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Terry E. Johnson


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Terry E. Johnson


  • Telephone

  • Fax

    (414) 249-2604

  • Email

  • Office

    411 East Wisconsin Avenue
    Suite 1000
    Milwaukee, WI 53202

Terry Johnson is a Shareholder and Chair of the firm’s Professional Liability Section. Terry has tried hundreds of cases to a verdict in matters ranging from complex legal malpractice cases to major construction defect disputes to major personal injury actions. He has had an impact in the development of Wisconsin law through appellate work in a wide spectrum of areas. Representative matters and examples of reported appellate decisions are listed below. 

Terry was asked to serve by the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on the Office of Lawyer Regulation (“OLR”) Procedure Review Committee. The recommendations of that Committee were put in place in July of 2020, including participating in conducting a subsequent training program for OLR referees.

I'm Terry Johnson, I'm a trial lawyer at von Briesen & Roper who does mediations. I've been a trial lawyer since I started practicing law, a very long time ago, in 1975, and I've been trying cases ever since. I started doing mediations about ten years ago, something like that, and have done them increasingly over time, but I still am an active trial lawyer; I’ve tried several cases this year. I try lots of different kinds of cases, but increasingly in the last several years I try cases where I'm representing lawyers in legal malpractice cases, which I think carries over into the mediation experience for lots of reasons.

What’s your mediation style?

I think my mediation style is dictated by what I think is the goal of the mediation. It may sound a little strange, but to me the goal of the mediation is not necessarily to settle the case, the goal of the mediation process is to make sure that everybody who is involved in the process has made – as best we can – objective, informed, rational decisions about the issues in the case, based upon the facts of the case. And if at the end of that process the case settles that's wonderful, it usually happens. If at the end of that process, the people who are mediating the case decide that they can't settle it, that they have differences that they can't bridge by settlement, that's fine too. So as a result, my style is to make sure that we talk about the issues in the case in a way that promotes rational, objective, reasonable evaluation of the actual facts. And so what I try to discourage people from doing is posturing, from making irrational decisions, closing their minds to discussion, and I think I'm reasonably successful at that. As a trial lawyer I have to be persuasive, so I think I'm persuasive in this context as well, but that's the style; is to make people think for them themselves, but make sure they're doing it rationally and objectively.

What should parties do prior to mediation?

I'd like them to do something that they probably can't do but at least try to do, and that is try to stop thinking about the case in the way they've been thinking about it all along. This is particularly market when cases have been going on for a long time and have become, as they frequently do, rancorous; the other sides become the enemy, they're wrong we're right, and instead to come in and say, “Let's pretend we don't know anything about this case and let's just start talking about it from the beginning, at the most basic level.” I think that's the way that you can get people to appreciate different points of view and possibilities that they may not have thought about before. It is very surprising to me sometimes when I find out that clients have not been told some very basic things about the downside of losing the case; like taxation of costs, like interest, like all kinds of things, and if they're open to thinking about the case in new ways we will have a much better chance of finding common ground.

What makes you a successful mediator?

I think I'm relatively good at disarming people and getting them to sit down and listen and let their guard down, so to speak. Second, if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, I think I am relatively good at getting people to understand that there's an issue or a possibility that they may not have thought of before and that's really one of the basic things you get from a mediator; you get some things from the mediation process, but you get from a mediator is a completely objective independent point of view from someone who – to some extent, at least – knows what he's talking about and I think I'm relatively effective at getting that across.

What types of cases are you skilled at mediating?

I think with my background of doing a lot of legal malpractice work, I'm used to handling cases in substantive, that involve substantive areas that I'm not skilled in. I don't do real estate work; I've had lots of real estate malpractice cases. I certainly don't do intellectual property work; I've had several in the last couple of years, particularly, complicated legal malpractice cases that were based upon issues in the intellectual property, particularly the patent area. So, I think that's one of the skills I bring, is that most mediators don't really screen cases so that they only take cases in a certain area and I think I have the ability to get up to speed on different areas of the law and different areas of litigation that I'm not used to and I think that's helpful.

Parting thought:

I think coming into a mediation with fixed opinions, fixed ideas, fixed intentions is contrary to the process. The process is supposed to be about exploring different ways of looking at the cases so that we can see different ways of seeing how they might turn out and when we broaden our perspectives about what the possibilities are, finding areas of agreement becomes actually a little easier. So, that would be my parting thought is don't overprepare; don't come in too much with a strategy, come in prepared to talk.

  • University of Wisconsin, J.D., cum laude, 1975
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, B.A., cum laude, 1972

  • Wisconsin
  • U.S. District Court, Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin, Northern District of Illinois
  • U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit
  • U.S. Supreme Court

  • Wisconsin Defense Counsel
  • American Board of Trial Advocates
  • State Bar of Wisconsin

Representative matters include:

  • One of two lead counsel in an action brought by a partial quadriplegic against over 60 defendants for injuries sustained as a result of a fire which resulted in a defense verdict after 11 ½ weeks of trial.
  • Successful defense after a multi-week trial of an architectural and engineering firm against multiple malpractice claims relating to the design of a large downtown Milwaukee office building allegedly causing over $10 million in repairs.
  • Successful defense at trial of a trucking company against a claim by a police officer who sustained serious head injuries when the squad car collided with a semi while traveling at high speed with all emergency lights on.
  • Successful defense at trial of a major Madison law firm against allegations of malpractice in pursuit of an age discrimination claim by a business executive.
  • Successful defense after a multi-week trial of a Wisconsin judge against claims of legal malpractice arising from an investment in a client’s businesses while the judge was in private practice.
  • Successful defense at trial of a major Madison law firm against allegations of malpractice in representation of a client concerning cell phone contracts, allegedly causing millions of dollars in damages.
  • Successful defense at trial of an attorney accused of having caused the client’s loss of a franchise for a major automobile manufacturer.
  • Successful defense after a multi-week trial of a major Madison law firm against allegations that negligent advice had caused business owners to incur over $40 million in tax liability.
  • Successful defense at trial of a major Wisconsin plaintiff’s personal injury firm against claims of negligence in the handling of a medical malpractice case.
  • After multi-week trial, obtained multi-million dollar verdict against large manufacturer for bad faith failure to report dealership claims to excess carrier client as required by manuscript policy.


Examples of reported appellate decisions include:

  • Tank Transport v. Duffy, establishing the basis for application of the higher expert standard of care for attorneys.
  • Shannon v. Shannon, determined that substantive provisions of insurance policy contracts cannot be waived.
  • State Farm v. Ford Motor Co., extended the economic loss doctrine to consumer transactions for the first time.
  • General Accident v. Schoendorf & Sorgi and Seltrecht v. Bremer, establishing the rule by which liability is determined where successive law firms negligently serve the same client.
  • Kriefall v. Sizzler, determining the rights and limits on rights to recover for indemnity and equitable subrogation arising out of an e coli outbreak that was caused by the sale of adulterated meat and destroyed the business of a local restaurant.
  • Krier, et al v. Vilione, et al., affirmation of summary judgment in favor of defendants dismissing claims based upon inadequacy of expert testimony in an accounting malpractice case.
  • Markwardt, et al. v. Zurich American Insurance Company, et al., appropriateness and validity of agreement between attorney and departing associate for division of fees on contingent fee cases taken by departing associate.
  • Rainbow Country Rentals and Retail, Inc. v. Ameritech Publishing, Inc., reversal of prior Wisconsin Supreme Court authority holding that Ameritech Publishing’s damage limitation was unenforceable on public policy grounds.
  • DeWitt, Porter, Huggett, Schumacher & Morgan, S.C. v. Kovalic, et al., appropriateness of refusal of trial court to bifurcate trial involving fee claim, fee collection issues, malpractice action, and reasonableness of award of attorney’s fees in favor of firm.
  • Schaefer v. Riegelman, affirming dismissal of action due to failure of out of state counsel to have complaint signed properly by licensed Wisconsin attorney.

  • The Best Lawyers in America®, Bet-the-Company Litigation (2015-2024), Commercial Litigation (2013-2024), Personal Injury Litigation - Defendants (2011-2024)
  • Best Lawyers® Personal Injury Litigation - Defendants "Lawyer of the Year", Milwaukee (2012, 2015, 2019)
  • “Top 25: Milwaukee Super Lawyers®” (2011-2012, 2014-2020)
  • "Top 50: Wisconsin Super Lawyers®" (2005-2006, 2008-2009, 2011-2020)
  • Wisconsin Super Lawyers® (2005-2023)