This article is the first in a new series: I’m interviewing elder law attorneys around the state to find out why and how they started practicing elder law, what their practices are like, and what they achieve for their clients.

My first interview is with Blaine Patino of Canellos & Patino in Wauwatosa. Blaine was recently a presenter at the Winter Workshop put on by the Wisconsin chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

I could tell he had something of an unusual style.

“I’m a little rebellious – I’m a punk who grew up,” Blaine told me. “I think elder law attorneys tend to be introverted and quiet. That’s not me.”

A Single Question – and a Changed Life

Blaine didn’t start out aiming to do elder law. He did largely landlord/tenant work when he started practicing as a solo in 2014. His transition to elder law over the years has had a lot to do with serendipity and tough decisions.

There were omens, early in life, that Blaine would be a lawyer. A fortune cookie told him, “You are destined to be an attorney” (he always suspected his mother planted it). An amateur fortuneteller at a grocery store spontaneously foretold the same fate.

But Blaine didn’t decide to become a lawyer until a single question changed his path during his undergrad years. He attended UW-Whitewater, at first in the pre-accounting program. Then a “​cute” classmate asked if he would take a class called “Law and Society” with her, and he fell in love – with Alexis de Tocqueville. After that, he switched to pre-law. He interned at the district attorney’s office. He got into a fight with his landlord, ended up in a lawsuit, and won. That’s what sparked his interest in landlord/tenant law.

Blaine attended the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison. He applied on the deadline and got waitlisted, but a little persistence in talking to the admissions director got him in. “Honestly, I hated law school,” Blaine admits. But he got through it, taking a lot of Gretchen Viney courses especially.

Benjamin S. Wright headshot

Benjamin S. Wright,
U.W. 2014, practices elder law
as a sole practitioner in New Richmond and
publishes fair hearing decisions for Wisconsin elder law attorneys.

The Early Years

Blaine graduated in 2014 into a tough job market. He got hired at a personal injury firm, but it went terribly. There was little work for him to do and little training. After three months, he was fired.

That same day, his mother convinced him to open his own firm. She immediately found him an office. The office was in the same building as Angela Canellos.

Because of his classes with Prof. Gretchen Viney, Blaine was certified for GAL appointments, and started taking those right away. He has always loved this work, although he can’t do it as much as he used to now.

He also became known for representing tenants. At the same time, he began to get some overflow elder law work from Angela, known for always having too much work. She didn’t exactly train him, but she was a resource and made other resources available to him as Blaine began to figure things out.

Over the years, Blaine has done more and more elder law and less in other practice areas, though not for lack of opportunity. At one point he had a clear path to do more consumer protection work at the federal level.

He had to decide which path to commit to. He chose elder law.

“Elder law is so much less stressful than litigation, especially when you have a young family,” Blaine told me. He still uses his litigation experience for contested guardianship and GAL cases. He also finds his landlord/tenant experience useful when reviewing facility contracts and discharges.

Partners and Practice

Currently, Blaine’s practice is a mix of estate planning (including 5-year planning for Medicaid), special needs planning, and guardianships. He takes about one GAL appointment a month. He and Angela are partners now, with support staff (Blaine noted how elder law became more enjoyable when he started handing off the drudge work). They do little marketing, due largely to Angela’s reputation.

Blaine’s day is usually a mix of meetings, phone calls, emails, and case work. He often has two rounds of returning phone calls and emails: first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon. Between those he often has two meetings. Of course, he finds time to work on planning and strategy when he can and delegates what he can to an assistant. He manages to keep a fairly strict 9-5 schedule.

The Essential Skill and the Caveat

Blaine enjoys his practice and its challenges. What he loves most is talking to people and hearing their stories. For him, having good interviewing skills has been essential. He also loves finding creative solutions to complex problems.

The biggest challenge, on the other hand, has been learning and knowing all the rules. A lot of it, he says, is just knowing where to look and taking the time to go and look. “You can’t know the law here like you can in other fields,” he told me, especially since it often changes. Though the minutiae of Medicaid and SSI can be complicated, messy, and frustrating at times, he enjoys solving the puzzle. “I don’t shy away from overly complex cases where there’s no obvious answer.”

For new or transitioning attorneys interested in elder law, Blaine admits it’s a hard field to break into. It’s highly technical. But if you can find yourself a mentor – which Blaine highly recommends – it will help immensely.

He also recommends
joining the State Bar of Wisconsin Elder Law Section and the
Wisconsin Chapter of NAELA, both congenial and helpful groups of dedicated elder law attorneys.

Need a mentor – or want to be one? Check out the State Bar’sReady. Set. Practice. lawyer-to-lawyer mentorship program. Have an elder law question for a colleague? Check out the
Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory on

This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Elder Law and Special Needs Blog. Visit the State Bar
sections or the
Elder Law and Special Needs Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.