Stengel advises new lawyers to ‘find your passion’

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 15, 2013

Michael Stengel visited Memphis from his home in Buffalo, N.Y., for the first time at just the right time.

“I came down here in May to visit and see what the place was like, and it was just gorgeous and, unbeknownst to me, Memphis in May was going on,” he said.

It was 1983 and he was beginning law school at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, having recently graduated from the University of Rochester. Thirty years later, and he’s a practicing attorney with his own firm – and still at home in the South.

“I tell people I came down to Memphis for law school and a local girl kept me,” he said of his wife, Beth.

The Stengel Law Firm is largely one of criminal defense, an area he wasn’t even considering as a law student.

“I was not planning on going into criminal law until I got a job doing criminal defense work and just fell in love with it,” Stengel said.

That job, which began with a clerkship just before law school graduation, was with Clifton & Shankman, which later became Clifton & Stengel. In 1994, he went out on his own to begin Stengel Law Firm.

The business of criminal defense is one that requires a lot of time in court and a lot of time getting ready to be in court, and Stengel’s experience with both act as a cautionary tale to new and would-be attorneys.

“You have to love it,” he said. “You’ve got to be prepared for the unexpected, and you’ve got to learn to live with the sleepless nights before certain hearings.”

It’s an exciting career fraught with all of the drama and curveballs that one might expect. But be aware, he warned, there is the dull side as well, and the cautionary tale can grow even more harrowing . . . (read more)