusing on right now? Is my work even a priority? What about the clients who are relying on me to handle their cases?

“Part of me wondered if I should just quit working completely and ‘live every day to the fullest,’ or whether working, for me, is part of the joy of living? After everything that’s happened, I’ve concluded that it is.”

Eckland had a deposition the day after she received her diagnosis and shared her situation with opposing counsel. Shortly thereafter, she and that attorney had a telephone conference with the court asking to push all scheduling order dates out by a couple of months. “Counsel was extremely supportive of me, but I found that I didn’t want to tell the judge. What if he hadn’t let us reschedule, would I have told him then? I don’t know. During that time I wasn’t sure if I was going to need chemotherapy or radiation. If I had, there would have been everything from not feeling well to losing my hair. Work would have to be delegated in that event.”

After a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction in June, Eckland returned to work in July. It took some time to regain her balance. Her law partner graciously handled a court appearance because Eckland felt she “might cry” if opposing counsel was mean to her. (Eckland indicated that her opponents would think that is hilarious.)

Eckland found her clients to be very supportive and understanding, but she worried about how long that would last. Would clients divert work away from her to other attorneys during her treatment? How would that impact the financial health of her small firm? Would clients be OK with other attorneys at the firm handling the work in Eckland’s absence? Would competitors learn of her dilemma and pounce?

Eckland’s doctors determined that she had a very low risk of recurrence and recommended neither chemotherapy nor radiation. She has resumed her activities with just a change in medication. Her cases were managed and her clients were satisfied.

Eckland encourages other women professionals who are going through similar trials to share their story with the people around them. “My advice to others is to do what feels comfortable for you, but don’t be afraid to share, because I can tell you that the support I received from every corner of my life – family, church, work, the hockey team, baseball team, softball team, from every area of my life – was incredible. I truly felt surrounded by love, protected and lifted up. I would not trade that for the sake of my privacy for anything in the world.”

Eckland reflected that recently, when she left the funeral of her Rider Bennett partner, Gene Hennig, who had passed away after a 21-month battle with brain cancer, she thought, “There is such a fine line between who cancer takes and who it doesn’t. I appreciate the wake-up call. Work will continue to be important to me, but it will not define me. I am defined by the joy I give and receive, whatever the source.”